10/06/2004 12:00AM

Who exactly is winning here?

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PHILADELPHIA - A friend of mine was overjoyed last Saturday, when he was convinced he had isolated a cold exacta in the Vosburgh. He is a weekend player, and not even every weekend.

For reasons only he knew, he did not like favored Speightstown. He loved Pico Central. He locked in on 23-1 Voodoo for second.

He is a $20 exacta kind of guy. He does not need affirmation from the tote board that he is right. If he thinks he is right, he will bet.

Not long before the race, he called his Philadelphia Park Phonebet account to bet his exacta. He was told they were not taking bets on Belmont Park. He asked why. He really did not get a good explanation. It was not because the operator was not trying. There really is no good explanation.

My friend had not made a bet in a few weeks. He had no idea Philadelphia Park and tracks throughout the mid-Atlantic region had shut off the Belmont Park signal several weeks ago, that they would not accept bets on NYRA races at the tracks, offtrack turf clubs, or via phonebet accounts. When I tried to explain what the dispute was about, his eyes began to get glassy.

If I understood it myself, I may have been a little more help. I know TVG gave NYRA some money to settle some kind of horsemen's account issue. I know NYRA, apparently as a favor to TVG, then did not want to let a couple of minor racing states use their tracks' account wagering systems to take betting on NYRA races. I heard something about TVG not wanting Philadelphia Park's long-standing cable show to have the right to televise NYRA races into southeast Pennsylvania homes without paying some kind of duty to TVG. As a result of some of the rules apparently changing, the mid-Atlantic tracks decided to shut off the NYRA signal.

I don't know what is true. And I really don't care.

Just settle this. It is absurd.

Who exactly is winning here? NYRA? TVG? The mid-Atlantic tracks? The players who like to bet on NYRA races and can't?

It would seem to me that if there are no winners there should be a way to solve the problem. But, no, this is horse racing, where being stubborn is more important than the customers and the greater good.

So, last Saturday, Philadelphia Park players could not bet on Love of Money, upset winner of the Pennsylvania Derby, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Or, for the really savvy, bet against him. He ran sixth.

Love of Money caught a very speed-biased track in the Pa. Derby. He romped at 12-1. He was 5-2 at Belmont Park in the Gold Cup and looked to be loose on the lead again. So, there was a decision to make.

I bet on Love of Money in the Pa. Derby. I probably would have bet against him Saturday, if I had had the chance. I did not.

One of my friends sells the sheets for NYRA races all over the Philadelphia area. He called me a few weeks ago when this squabble started, asking if it would last very long. I told him it would be over quickly, that too many people had too much to lose if it continued. I assumed logic would prevail. It was a very bad assumption.

Racing is not the NFL, a league that controls all the national broadcasting rights and puts the money into a gigantic pot for the teams to divide. Anybody who thinks otherwise is delusional.

Racing is a sport with individual fiefdoms in each racing state. In Pennsylvania, for instance, millions were invested in account wagering, satellites, and cable programming long before TVG existed. Obviously, TVG wants to extend its sphere of influence, which is certainly its right. Is there a way for that to happen without TVG infringing on existing operations? That, apparently, is the big question. And, if anybody has any answers, they are not saying.

Meanwhile, mid-Atlantic players are being held hostage.

In case, you missed it, Pico Central toyed with Speightsown. Voodoo sneaked past Speightstown to take second by a half-length. The 6-4 exacta paid $97.50. Or what should have been $975 to my $20 friend. He was not overjoyed with the outcome.