Updated on 09/15/2011 12:42PM

Wygod: Start negotiations now


DEL MAR, Calif. - Concerned that telephone betting will lead to a loss in ontrack business, horsemen at a Saturday meeting here urged the Thoroughbred Owners of California to begin contract negotiations with the companies that would be taking the bets.

At a two-hour meeting with approximately 150 horsemen on the Del Mar backstretch on Saturday, Marty Wygod, the owner of River Edge Farm and a member of the Del Mar board of directors, argued that negotiations should begin this week, while pending legislation is reviewed by Gov. Gray Davis.

Telephone betting is currently not permitted in California. Legislation was approved last week and will be sent to Davis at midweek.

Davis vetoed similar legislation last year, and there is widespread concern among racing officials that the appearance of a rift in the sport would give the governor an excuse to veto the bill.

Wygod called for conversations to begin with representatives of TVG, which would handle the telephone betting for Del Mar and Hollywood Park. TVG currently transmits pictures from Del Mar and Hollywood Park. Wygod urged TOC officials to negotiate an agreement that would result in TVG reducing its share of telephone betting revenue if ontrack business suffers major declines.

It's anticipated that TVG would get up to 5 percent of the handle from telephone bets.

"There is no way to tell whether the cannibalization [of handle] will lead to a drop in purses," Wygod told the gathering. "The least we can do is negotiate something to see if part of the 5 percent can go to purses while we have the leverage before the bill is passed."

Officials presented figures stating that $441 million would need to be bet through the telephone system annually to offset a 20 percent decline in ontrack business. Racing officials hope telephone betting will eventually lead to growth in interest in the sport and betting handle, but are worried that the convenience will lead some people to stay home.

If the bill is approved, it will go into effect Jan. 1, meaning that the first set of negotiations would take place with Santa Anita, a Magna Entertainment track, which is not affiliated with TVG. Santa Anita's races are televised on The Racing Network.

The Thoroughbred Owners of California negotiate contract agreements with racetracks and simulcast locations. TOC president John Van de Kamp said at Saturday's meeting that he would prefer to wait until Davis approves the bill before beginning negotiations.

"Don't we think if account wagering passes Magna will have something lined up?" Van de Kamp said of the company that owns Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields, and Bay Meadows.

No Magna officials attended the meeting.

At the meeting, he disagreed with Wygod's argument of going forward before the bill is approved, presenting one potential negotiating scenario as support for his argument.

"I think we'd be better off with Magna coming in at 3 percent and a lower fee than TVG, and then going back to TVG and trying to drive the rate down," Van de Kamp said. "We want to see purses go up."

Irish Prize to Atto Mile

Irish Prize, who was scratched on Saturday before a scheduled start in the Eddie Read Handicap, will be pointed for the Atto Mile at Woodbine on Sept. 9, trainer Neil Drysdale said.

Drysdale made the decision to scratch Irish Prize after conferring with officials of Gainsborough Farm, which owns the 5-year-old who has won four stakes this year.

"He wasn't at his best," Drysdale said.

Italian rider breaks through

Mirco DeMuro, Italy's top rider, won his first California race aboard Widow Black ($9.20) in Friday's fifth race, and hopes to ride here occasionally in the next few weeks.

DeMuro remains on contract with a stable in Italy and will ride at Longchamp in Paris next weekend. He is also booked to ride the Shergar Cup jockeys' competition at Ascot, England, on Aug. 11, an event that will also draw Californian David Flores.

According to his agent, Brian Beach, DeMuro may return to California following the Shergar Cup, pending commitments with his Italian stable.

Blinker rule changed

Del Mar's stewards, effective with Saturday's racing, changed the house rule regarding blinker changes so that any change, regardless of how long a horse has been inactive, will be made public.

The new rule means that blinker changes will be reported in the same manner as changes in nasal strips, Lasix, and geldings. Previously, if a horse had been off for six months or more, a trainer could make a blinker change without having that information conveyed to the public. Trainers can still make the change, but the information will be published in the track's official program.

During the first week of the meet, at least six horses who had been off for six months or more had blinker changes, but the information was not made public. Two of those horses were winners, including Salty Helen ($35.80) in the third race on July 21.

The new rule was listed in the footnotes on the overnight for Saturday's races.

Blanc changes agents

Brad Pegram has taken over as the jockey agent for Brice Blanc, who has not ridden since the meet's opening day on July 18 because of injuries suffered in an accident. Pegram said Blanc should return to action on Wednesday.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman