12/30/2009 12:00AM

You can't always place a bet where you want


PHILADELPHIA - It was really cold and raining so hard that the rest of the snow leftover from the blizzard was melting away fast enough that it was flooding all over town. In other words, a perfect Saturday to stay home, watch and bet on the races from opening day at Santa Anita Park.

Even with the shiny new casino having finally taken all those slot machines out of the racetrack building, the weather made the Philadelphia Park card not terribly appealing. So I was ready to turn on the track's cable show and gear up for an early 2:30 p.m. Eastern start at Santa Anita. My desktop was working fine and my Philly Park Phonebet account had sufficient cash to get me through the afternoon.

The Santa Anita card would be anchored by two Grade 1 stakes. The La Brea would be the California debut of Pha star Amazed by Grace, winner of five consecutive races. There was much to look forward to.

In the craziness surrounding Christmas, I vaguely remembered a story about some disagreement that could potentially keep some Eastern tracks from getting the Santa Anita signal. I figured, this being racing where the handle is sinking faster than the economy in general, rational people would come to an agreement. Really, who wants to stop people from betting?

Well, somebody did.

I don't know whom to blame. Nor do I care.

All I know is there was no Santa Anita signal. And I could not bet on the races through my phone account.

It was still cold and raining. I wanted action. I could not get the action I wanted where I wanted it.

Something about TrackNet Media and the Mid-Atlantic cooperative not being able to agree on fees. Apparently, TrackNet, which controls the signal of the Churchill and Magna tracks, wanted a higher fee. And Mid-Atlantic, which represents tracks and offtrack sites in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, did not want to pay it.

Fair Grounds and Churchill had been blacked out since Nov. 1 because of the dispute. Now, Santa Anita. Next, maybe Gulfstream Park.

I will let others debate whether any entity should be expecting to get any higher fees on anything these days.

There is no debate that the sport is hemorrhaging customers. So, why would you shut many of them out for one of the most anticipated days on the racing calendar?

After all these years of the simulcast era, we still have to deal with this nonsense.

Do the people involved in these negotiations understand that their customers don't care about their issues? They simply want to bet on what they want when they want.

TVG and Xpressbet are suing each other. And then they aren't. Where is the commissioner of racing?

Is there any doubt the margins of these racing operations are shrinking? None at all. Still, there has to be some common ground.

Remember the customer is always right mantra. In this sport, the customer is fortunate to have the right to make a bet. Except when he doesn't.

Eventually, I managed to get on the desktop and watch the stakes races from Santa Anita through another outlet. If I had wanted to, I am sure I could have found a way to make a bet. But I had lost interest.

I am a customer that the game won't lose. I, however, am not typical.

With so many gambling options, is it any wonder the sport's fan base is shriveling?

Think about this. We have the great Horse of the Year debate, which has brought out passions that no amount of marketing could ever produce.

A really sharp mind might have conceived of a way to bet on which horse will win. Really, who wouldn't like to bet on Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta in the only race they will ever have?

On second thought, forget it. If somebody did come up with a way to bet on it, some entity would find a way to keep another entity from betting on it because they could not agree on how to split the windfall.

As Santa Anita was getting underway, I was starting to regret not making the ride to the Pha. At least, I would have been in action.

It was about then I found out that racing had been canceled after the first race, a Pha classic for $5,000 claimers with a purse of $25,600 (love those slots). The trifecta was 33-1 over 10-1 over 24-1, with the 3-5 favorite fourth.

The chances of my being right on that race were zero. But at least I would have had the chance to be right.