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Churchill Downs feud imposes diet on Nevada horseplayers Nevada

I hope you all got your feast on for Thanksgiving, as you’re about to go on a forced diet when it comes to racing offerings thanks to the ongoing simulcast signal dispute between Churchill Downs Inc. and Nevada’s racebooks.

The standoff between CDI and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, which passed its two-year mark on Oct. 27, prevents Nevadans and any horseplaying visitors who aren’t prepared to end-run the blackout from betting on Churchill Downs races.

That includes some excellent racing this long holiday weekend, including the $750,000 Clark Handicap (Grade 1), featuring a field of eight top older horses, on Friday and the $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (Grade 2), an early prep for the 2022 Kentucky Derby, on Saturday.

It also means no wagering on two of the most appetizing feeds of the late fall and winter — the Fair Grounds, which opened its 150th season on Thanksgiving Day, and Oaklawn Park, which launches an earlier-than-usual winter meet on Dec. 3.

The dispute boils down to the fact that Churchill wants to charge more for its signal and Nevada’s racebooks, which are thin-profit operations, don’t want to pay the extra freight. Doing so, they told me last year, would endanger their ability to offer free drinks and subsidized Daily Racing Forms to their customers.

It’s depressing that we’re now more than two years into this and there are no indications that any progress has been made toward a solution. In the meantime, many Nevada players are no doubt making their wagers on Churchill Downs-controlled tracks via offshore wagering sites, which typically pay nothing at all to the host track.

If you want to look at this lose-lose-lose scenario in a positive light, it offers an opportunity to tune into lesser-known tracks like Tampa Bay Downs, which opened for business on Wednesday. While not known for showcasing the finest equine talent, it offers full, competitive fields on both dirt and turf.

We also will be able to sneak a few snacks from the fridge before Santa Anita reopens on Dec. 26.

Del Mar concludes its fall meet this weekend with a flurry of stakes action, including the Hollywood Turf Cup (Grade 2) on Friday, the Hollywood Derby (Grade 1), Seabiscuit Handicap (Grade 2) and the Jimmy Durante Stakes (Grade 3) on Saturday and the Matriarch Stakes (Grade 1) and Cecille B. DeMille Stakes (Grade 3) on Sunday.

Aqueduct has an excellent card set for Dec. 4, with four stakes topped by the Cigar Mile (Grade 1) and the Remsen Stakes (Grade 2). The Claiming Crown races at Gulfstream Park the same day also are always fun.

The Los Alamitos Futurity (Grade 2) on Dec. 11 offers another chance to get a look at some of the top juveniles on the West Coast.

And Gulfstream Park will help get us to the Christmas holiday, with five stakes races on its Dec. 18 card, topped by the Fort Lauderdale Stakes (Grade 2).

Art Sherman retiring

Southern California trainer Art Sherman has announced he’s retiring at the end of the year.

Sherman, 84, has had an amazing career in racing, including working as an exercise rider for the great Swaps in the mid-1950s, riding for 23 years as a jockey and spending decades as a trainer, a stint that culminated with California Chrome, whom he guided to victories in the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and the 2016 Dubai World Cup, among other big races.

Sad to say goodbye to an excellent horseman and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, but we wish him the very best in his golden years.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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