Gulfstream Park will hold one or possibly two Quarter Horse races over the New Year’s weekend—one after its last Thoroughbred race Dec. 31 and a second possibly after its last Thoroughbred race Jan. 1. The plan to run those races has led to immediate and strong opposition from the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
“Gulfstream Park has decided to exercise its dormant, non-profit Quarter Horse permit,” Gulfstream president and GM Tim Ritvo said in a statement Dec. 23. “We were advised by counsel that if we didn’t exercise the permit there was a possibility of losing it during the upcoming (Florida) legislative session.”
Ritvo added: “Every major pari-mutuel has been activating their dormant permits due to widespread expectations that lawmakers will revoke the permits during the upcoming session.”
Purses for the Quarter Horse races will come out of a separate account from the purse account for Gulfstream’s current meet, he said.
However, the Florida HBPA is considering legal action that would prevent Gulfstream from holding Quarter Horse races, said the association’s executive director Kent Stirling. He said the Florida HBPA is concerned that Gulfstream could have expanded Quarter Horse racing during months other than the Thoroughbred season—with money from simulcasts, slot machines, and poker going to groups other than Thoroughbred horsemen.
Gulfstream, in Hallandale Beach, Fla., has held a Quarter Horse permit for several years. On Dec. 19, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering issued Gulfstream a Quarter Horse license for two performances.
Stirling said that Gulfstream’s contract with the Florida HPBA does not allow it to hold any racing other than Thoroughbred racing through Dec. 31, 2012. He said the Florida HBPA is considering legal action that would prevent Gulfstream from holding Quarter Horse races.
Alon Ossip, an executive vice president for The Stronach Group, which owns Gulfstream, on Dec. 22 told Stirling and other Florida HBPA officials about the plan for two Quarter Horse races.
Ossip did not provide the Florida HBPA with details on plans for any additional Quarter Horse racing at Gulfstream, Stirling said.
Under one interpretation of Florida laws, holding one Quarter Horse race in two consecutive years can make a pari-mutuel in Broward County (Gulfstream’s locale) or Miami-Dade County eligible for a second casino. Each of those casinos can have as many as 2,000 Las Vegas-style slot machines.
“He (Ossip) said the two Quarter Horse races could enable Gulfstream to have as many as 4,000 slots,” Stirling said. “He said someone like Caesar’s might be interested.”
A bill under consideration in the Florida legislature would authorize as many as three destination resort hotels in southeast Florida. In addition to slot machines, each would have roulette and craps, which are currently not legal in Florida.
Ritvo has told The Blood-Horse that Gulfstream would like to be considered as a site for a destination resort.
Gulfstream has about 825 slot machines. It has vacant land, for a possible hotel-casino, on the south side of its property.
Gulfstream’s plan for two Quarter Horse races “came as a complete surprise, and was like a kick in the stomach from someone we thought was a partner,” Stirling said.
Ritvo said Ossip was hoping “to continue talks through Saturday to insure the horsemen this wasn’t being done to disrupt Thoroughbred racing. Unfortunately, members of the FHBPA were unavailable.”
“The Stronach Group remains committed to not only preserving Thoroughbred racing but allowing it to thrive,” Ritvo said.
Hialeah Park is holding Florida’s only conventional Quarter Horse meet with a purse contract with the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association.
“They (Florida HQRA) are not providing horses to Gulfstream, and I don’t know who is,” Stirling said.
He said the Florida HBPA is concerned that Gulfstream could later use its Quarter Horse permit for pari-mutuel barrel racing—in a low-cost meet without the Florida HBPA in which Gulfstream might be able to keep bigger shares of simulcast and slot revenues.
He noted that Marc Dunbar, a Tallahassee attorney, is a lobbyist for Gulfstream and is one of the owners of Gretna Racing in Gretna, Fla.
Dunbar did not return phone calls.
On Dec. 1, Gretna Racing, which is near Tallahassee, began the first pari-mutuel barrel racing meet in Florida—a meet that is widely considered to be the first pari-mutuel barrel racing in the United States.
On Oct. 18, the Florida DPMW granted Gretna Racing a Quarter Horse license. Gretna is using the license for barrel racing, with Quarter Horses.
The Florida QHRA and the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association, in an emergency motion in a state court and in a state administrative hearing, are challenging the legality of Gretna’s licenses for racing and for a poker room it opened on Dec. 9.
Gretna Racing has been able to hold barrel racing, rather than conventional Quarter Horse racing, because Florida laws specify the breeds of horses but not the types of races that must be held with horse racing licenses.
On Dec. 21, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, said:“It doesn’t appear to me that it (barrel racing) was the intent of the law.”
Scott’s comment, to the Palm Beach Post editorial board, was his first public statement on the race meet at Gretna.
Several members of the Florida House and Senate have said they favor a change in definitions of horse racing, to prevent other facilities from having pari-mutuel barrel racing. The Florida legislature will hold its 2012 regular session from Jan. 10 to March 9.