With South Florida’s two Thoroughbred tracks engaging in an escalating regulatory battle over racing dates, the professionals who do the “heavy lifting” to provide the actual horse racing product—the horse owners, trainers and breeders—find themselves as unexpected bystanders in an unwanted dispute. Thus, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA), made up of Thoroughbred owners and trainers, and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association (FTBOA) can only urge Gulfstream Park and Calder Casino and Racing—each facility remotely controlled by giant corporations—to settle their differences—and quickly.
“I’m all about the free market, but there are certain types of products that require a greater degree of regulation. Horse racing is one of them,” said FHBPA Executive Director Kent Stirling. “Done right, horse racing and breeding affords Florida with enormous economic impact because of all the jobs and businesses it creates. But unfortunately, the current dates conflict is rooted in a statutory glitch that is being exploited by clever lawyering at the expense of what could be most beneficial for all of us, not to mention Florida taxpayers.”
Overlapping dates can drain the local horse population and fragment wagering dollars—making it difficult for the entire industry to prosper.
“This serious distraction of racing dates overlap, combined with other current issues like ‘pari-mutuel barrel racing’ and related spurious lawsuits over the constitutionality of independent horsemen’s associations have the real potential of scaring away investors in Florida’s horse racing industry,” Stirling said. “Most of our members are small business owners and need to feel confident that their investment in Florida is protected and fostered.”
Lonny Powell, a former horse racing regulator and track operator, who now serves as CEO of the FTBOA agreed. “It’s imperative that our members—Thoroughbred breeders, horse and farm owners throughout the state—see a flourishing, stable and growing racing industry in South Florida. We certainly want both of these tracks and all horsemen racing in Florida to prosper. It’s more than troublesome that this dates overlap crisis distracts from all of our collective efforts to grow Florida’s $2.2 billion-a-year Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry, which among the national few that show an increase in foal numbers, while our tracks continue to offer races that consistently feature some of the best competition on the national stage. To place any of this at risk for a self-inflicted dates overlap collision course causes us much concern and frustration. History has clearly shown there is no industry upside that comes from an uncooperative and intensely competitive dates battle like we’re facing here in South Florida”
Phil Matthews, a prominent veterinarian and FTBOA president, agreed. “Much to all of our frustration, it appears that both we and the FHBPA have little ability to affect the situation. That’s why it’s important for our policymakers to understand our members have a major investment in putting horses—our core product—out on the track, so Florida’s Thoroughbred industry can thrive. It is imperative that we do everything we can to encourage these giant corporations to make the right decisions, not just for both their respective facilities, but for the industry and marketplace as well. In fact, our future depends on it.”
Both organizations agree it’s long overdue for Gulfstream and Calder to finally settle their key competitive differences and successfully move forward.
“The addition of slot revenues to purses has kept Florida competitive and held our place in the prestigious international world of Thoroughbred racing,” FHBPA President Phil Combest added. “It was Florida’s horse racing industry that provided the platform and the partnership for the corporations that control these facilities to bring slots to Florida to begin with. Because the horsemen stand to lose the most in this crisis, we’d like to see this conflict settled very soon.”