A panel of arbitrators has ruled that a trainer at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia was discriminated against when the track refused to grant him stalls in December 2009.
George Yetsook, who trains for O’Sullivan Farms, a West Virginia Thoroughbred breeding operation headed by Randy Funkhouser, filed suit in Jefferson County, W.Va., Circuit Court in January 2010 and was granted a preliminary injunction. He was permitted to keep his five remaining stalls pending a ruling in arbitration.
A three-member American Arbitration Association board recently ruled in Yetsook’s favor, according to a release. A contract between Charles Town and the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association calls for arbitration in such cases.
Yetsook and the horsemen’s group alleged Charles Town management violated the terms of the contract. They also alleged Charles Town had retaliated against the trainer because of his HBPA activities; there also has been bad blood between the track and Funkhouser, former president of the Charles Town HBPA.
The horsemen’s group in 2007 voted not to support a county referendum on table games at Charles Town because of the language in the legislation. The referendum failed to pass but did so two years later; the Charles Town HBPA voted to support it in 2009, though Funkhouser opposed it on the grounds the percentage to purses and breed development was too low.
Funkhouser linked his opposition to Yetsook’s denial of stalls. Attorney Kathy Santa Barbara, who represented Yetsook, said the trainer, who once had 20 stalls, and Funkhouser were used to send a message to others who disagree with the racetrack.
Charles Town is owned by Penn National Gaming Inc. In response to a request for comment Nov. 15, the company issued the following statement to The Blood-Horse:
"The arbitrators' judgment did not find discrimination, but simply stated that Mr. Yetsook could remain in the five stalls, that we had provided to him free of charge, until the end of this year," PNGI said. "It was an unreasoned award, and the attempt by his attorney to convey the rationale for the decision is simply conjecture on her part, with no basis in fact."
It’s not the first conflict between horsemen and Charles Town management in recent. Several owners, trainers, and jockeys have been ejected from the track, including current Charles Town HBPA president Ken Lowe, whose short-term banishment ended after an undisclosed settlement with the track in early October.
Lowe was banned for having the local HBPA hand out campaign flyers in the barn area and for meeting with jockeys without the racetrack's permission. Charles Town and other PNGI tracks have "barn guides" that put strict requirements on horsemen and how they conduct themselves.
In a statement, Lowe, a Thoroughbred owner and breeder said: “Horsemen and women who are licensed by the West Virginia Racing Commission deserve to be treated fairly and equally and without the threat of retaliation and intimidation.”
The WVRC is part of ongoing legal action seeking a ruling on whether it has any say in the ejection of individuals it licenses from racetracks.