By Lynne Snierson
While the management of Suffolk Downs and the New England Horsemen’s and Benevolent Protective Association remain locked in a bitter stalemate over a new contract for live racing in 2011, Florida horsemen and the Ohio HBPA have pulled their signals in support of the New England chapter.
The ongoing dispute is over the amount of purses to be paid in 2011, the number of live racing days, and the percentage of revenue sharing from simulcasting.
On Jan. 29, the New England horsemen withdrew their consent for races from the New York Racing Association to be simulcast in Massachusetts and now races from Beulah Park are no longer available. As of tomorrow (Sunday, Feb. 6), races from Tampa Bay Downs will not be available and Gulfstream Park must stop sending its signal on Monday. Under Massachusetts statute, Advance Deposit Wagering account holders in the state are also prohibited from betting those tracks through TVG, Twin Spires, ExpressBet and other concerns.
The two factions met for over two hours on Friday (Feb. 4) afternoon and one horseman in attendance who requested anonymity said, “The talks were very contentious. We are still at an impasse.”
“We’re still waiting to see if we get a counter proposal from the NEHBPA to our proposal of January 27th,” Suffolk chief executive officer Chip Tuttle said Feb. 5. Everyone has a solid understanding of the other side’s point of view. I hope there is room for an agreement (with the NEHBPA). But if not, we intend to run a race meet in 2011 regardless.”Suffolk traditionally opens for live racing at the first of May, and stall applications would be due soon.
Prominent New England owner and trainer Charlie Assimakopolous said, “We’re just trying to get things sorted out. We’re in a tough situation here,” he said. “We can’t have happen again what happened at Rockingham Park (when negotiations between the NEHBA and management failed and Rockingham switched to harness racing exclusively in 2003). For arguing over a little bit of money, we lost everything there. We have got to get this fixed at Suffolk. Even running for a little bit of money is better than no racing and no money at all.”
Meanwhile, there was talk of a rival horsemen’s group being formed to represent the owners, breeders, and trainers in negotiations with Suffolk management. A Facebook page called the ‘Thoroughbred Horsemen of Massachusetts” appeared on the site on Friday but by Saturday had been taken down. None of the principals said to be part of that group would comment for the record.
In a related development, the executive director of the Eighth Pole, which is the backstretch assistance program in New England, said the board was informed by Suffolk management that it is no longer able to use the grounds to offer medical, dental and social services to workers who did not travel to other racetracks after the meet ended last November.
“They ran us out of there last Friday,” said Jim Greene, who also serves on the board of directors for the NEHBPA. “They told us that we couldn’t even drive our van o to the parking lot outside the locked stable gate to pick up people and take them into Boston for their appointments. We are now using the parking lot at Wendy’s (restaurant) across the street to shuttle our people to the major homeless shelter in the city for treatment.”
Tuttle said, “This is a safety issue. The backside is closed. They were using our trailer and operating on our grounds. Unfortunately, issues in this area seemed to be getting worse instead of better. We are committed to ensuring that everyone from the backstretch receives excellent human services and access to health care. We have lost confidence in the Eighth Pole to provide that. We will go out of our way to make sure that nobody from the backstretch falls through the cracks.”
By Lynne Snierson