Board members of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association did not discuss complaints from trainers regarding an Oaks/Derby ticket provision agreement between the Kentucky HBPA and Churchill Downs at their May 15 meeting as originally planned. Instead, the Kentucky HBPA will conduct an independent investigation into the matter, said the organization's executive director, Marty Maline.
The agreement, part of the contract between the track and horsemen's group, reads: “Churchill will furnish, free of charge, two (2) VIP tickets to each trainer and two (2) VIP tickets to one of the owners selected by the trainer thereof, of each horse running on Derby Day and the day prior thereto and have available for sale and distribution to said horsemen representative of Churchill at regular prices a total of three hundred (300) seats in the clubhouse on Derby Day and a total of three hundred (300) seats in the Clubhouse on the day prior.”
Churchill Downs Inc. spokesperson Julie Koenig-Loignon said the track has been making complimentary standing-room-only wristbands available to horsemen for several years, but most trainers are interested in obtaining reserved seats.
"A lot of horsemen (with entries on the undercard) have worked through our racing staff to secure reserved seats," Koenig-Loignon said. "For so long, our practice has been to help those horsemen obtain reserved seats--that’s what the focus has been for many years. There may have just been a misunderstanding over the complimentary wristbands versus the reserved seating arrangements."
"I did receive a message from one of our horsemen who was upset that he was not aware of the agreement," Maline said. "I've continued talking to trainers and the widespread opinion is that horsemen are comfortable in the way the tickets were handled. I will get on it right away and continue talking to trainers to make sure everyone was treated fairly."
Trainer Niall O’Callaghan, who saddled multiple starters on both the Oaks and Derby undercards, said he received a refund worth approximately $3,500 from Churchill Downs after discovering he had paid for walkaround wristbands that should have been complimentary.
“We didn’t know about it,” O’Callaghan said. “When I asked for a refund, Churchill immediately gave it back to me.”
Trainer Tom Proctor, who also started horses on Oaks and Derby days, said he was not aware of the agreement.
“Does that mean I get my money back?” Proctor said. “Nothing was offered to me. It might have been just an oversight, but I didn’t know about it.”
Other horsemen contacted by The Blood-Horse chose not to comment on the situation. It wasn't immediately known how much money was paid by horsemen for tickets that should have been complimentary.
Don Richardson, Churchill’s senior vice president of racing, said he believes the track’s treatment of horsemen was satisfactory.
“Obviously, a couple folks are going to be a little unhappy with their allocations, but we try to take care of everybody,” Richardson said. “I think we’re more than fair to the horsemen regarding this issue, and I think 95% of them would tell you that.”