In a statement released March 20 in response to an ongoing situation involving Tampa Bay Downs, National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association president John Roark said the relationship between horsemen and racetrack management must be based on "fairness, mutual respect, and a desire to work toward common goals."
Roark issued the statement on behalf of 58,000 owner and trainer members of the National HBPA, whose Tampa Bay affiliate has been at odds with management at the Oldsmar, Fla. racetrack. Action by the Kentucky HBPA in regard to the dispute has called horsemen's unity into question.
On March 16, the Kentucky HBPA officially agreed to reinstate signals from Kentucky racetracks to Tampa Bay Downs in exchange for dismissing its complaint for declaratory judgment against the track. The Kentucky HBPA board of directors, after at least a week of debate, voted to send the Turfway Park signal to Tampa Bay Downs effective that afternoon.
The vote was 5-3, with one abstention. As part of the deal, Tampa Bay Downs will receive the Keeneland and Churchill Downs signals as well through the conclusion of its live meet in early May.
Some horsemen, primarily members of the Tampa Bay HBPA board of directors, claim they have been targeted by management and have been denied stalls. They say the situation remains unresolved even though Kentucky and Ohio horsemen have reversed their decision on sending signals to Tampa Bay Downs.
"While several other horsemen's associations are still evaluating their options, it is the National HBPA's sincere hope that the operators of Tampa Bay Downs understand and respect the concerns that many of its local horsemen -- and horsemen from around the country -- have aired since December," Roark said. "These events have called into question National HBPA horsemen's unity. What is not in question, however, is the National HBPA's steadfast defense of its members' ability to run for office in their local affiliate without fear of retribution."
Roark said the organization, now based in Lexington, is concerned that an "increasing number of horsemen are becoming less inclined to commit themselves as elected representatives of their fellow horsemen and risk running afoul of track management."