While horsemen's groups in Texas and Kentucky have barred a swap of simulcast signals with Tampa Bay Downs to protest what they see as mistreatment of Tampa horsemen, the racetrack has signed a deal with its closest neighbor, Gulfstream Park.
Horsemen around the country are upset with Tampa Bay Downs for denying stalls to Bob Jeffries, president of the Tampa Bay Downs Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. The action against Jeffries is part of a long and troubled history between track management and the horsemen. The track denied stalls last year to the late Leonard Alexander, former Tampa HBPA president. Tampa Bay Downs also started its 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 meets without a simulcasting contract in place because of disputes with trainers and owners.
The Gulfstream Park deal was inked a few days prior to the Hallandale track's Jan. 3 opening and allows patrons at Gulfstream and Tampa to watch and wager on each other's live races.
"Because of the way Florida laws are written there was nothing we could do," shrugged Florida Horsemen's Protective and Benevolent Association executive director Kent Stirling. "All we could do was ask."
Stirling indicated that the FHBPA did ask, noting in a letter to Gulfstream that the organization would have no objection if the track chose not to swap signals, but Gulfstream denied the request.
"We're totally cognizant of the horsemen's concern," said Gulfstream's president Scott Savin, who used to be a trainer. "But the overnight purse structure is paramount for our racing, and the ability (to swap signals with Tampa) means as much as two percent to our purses."
Savin calculated that to mean as much as an additional $500,000 will be available to Gulfstream horsemen during the course of the meet. "When you're under attack for insufficient purses that's significant," he noted.