It's funny how short some people's memories are when they don't get what they want. Memo to Tampa Bay Downs Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association president Bob Jeffries: The conflict about whether or not you get stalls at Tampa Bay Downs is over. It has been over ever since the Tampa Bay horsemen's board signed a three-year contract in January of 2001 and dropped its demand for the locally famous "no retaliation clause." Neither Jeffries nor horsemen's representatives at the eight tracks currently denying Tampa Bay Downs their signals--Turfway Park, Turf Paradise, Sam Houston, Fair Grounds, Delta Downs, Charles Town, Mountaineer, and Beulah--can present any evidence why the current contract between Tampa Bay and its horsemen's group isn't valid. Thus they do not have a leg to stand on when protesting Jeffries having to ship his horses in from a nearby training center--even if track officials are getting even for his past involvement in contract negotiations, as he believes. The situation was different last year, when Tampa Bay turned down Jeffries and fellow board officers Robert Van Worp, the late Leonard Alexander, and Jim Letarte for stalls. It was different because the contract then in place contained a "no-retaliation" clause (tracing back to the previous year's bitter negotiations), and the track's action then in denying officers stalls was clearly in violation of that language. At that time, the Tampa Bay HBPA rightfully stood behind its leaders, denying Tampa Bay the right to send its signal out of Florida until the current contract was agreed on. Along with the new agreement, Tampa Bay also received a favorable ruling last season in circuit court when a judge denied a motion for an injunction that would have forced the track to reallocate stalls. All of which means Tampa Bay president Stella Thayer and first-year general manager Peter Berube are within their rights to deny any horsemen stalls. The blocking of its signal into Tampa by horsemen at the eight tracks violates the provisions of the current local deal. Frankly, this rank-and-file bettor is annoyed that Jeffries and a handful of horsemen continue to fight this lost battle. I've no doubt Jeffries is a thorough, hard-working, and competent horseman. And horsemen have a right to answers when a board officer doesn't receive stalls. However, Jeffries was far from alone in being turned down for backside accommodations. According to Berube, the track received about 2,600 requests for its 1,300-stalls. Jeffries' request was for eight stalls. His application included several maidens. Eight out of roughly 1,300 horses that must ship to race? How can horsemen make the argument he is being singled out? What many horsemen seem to lose sight of is how annoying it is from a fan's standpoint not to be able to wager on a track such as Fair Grounds because of a petty grudge. About 96% of Tampa Bay horsemen want the signals restored, according to an unscientific petition. Don Rice, among the track's leading trainers, said "the majority of the horsemen want to get those signals back" because purses have been cut. It appears Jeffries and the leaders of the boycotts think only what they want matters, which mostly seems to be to discredit Thayer. They refuse to credit her for building a state-of-the-art turf course, fan-friendly simulcast areas, backside improvements, and other modernizations. One reason the current horsemen's leadership gets away with its vendetta is because Tampa Bay has a four-month season and draws horsemen from 25 different tracks who come to Florida unaware of the latest disagreement. How else to explain how the will of 96% of the local horsemen is being undermined by horsemen's groups in Louisiana, West Virginia, and Texas? The current Tampa Bay horsemen's board is in place for another year, but hopefully the disagreements will end after that because enough horsemen will finally educate themselves on the issues. They then will appoint officers concerned about the common good, not getting even. In the meantime, I don't want my MTV. But I do want Fair Grounds. Mike Henry, the racing writer for the Bradenton (Fla.) Herald, has covered Tampa Bay Downs since 1987.
Date Posted: 2/13/2002 9:41:23 AM
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