South Florida Workers' Comp Plan Progresses

Insurance could be in place during upcoming winter meet at Gulfstream Park.

Horsemen in southeast Florida are optimistic that Gulfstream Park and the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association will have group workers' compensation insurance coverage for backstretch employees at Gulfstream early next year.

"They listened to our ideas and they seemed very receptive," Florida HBPA president Phil Combest said. "There is a lot to be done, and the next step will be after we hear back from them. We hope to have something in place during the next winter meet (at Gulfstream)."

The winter meet begins Nov. 30.

Combest, other Florida HBPA leaders, and their advisers from MOC Insurance Services met at Gulfstream with officials from Gulfstream and its parent company, The Stronach Group, earlier in September.

A Gulfstream official noted that talks with the Florida HBPA are ongoing on workers' compensation issues. Tim Ritvo, Gulfstream's president and The Stronach Group's chief operating officer, declined to comment.

Prior to the Sept. 12 meeting, Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling and Florida HBPA member Carlo Vaccarezza. who arranged for MOC to work as an adviser, pointed to several possible sources of raising money for a master policy that would be available to all Gulfstream-stabled trainers. The funding options include a designated portion of purse money from Gulfstream races; a designated portion of money from the $500-per-horse starter fee Gulfstream pays trainers of Gulfstream-stabled horses during its summer/fall meet; and a small fee, perhaps $1 per stall per day, from trainers stabled at Gulfstream.

It would not be mandatory for Gulfstream trainers to purchase coverage in the group policy.

"I expect almost everyone will want to be included because it would cost less than what you are paying now," Combest said.

Vaccarezza said the Sept. 12 meeting included consideration of a blanket provision that would cover employees of trainers based at Calder Casino & Race Course when their horses race at Gulfstream. "The horsemen want to make sure (track owner Frank Stronach is protected," he said.

Ritvo has said several times that arranging a group workers' compensation policy is a priority for Gulfstream.

Combest said the Florida HBPA and Calder are not having talks about a possible group workers' compensation policy. Calder-based trainer Bill White, who has a 28-horse stable, said he pays about $25,000 a year for workers' compensation coverage for 12 employees.

"Both groups realize the importance of the workers' comp issue, and it is a breath of fresh air the way they are cooperating to try to reach an agreement," said White, a Florida HBPA director who attended the Sept. 12 meeting. "If something can be accomplished at Gulfstream, I could see it being followed at Calder."

Vaccarezza said that trainer Kiaran McLaughlin contacted him Sept. 15 asking if he could arrange for MOC to meet with New York-based horsemen to talk about workers' compensation issues similar to those under discussion at Gulfstream.