Workers' Comp Plan Sought for Gulfstream

Horsemen and the track are working with an insurance company to devise strategy.

John Patrick Unick, who has advised several Thoroughbred racetracks and horseman's groups in arranging workers' compensation insurance policies, is helping southeast Florida horsemen prepare a workers' compensation plan for Gulfstream Park.

Unick, an insurance agent, is president of the Thoroughbred Racing Group at MOC Insurance Services, which is based in San Francisco. On Sept.12 he and several of his MOC colleagues were scheduled to join several leaders of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association in a meeting with officials of The Stronach Group, Gulfstream's parent company.

The Florida HBPA's goal is to present a plan for consideration by Gulfstream with suggestions on ways to obtain money to make premium payments for a master policy that would be available to all trainers for coverage of backstretch employees. Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling and owner Carlo Vaccarezza, who arranged for Unick to work as an adviser, pointed to several possible sources of raising money to pay for coverage.

The sources are a designated portion of purse money from Gulfstream races; a designated portion of money from the $500-per-horse starter fee Gulfstream is paying to trainers of Gulfstream-stabled horses during its summer/fall race meet; and a small fee, perhaps $1 per stall per day, from trainers stabled at Gulfstream.

Unick, Vaccarezza, and Florida HBPA directors have met twice this year on workers' compensation issues. Over the past 10 years, Unick has advised Monmouth Park, Delaware Park, and California horsemen in setting up workers' compensation programs.

Since last year, Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo has said that arranging a group workers' compensation policy is a priority for the track.

Gulfstream announced July 13 that it will offer a $500 bonus for each horse a trainer runs at the track, with restrictions. The horse must be stabled at Gulfstream at the time it has been entered, and only one bonus award is available per owner per race. 

"The bonus money is intended to help those trainers offset the ever increasing costs of workers' compensation insurance, shavings, feed, and other expenses during this meet," Ritvo said.

But there are no requirements for trainers to spend any bonus money on workers' compensation, and thus a group policy is needed at Gulfstream, said Vaccarezza, who is the breeder of Little Mike, the 2012 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) winner who races with his wife, Priscilla, as the owner.

Dale Romans trains Little Mike and other horses owned by Vaccarezza. Romans spends about $140,000 a year combined for workers' compensation coverage in Florida, Kentucky, and New York, Vaccarezza said.

Trainer Milt Wolfson, now based at Gulfstream, has four employees and 10 horses. He is paying $14,000 this year for workers' compensation coverage even though he has a low claims rate.

Vaccarezza and Wolfson are among the horsemen who expect that paying for group coverage would be less expensive than what trainers now pay for finding their own policies.

Over the past two months Vaccarezza has evolved from being an outspoken critic of some Florida HBPA policies, especially those related to Gulfstream, to his current role of working  with the organization on some projects.

At a meeting July 1 at Gulfstream, he led a group of Gulfstream-based horsemen who met with members of the Florida HBPA board of directors. Vaccarezza's group of  about 20 horsemen said it would like to see expanded communication from the Florida HBPA board to its members and more recognition of the interests of Gulfstream horsemen, especially since the track has expanded its racing schedule.

Since then the Florida HBPA has been sending out more news to members on its website and has completed the previously scheduled opening of a full-time Gulfstream office while keeping one at Calder Casino & Race Course.

"They listened, and I think we are off to a good start," Vaccarezza said.

"Carlo raised some issues, and he is doing some good and important things as he has gotten more involved," Stirling said.

This year, Vaccarezza, Romans, and John Williams formed Little Dreams Racing with a goal of bringing new owners into Thoroughbred racing at affordable prices. Little Dreams Racing, a limited liability corporation, has bought 11 2-year-olds that 2012 Eclipse Award winner Romans is training. Williams has owned several horses in partnerships with Vaccarezza.

Investors can purchase shares as small as 1% in any Little Dreams horse. For example, if Romans and Vaccarezza buy a horse at a sale for $100,000, an investor can make an initial investment as small as $1,000 to become a minority owner. The horses all have "Little" in their names.

Prices paid for the horses at auctions range as high as $200,000. Several have raced at Gulfstream and Saratoga Race Course thus far without any wins.

"We are not like the partnerships that take your money and then use it as part of the purchase price at an auction," Vaccarezza said. "We let you come to our barn and see the horses we've bought before you make an investment. We have some partners who own 1% or 2% stake in one horse or a couple of horses."