Latest License Riles Up Florida Horsemen

Gretna Racing received approval from regulators to offer flag-drop barrel racing.

Florida horsemen are again on the offensive after the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering granted a license to Gretna Racing despite a court ruling that said Quarter Horse barrel racing violates state law.

The state had said it would honor the May 6 court ruling. Gretna Racing, which is located in the Florida panhandle, received permission from the Florida DPMW to offer "flag-drop" contests, horsemen's groups said.

"It is inexplicable why our regulators are creating an environment to destroy Florida's hugely successful horse racing industry," said Dr. Steve Fisch, president of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association. "Each new event that is contrived in an attempt to skirt the law, and that our regulators allow to take place, costs Floridians thousands of jobs. Horse racing and breeding is a very labor-intensive and a green space-producing agricultural industry. Jobs and green space is what our leadership says they want, but their regulators' actions say otherwise."

Racing events sanctioned by the American Quarter Horse Association require use of a mechanical starting gate. Thus, horsemen contend the Gretna events can't be offered.

Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, noted that Florida recently decided that Internet cafes that feature video gaming machines are illegal.

"Shockingly, the state of Florida has responded to the court's ruling on illegal activities--not by protecting thousands of jobs created by our multibillion-dollar international horse racing and breeding industry, but by granting a license to an offender to hold more of these phony events," Stirling said.

The Florida QHRA, which represents Quarter Horse participants in Florida, has not approved pari-mutuel barrel racing or flag-drop racing. Sanctioned Quarter Horse racing is held each winter at Hialeah Park.

Creek Entertainment, which operates the Gretna facility, has June 29 listed as the next day for barrel racing events. The facility has a card club and hopes to install slot machines.