Gulfstream Park chairman Frank Stronach

Gulfstream Park chairman Frank Stronach

Anne M. Eberhardt

Gulfstream Park Cancels Quarter Horse Race

Decision made after a lengthy meeting with Florida HBPA officials.

Gulfstream Park on the night of Dec. 30 canceled a Quarter Horse race that it had scheduled for Dec. 31.

Gulfstream made that decision following a lengthy meeting with officials of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which had vehemently opposed the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track’s plan to hold what by most reports would have been the first Quarter Horse race in the track’s 72-year history,

The Florida HBPA  asked Gulfstream to not hold the New Year’s Eve Quarter Horse race because its contract with Gulfstream does not permit that track to hold any races other than for Thoroughbreds through Dec. 31, 2012. The now-cancelled race was not sanctioned by the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association nor by any affiliate of the American Quarter Horse Racing Association.

The race, a $5,000 claiming event, was scheduled as Gulfstream’s first race on Dec. 31 with an 11:30 a.m. (ET) post time. Gulfstream’s 11-race Thoroughbred card will continue as scheduled, beginning at 12:35 p.m. Those races are numbers two to 12 in programs and for wagering.

In addition to cancellation of that race, Gulfstream and the Florida HBPA on the night of Dec. 30 reached a tentative agreement on a new purse contract.

“I think the horsemen will be pleased with the results of the negotiations, which should mean increased purses going forward,” Florida HBPA president Phil Combest said it in statement.

Combest and Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo both said that  details of the agreement would be released at a later date.

“There are no plans for Quarter Horse racing in the future at Gulfstream Park,” Ritvo said in a phone interview late on the night of Dec. 30.

Gulfstream has held a Quarter Horse permit for several years. On Dec. 19, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering issued Gulfstream a Quarter Horse license for two performances.

On Dec. 23, Ritvo said Gulfstream activated its dormant Quarter Horse permit and scheduled the Dec. 31 race because it is concerned that the Florida legislature in 2012 might revoke any permits, usually for additional types of sports, that were not active at Florida pari-mutuels.  Gulfstream was planning to run one of its Jan. 1, 2012 Thoroughbred races as a substitute race under its Quarter Horse permit.

With both a Quarter Horse permit and its Thoroughbred permit active, Gulfstream would have the prospect of increasing its maximum permitted slot machines from 2,000 to 4,000 if it later expands Quarter Horse racing. Gulfstream has about 860 slot machines in its casino.

Frank Stronach, chairman of Gulfstream and of its Aurora, Ont.-based parent Stronach Group, participated in the Dec. 30 meeting via phone and approved the new agreement with the Florida HBPA. He met with several Florida HBPA officials at Gulfstream earlier in the week.

“Mr. Stronach was willing to give up the prospect of potential expansion of slot machines for an agreement with the horsemen that will be for the betterment of Thoroughbred racing,” Ritvo said.

“Gulfstream and Mr. Stronach have always wanted to do what is in the best interests of Thoroughbred racing, and we thank the horsemen for their efforts in reaching a resolution on this issue,” he added.

The agreement is part of “a plan for the long term with Frank Stronach for the betterment of Thoroughbred racing,” said Barry Rose, the Florida HBPA vice president/treasurer who participated in the negotiations.

In his statement, Combest said:

“After long and intense negotiations, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, together with Gulfstream Park, were pleased to announce that an understanding in principle has been reached on a tentative new purse agreement.  Both sides are pleased with the upside potential for Thoroughbred racing in Florida. Importantly, Gulfstream’s planned, unsanctioned Quarter Horse race scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on December 31, 2011 that was so vehemently opposed by the Thoroughbred horsemen has been canceled as part of the agreement.”

The Florida QHRA has the purse agreement and is the sanctioning body for the Quarter Horse meet that Hialeah Park is holding through Feb. 19, 2012.  Hialeah is the only Florida track that has conventional pari-mutuel Quarter Horse racing.

The Florida HBPA and the Florida QHRA are among several Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse groups that are seeking to prevent the holding of pari-mutuel barrel racing through the use of Quarter Horse permits and licenses in Florida.

Since Dec. 1, Gretna Racing, in Gretna, Fla., near Tallahassee has been using a Quarter Horse license to hold a controversial pari-mutuel barrel racing meet. That meet is widely considered to be the first pari-mutuel barrel racing in the United States.

On Oct. 18, the Florida DPMW granted Gretna Racing a Quarter Horse license. Gretna is using the license for barrel racing, with Quarter Horses.
Gretna Racing has been able to hold barrel racing, rather than traditional flat track Quarter Horse racing, because Florida laws specify the breeds of horses but not the types of races that must be held with horse racing licenses.

On Dec. 22 , Sen. Dennis Jones (R-Seminole) introduced a bill in the Florida Legislature that would change several definitions. If approved, the bill would prohibit pari-mutuel barrel racing as of July 1, 2012.  But Gretna Racing likely would be able to continue that racing,

Jones’s bill states that “horse racing does not include steeplechases, hurdle races, barrel racing, timed events, pole pending, or any other rodeo or gymkhana-style events.”

The bill also states that Quarter Horse racing may be conducted only “on a straight path on a traditional oval or straight path.”

The Florida legislature will hold its 2012 regular session from Jan. 10 to March 9. Jones is chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, which has initial jurisdiction on gaming issues.

The Florida QHRA and the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association, in an emergency motion in a state court and in a state administrative hearing, are challenging the legality of Gretna’s licenses for racing and for a poker room it opened on Dec. 9.