Florida Barrel Racing Begins Amid Disputes

Two Quarter Horse groups are challenging legality of pari-mutuel barrel racing.

Gretna Racing on Dec. 1 began its pari-mutuel barrel racing meet at its facility in Gretna, Fla. amid ongoing challenges to the legality of its racing license.

Gretna Racing is holding the meet under a Quarter Horse license issued Oct. 19 by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. It is the first pari-mutuel barrel racing in Florida and probably in the country.

Results and figures on handle for Dec. 1 could not be found on the Gretna Racing web site. A spokeswoman for Gretna Racing and its affiliate Creek Entertainment Gretna did not return phone calls.

An official of the Florida DPMW confirmed that races were held at Gretna, which is about 25 miles west of Tallahassee. Gretna Racing’s next race card is scheduled for Dec. 2.

The Florida DPMW previously told The Blood-Horse that handle numbers would not be available for at least a day and added that there will be no attendance figures because admission is free at Gretna Racing.

Also on Dec. 1, a state court in Tallahassee issued a show cause order that sets a deadline of 5 p.m. on Dec.6 for Gretna Racing, the Florida DPMW and its parent Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to respond to two Florida Quarter Horse Associations’ request for the court to halt the racing at Gretna.

On Nov. 30, the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association and the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders and Owners Association filed an emergency motion in the First District Court of Appeal, asking the court to prevent the start of Gretna’s meet

The motion asks the court to prevent the Florida DPMW, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and Gretna Racing “from taking any actions related to the conduct of pari-mutuel wagering activities by Gretna Racing” until the an administrative challenge by the Quarter Horse associations is reviewed by the Florida Division of Administrative hearings.

The division is scheduled to hold a hearing Dec. 13-14 on the Quarter Horse associations’ challenge of the legality of Gretna Racing’s license.

In their Nov. 30 emergency motion, the two associations maintain that the Florida DPMW issued a racing license to Gretna Racing “outside the established regulatory timeframe,” and that the start of racing at Gretna would “establish a precedent for the significant and haphazard expansion of gambling” in Florida.

The two Quarter Horse associations are represented by Tallahassee law firm Rutledge, Ecenia & Purnell.

In early October, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association sent letters to the Florida DPMW and its parent, asking them to reject Gretna Racing’s application. The two Thoroughbred groups and the two Quarter Horse groups maintain that pari-mutuel barrel racing is not authorized under the state’s laws.

However, Gretna Racing’s plan includes having Quarter Horses as the majority of horses in its barrel races and thus meets a state law’s requirement for the breeds that can be used under a Quarter Horse license.

The Florida HBPA and its allied associations maintain that Gretna Racing is attempting to use barrel racing as a low-cost way to be eligible for a potentially lucrative poker room. All Florida pari-mutuels are eligible to have poker rooms that can be open 365 days a year. Gretna Racing has applied with the Florida DPMW for a poker license, and is eligible because it has held one racing card.

The North Florida Horsemen’s Association, which is not affiliated with the two Florida Quarter Horse associations, has an agreement to provide horses to Gretna Racing for its meet that is scheduled to have 40 racing programs through Jan. 15, 2012.