Suffolk Downs

Suffolk Downs

Chip Bott

Suffolk, NEHBPA Unable to Settle Dispute

The two entities can't resolve a key issue for 2011 contract agreement.

By Lynne Snierson

The New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Suffolk Downs have still not struck a deal on a 2011 contract, despite the latest developments that have the horsemen agreeing to accept the number of live racing days required by state statute and the latest purse structure proposed by the track. The two sides remain far apart on a key issue.

Suffolk requested that the NEHBPA work with the track in support of legislation to reduce the present minimum of 100 days of live racing mandated by state statute. The East Boston, Mass. track also asked that if the horsemen would not support them in that effort, they would then not stand in opposition to the bill. The NEHBPA adamantly refused to comply.

“This demand requiring support of the legislative agenda of SSR (Suffolk Sterling Racecourse) is totally unacceptable and inappropriate,” Frankl Frisoli, the attorney for the horsemen, said Feb. 25. “The NEHBPA cannot accede to it. The NEHBPA reserves its rights to seek legislative action that is in the best interest of the NEHBPA, the Massachusetts Breeding industry, and Massachusetts farms. It will not abrogate that right as a condition of entering into a purse agreement for 2011.”

Suffolk does not need the permission of the NEHBPA to pursue its legislative agenda.

“The increase in purses in our most recent proposal was contingent upon one condition, neutrality on legislation to reduce the number of days required to simulcast. That is a condition the NEHBPA is unwilling to meet.” said Christian Teja, Suffolk’s vice president of communications and marketing. “We will access all of our options, including legislative relief independent of the HBPA.

While Suffolk chief executive officer Chip Tuttle was at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 25 to meet with New England horsemen who race at the Florida track in the winter months, the NEHBPA board of directors advanced its latest offer.

“Our board voted to run for whatever number of days the law in Massachusetts requires,” Frisoli said. “The NEHBPA has been bargaining for 100 days, and prior to the vote, would not accept a contract unless it required 100 days in 2011.” The attorney explained that the horsemen have made a “significant concession” to now agree to race for a minimum of 80 days in 2011, provided that Suffolk is able to get the current law changed.

If the state law remains unchanged, the horsemen accept the $8.25 million that was to be distributed over 80 days will instead be allocated over the 100 days. “We are prepared to race for the same amount of money they proposed,” said Frisoli. “Whether we end up racing for $80,000 a day, $90,000, or $100,000 remains to be seen based upon what the law is and the number of days. If Suffolk is successful with their legislation, then we’ll have fewer days.”

In the absence of a deal, the horsemen are waiting for Suffolk to respond formally to the latest developments.

“We have struggled hard to get to an accommodation so that we can race in 2011,” said Frisoli, who is also a Thoroughbred owner. “This type of disagreement is destructive to the industry. I hope that Suffolk Downs will elect to go forward with this (proposal). At least we have a framework to move forward.”