Suffolk Downs

Suffolk Downs

Chip Bott

Suffolk, Horsemen Struggle to Reach Agreement

Negotiations over a contract for 2011 between the NEHBPA and Suffolk are continuing.

By Lynne Snierson

Negotiations over a contract for 2011 between the New England Horsemen’s and Benevolent Protective Association and Suffolk Downs are continuing, and the attorney for the horsemen said Feb. 22 there may be significant movement in the process within 48 hours.

“The parties are still talking; the latest offer that was put forward by Suffolk Downs is still being discussed,” said NEHBPA General Counsel Frank Frisolo. “I think there will be something to report by Thursday (Feb. 24). Both sides are trying to get this done.”

There is another conference call among the NEHBPA board, which is comprised of five owners, five trainers, the president, the executive director, and Frisoli, scheduled for the evening of Feb. 23. Christian Teja, vice president of public relations and marketing for the track, had no comment.

While those involved on the negotiating teams for both sides still would not divulge any details for the record, a reliable source maintained that Suffolk’s latest offer is to race 75 to 85 days and pay purses of $103,000 to $110,000 per day spread over its traditional May to November live meet. The horsemen initially requested $10.5 million in total purses and Suffolk had offered $7.5 million.

Both sides are in agreement that the track increased that sum to $8.4 million in its current proposal. When talks began, the horsemen had taken the position that they needed to race a minimum of 100 days, while the track wanted a meet of 67 to 76 days. The split of the simulcast revenue, with the horsemen asking for 50-50, is still at issue.

Evidently, the number of race days is a bone of contention as well.

“The horsemen’s position is that we want 100 days of live racing,” said one NEHBPA board member who requested anonymity. “We have reached a consensus about that. One hundred days of racing is the number of days required by state law, and there is an industry standard for getting paid for that. What most of us on the board are hearing from the membership is that they are resolute on this. They have asked us not to back down. If we had difficulty paying our bills and feeding our horses last year, how can we survive with less (racing) this year?”

When asked to respond to the board member’s statement, Frisoli said, “Part of the problem is that the number of live racing days is more important to some of our members than it is to others. As a board, we are trying very hard to do a good job of representing the entire membership. I think the board is doing that.”

Meanwhile, the East Boston, Mass. track has issued an ultimatum to the horsemen. Suffolk threatened to shut down in March if the NEHBPA and other chapters across the country do not restore simulcast signals by then end of this week, according to a source close to the negotiations. The source added that the offer Suffolk has on the table now is contingent upon all simulcast signals being turned back on no later than Feb. 27. After that, Suffolk will start cutting race days and total purses, with the possibility Suffolk will cease operations for a time in March.

The horsemen, who raced without a contract in 2010 and saw purses cut during the summer meet after legislation to expand gambling failed in Massachusetts, withdrew their consent for races from the New York Racing Association to be simulcast at Suffolk at the end of January. HBPA chapters in Ohio, Florida, Oregon, and Maryland subsequently withdrew their signals in a show of support. Due to the decline in simulcating revenue, Suffolk has already reduced both its hours of operation and staffing.