by Lynne Snierson
Suffolk Downs has threatened to shut down in March if the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and other chapters across the country do not restore simulcast signals by Feb. 26, according to a source close to the negotiations in the ongoing dispute over a contract for 2011.
While no one involved in the negotiations for either side will speak on the record, the source said Suffolk is now offering 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, while Suffolk had offered $7.5 million.
Both sides are in agreement that the track increased that sum to $8.4 million in its latest proposal. When talks began, the horsemen had taken the position they need 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.
Negotiations are continuing, and the 13-member NEHBPA board of directors, which met on the night of Feb. 20, scheduled another session for Feb. 21. Nonetheless, the source said the offer Suffolk has on the table now is contingent upon all simulcast signals being restored.
After that, the East Boston, Mass., track will start cutting days and total purses with the possibility Suffolk will cease operations for a time in March if the signals are not restored.
The horsemen, who raced without a contract in 2010 and experienced purse cuts during the summer after legislation for racetrack gaming failed to pass, pulled the simulcast signal from the New York Racing Association at the end of January. Horsemen in Ohio, Florida, Oregon, and Maryland subsequently withdrew their signals in a show of support.
Due to the decline in simulcast revenue, Suffolk already reduced its hours of operation and staffing.
“There was a lot of talk (Feb. 20) but there is no agreement yet,” said one board member who asked not to be identified. “Our discussions were mostly about clarification, of both exactly what Suffolk is offering and of what we want and what we can accept. There is no consensus among us at this time, but one may be within reach.”
When asked if there will be live racing at Suffolk this year, the board member said: “I think we will race. This will all get this worked out. It always does.”
History has proved otherwise. The NEHBPA board became embroiled in a similar contract dispute with the management of Rockingham Park after the 2002 season. After negotiations broke down and an impasse was reached, Rockingham switched to harness racing, and the New England Thoroughbred circuit ended.