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No Consensus from Horsemen in Suffolk Dispute

New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association board to meet Feb. 21.

By Lynne Snierson

The board of directors of the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association met on the night of Feb. 20 to consider the latest counterproposal of Suffolk Downs, but a consensus was not reached and the stalemate over a contract for 2011 continues.

The board, which consists of five trainers, five owners, the president, the executive director, and the general counsel, will reconvene on the night of Feb. 21 to resume discussions.

“There was a lot of talk 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.”

The horsemen and the East Boston, Massachusetts tracks have been at odds over the number of live racing days, the purse allocation, and the share of the simulcasting revenue. The dispute, now entering its fifth week, had been bitter but the tone has turned more civil of late.

While no one involved in the negotiations for either side will speak for the record or confirm details of the latest proposal on the table, it is believed that Suffolk has upped its initial offer of $7.5 million in total purses to $8.4 million. The NEHBPA has asked for $10.5 million. 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, and now both sides seem to be moving to the middle on that issue as well. The simulcast split, which the horsemen contend needs to be 50-50, apparently is still a bone of contention.

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, pulled the simulcast signal from the New York Racing Association at the end of January. HBPA chapters in Ohio, Florida, Oregon, and Maryland then withdrew their signals in a show of support. Due to the decline in simulcating revenue, Suffolk reduced both its hours of operation and staffing this month.

When asked if there will be live racing at Suffolk Downs this year, the board member replied, “I think we will race. This will all get 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.