Horsemen: Suffolk Downs Threatens Lawsuit

Track said to be threatening to sue; demands HBPA remove office trailers

By Lynne Snierson

The ongoing battle between Suffolk Downs and the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association over a 2011 contract took a decided turn for the worse Feb. 10 when the racetrack threatened legal action against the horsemen and demanded they remove their office trailers from the grounds.

In a related development, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association has pulled its signal, effective Feb. 11, and joins a growing list of jurisdictions supporting the New England group.

“We sent a settlement proposal (Feb. 9) by letter and then got more letters (Feb. 10) to get our trailers off the grounds and to stop lying or they would sue us,” said Frank Frisoli, attorney for the NEHBPA. “I am inquiring if that is their response to our proposal.”

Chip Tuttle, chief executive officer of the East Boston, Mass., track, would only say, “We are going to defer comment until we have reviewed the horsemen’s proposal.”

The latest development in the bitter negotiations evidently centers on separate and contradictory fact sheets posted on the websites of each organization. Each document disputes the other on major points of contention in the dispute over the number of live racing days, the amount of purses to be paid, and the distribution of the revenue generated by simulcasting. The intent of track management to race live in 2011 has also been called into question.

“We are not lying,” said Frisoli. “Why are they threatening to sue? We stand by what we said is the truth.”

It has always been standard practice for the NEHBPA to leave its trailers on the backside when Suffolk is not conducting a live meet and to operate from that space.

“Let them tell you that this isn’t being done to be spiteful,” Frisoli said. The Eighth Pole, the social welfare organization serving backstretch workers, was evicted from the grounds earlier. Its directors also serve on the NEHBPA board of directors, but Tuttle said at the time the issue was one of safety and security.

The NEHBPA counterproposal, which offered to settle the dispute with 100 days of live racing, read “we are proposing to resolve the disagreement as to division of simulcasting commissions by sharing that revenue equally, subject to the limitation of 7.5% of the simulcast handle and by continuing to share all other revenue as previously shared, without the guarantee made in previous agreements as to the total amount of purses to be paid during the course of the meet.”

Earlier, Suffolk had proposed a meet of 67-76 days with purses of $7.5 million while the NEHBPA maintains it needs $10.6 million in purses paid over 100 days. The horsemen also want a 50/50 split of the simulcasting proceeds as is it stated is customary in other jurisdictions.

“I walk the backside and I know that our horsemen are great horsemen. I see how hard they work,” said Frisoli, a Thoroughbred owner for almost 35 years. “These are not rich people. They can’t race for $50,000 to $70,000 and pay their bills. How do you feed your horses and care for them properly on that? When you’re only racing for $70,000 per day, at the end of the week the trainers won’t be able to pay their help. That’s what this fuss is all about. We’re not looking for a handout. We only want our fair share.”

In January the NEHBPA pulled the simulcasting signal from the New York Racing Association, and then horsemen in Ohio, Florida, and Oregon withdrew their consent. Now the Maryland horsemen have lent their support so races from Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Beulah Park, Portland Meadows, and Laurel Park cannot be simulcast at Suffolk. Under Massachusetts law, state residents are also prohibited from betting those tracks through their advance deposit wagering accounts.

Rockingham Park, located only 30 miles north of Boston, is carrying all of the signals disallowed in the Bay State,  but track officials said last night that it is too early to determine if the New Hampshire track is experiencing a bump in handle.

On Feb. 9, Suffolk announced the track will cut hours of operation and reduce staffing due to revenue declines caused by the decrease in simulcasting revenue.