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'Militant' Horsemen Eye Suffolk Alternative

A dispute between Suffolk Downs and horsemen appears to be worsening.

by Lynne Snierson

While the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Suffolk Downs remain at a bitter impasse over a contract for live racing in 2011, the attorney for the horsemen said Feb. 1 he is looking into options to race elsewhere in Massachusetts.

“There is a real issue if we are going to run live at Suffolk Downs,” said Frank Frisoli, legal counsel for the New England HBPA. “I am talking with other concerns. We are exploring all alternatives, and we ought to partner with some of the other groups who want to develop a racetrack and casino in another part of the state.

“If Suffolk Downs doesn’t want to work with us, we’ll find someone else that does. There is no reason we have to have live racing at Suffolk Downs.”

Chip Tuttle, chief executive officer of the East Boston racetrack, said: “Good luck to them and God bless them.”

Suffolk is the sole surviving Thoroughbred track in Massachusetts. Legislation for the development of resort casinos and slot machines at the racetracks failed last year when the governor, the House, and the Senate disagreed on the best plan to expand gambling. A compromise will be sought this year as major casino developers wait in the wings.

A compromise seems unlikely between the horsemen and Suffolk Downs management at this juncture. At issue is the amount of purses to be paid, the number of live racing days in 2011, and the percentage of revenue sharing from full-card simulcasts.

Negotiations broke down, and Jan. 30 the New England HBPA pulled its consent for Suffolk Downs to import simulcast races from the New York Racing Association. Frisoli said that on the following day, New England HBPA officials were denied access to the grounds and their office located on the backstretch.

“We’ve been calibrating paying purses the same way for 19 years and it has never been an issue in the past,” Tuttle said. “It doesn’t appear that the HBPA has moved off its position that we pay $10.6 million in purses over 100 days.”

Said Frisoli: “I would characterize our board as militant now. Our members are not going to take less than 7.5% of the simulcasting. We cannot afford to race for $75,000 a day. We need a minimum of $100,000 per day.

“There is no incentive for the breeding program to race a shorter meet of 67 to 76 days, which is what the track proposed. Suffolk (management) can recognize that we’re a partnership, or they can continue to stick their head in the sand.”