For the first time in several years, horsemen and management at Turfway Park are at odds over terms of a contract that would be in effect for the holiday meet that begins Dec. 2 and runs through Dec. 31.
As the racing industry has been negatively impacted by the downturn in the national economy, the contract that stipulates how much money goes to purses and how much goes to the track had been extended from meet to meet without any changes.
Now, however, Turfway and its partners—Keeneland and Harrah’s—are seeking a larger percentage of the takeout from wagering than has been the norm in recent meets. Management contends the track needs to get more to offset the downturn in business and revenues and that it has done its part to cut costs wherever possible.
"What has been requested has been a change in the percentages we would pay (to purses) from various sources of wagering revenues," Turfway Park president Bob Elliston said of the contract proposed to horsemen. "At Turfway Park, the wagering numbers have declined yet the percentages attributable to purses have not changed at all. At the same time, we have had to reduce staff, have had to reduce payments to staff that continue to work here, and have had to reduce the expenses we can make on our physical plant."
Elliston declined to say how much more the track is seeking from horsemen, adding "We have a difference of opinion with our horsemen as it relates to the specifics of the contract. I am not going to go into the specifics of the contract."
While they understand the economic pressure facing Turfway Park’s ownership, horsemen have also felt the brunt of the down economy by having seen purses slashed and having fewer opportunities to race as the northern Kentucky track has cut racing dates, according to Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
"They have a position that they need some concessions from horsemen, and horsemen at the same time are not prepared to give concessions," Maline said, adding that there was no animosity between the two parties. "Anything that would further decrease purses is something we are not prepared to do at this time.
"It’s tough for them and we understand they are not in the business to lose money, but horsemen cannot afford a significant hit either," he continued. "He (Elliston) is understanding of our position and we are understanding of his position."
It is unclear whether the contract issue must be resolved before Oct. 26, when the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission meets to consider 2011 race dates. At the dates’ committee meeting last week, committee members and KHRC staff were unable to clarify that an agreement must be in place before dates could be awarded.
Under state statute, a track must have the permission of horsemen if it is seeking a number of live racing dates that is "less than 100%" of live racing dates raced in 1994, considered the traditional dates raced by a Kentucky track. But it remains unclear if that agreement is required before the dates are awarded or prior to meet taking place.
Elliston would like to see that stipulation in state statute changed since virtually every track in the state is now racing fewer dates than in 1994.
The inability of the track to have a contract with horsemen could also impact the ability of the track to send its simulcast signal to other tracks and wagering outlets. Under terms of the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1977, horsemen have the right to reject a signal from being sent if there is no contract with management.
Maline said neither party hopes the stalemate gets to the point of the simulcasting being threatened.
Maline said the economic picture for both horsemen and the racetrack could change if the state’s tracks are able to offer a form of Instant Racing, or historical racing. Instant Racing, in which bettors wager electronically on previously run races but without knowing the outcome, has boosted purses at Oaklawn Park. The racing commission and tracks have requested a court opinion on the legality of being able to offer Instant Racing, which is opposed by an organization called The Family Foundation.
But Maline said the possibility that Instant Racing will become reality soon and will generate revenues for purses is not sufficient for horsemen to agree to the concessions being sought by Turfway Park.
"Our feeling is if we are in some way fortunate to have that (approval of Instant Racing) happen, maybe there is light at end of the tunnel," he said. "But we just can’t allow purses to be diminished in hopes that it will be."