Tampa Veterinarians Must Pay to Play

Tampa Bay Downs is now requiring veterinarians to pay licensing fees.

by Jim Freer and Tom LaMarra

Tampa Bay Downs is requiring veterinarians to pay their first-ever licensing fees for its meet that begins Dec. 13. A licensing fee for blacksmiths was planned but has been put off until the 2009-10 racing season.

Margo Flynn, vice president of marketing and publicity at Tampa Bay, said the new license fees will be used to help cover Tampa Bay Downs’ costs of improving its system for waste disposal in the backstretch area.

In an Oct. 25 letter to vendors, track management said the licensing fees “will incorporate vendors’ ability to conduct business” in the stable area and are “scaled to cover expenses such as disposal of hazardous bio-waste materials and job-related refuse” such as horseshoes, nails, and files.

At a meeting with horsemen several days prior to opening the meet, Tampa Bay officials will provide a waiver for the horsemen to use for their own personal benefit to limit their exposure to injuries incurred by blacksmiths. "We will strongly suggest that they get their blacksmiths to sign the waiver," Flynn said.

Shelby Clark, a blacksmith who works at the Tampa Bay meet, in late November told The Blood-Horse the fees have rubbed some vendors the wrong way given the current state of the economy. On Dec. 5, Flynn said the track changed its plans and put blacksmiths on notice that fees would be charged for the 2009-10 meet, not the upcoming meet.

“There couldn’t be a worse time for a racetrack to impose fees on anyone,” Clark said at the time. "It’s all going to go back to the owners, and we have owners who are at the tipping point ready to get out of the business."

Clark said vendors eventually would have to increase their fees to cover licensing. He said costs for blacksmiths “have tripled in the last year and a half. There’s a trickle-down effect here, and there’s a concern about what could happen across the nation (should other tracks impose such fees).”

Clark said he expressed his concerns to Tampa Bay general manager Peter Berube. The blacksmith said the vendors fees probably would provide the track with no more than $25,000-$35,000.

Practicing veterinarians and acupuncturists must pay the highest fee of $1,500. Blacksmiths would have been charged $1,000, according to a fee schedule released in October. Flynn said vendors such as chiropractors and animal behaviorists have been paying fees that, according to the letter, are $250.

“It’s for the well-being of the horsemen,” Flynn said.

Tampa Bay this fall put in new mats in each horse stall. Flynn said that is part of environmental-oriented changes that led to “an increased expense for disposal of waste in general.”

The mats prevent horses from digging through their bedding and into the dirt base of their stalls. Tampa Bay expects the change will reduce the amount of waste extracted from stalls each day, and reduce the need to dig for additional dirt to maintain the base of the stalls.

Tampa Bay’s 2008-09 meet will run through May 2, with 94 live racing days.