The Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Thistledown have an agreement in principle for 122 days of live racing at the Cleveland-area track this year.
The deal, announced March 17, averts what could have been a shutdown of the racetrack, which is owned by Magna Entertainment Corp. The two parties have been negotiating on 2008 racing dates since last fall.
Thistledown was approved for 111 days by the Ohio State Racing Commission, but the Ohio HBPA sought at least 136. The compromise was discussed during the March 17 meeting of the OSRC.
“We signed off on the agreement,” Ohio HBPA executive director Dave Basler said. “We sent it to Magna (March 14), and the company’s lawyers are reviewing it. Essentially, we agreed to all the terms. We’re just waiting to get all the signatures.”
Also needed is a nine-party agreement among Ohio racing interests—seven racetracks and two horsemen’s groups. Basler said racing commission officials asked the other parties at the March 17 meeting where they stood, and none objected. They did, however, say they had to re-read it.
Bob Roberts, a spokesman for Thistledown, said the meet is scheduled to run from May 1-Oct. 25, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays dark. The barn area will open March 26, with training set to begin March 29, weather permitting, he said.
“We don’t see a problem with the agreement,” Roberts said. “We think it’s going to be a slam-dunk. We just need all the signatures.”
Basler said the agreement has a “look-back provision” that could lengthen the meet to 125 days. That would occur if on-track pari-mutuel handle through Aug. 1 is within 4% of last year’s figure for the same period.
Thistledown's marquee race, the Ohio Derby (gr. II), is scheduled for May 31.
Meanwhile, Beulah Park, which had lost 17 full or partial programs from early January through March 15 because of racing surface and weather conditions, raced live March 17 for the first time in more than two weeks.
River Downs, Ohio’s third Thoroughbred track, opens for live racing April 11. That meet runs through Labor Day, Sept. 1.