Horsemen's Associations Find Common Ground

A June 6 meeting of horsemen's associations from around the country produced constructive dialogue and could lead to a regular exchange of information, officials said.

The meeting was uncommon in that it involved horsemen's associations that don't fall under the same affiliate umbrella. The Thoroughbred Owners of California, Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Kentucky HBPA, Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, and Louisiana HBPA had representatives at the meeting held in Kentucky.

The TOC is independent. The Florida, Kentucky, and Louisiana groups are members of the National HBPA, while the Illinois association is a member of the THA, which is based in the Mid-Atlantic region.

"We found it to be very worthwhile," said Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida HBPA. "There was a lot of sharing and discussion of common problems and concerns. It was a strange group, yet it all worked out very well. We were so happy with it we'll probably have a couple more meetings this year, maybe more."

The associations that met are based at racetracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc. Though CDI wasn't the only topic of discussion, Stirling said the focus was on CDI and its Churchill Downs Simulcast Network. In an earlier interview, TOC president Drew Couto said California horsemen have issues with CDI because it won't openly discuss the rumored sale of Hollywood Park.

"We really had nothing bad to say about who is running the tracks where we're based," Stirling said. "We're just not crazy about what's happening in Louisville."

CDI is based in Louisville, where its flagship track, Churchill Downs, is located. Stirling indicated the corporate structure has hindered communication between management and horsemen. He also took issue with the operation of CDSN, which packages all the company's signals for export purposes and sets host fees.

CDI officials weren't invited to attend the meeting. But CDSN president Karl Schmitt Jr. said the company is willing to listen to any concerns.

"We maintain open lines of communication with horsemen," Schmitt said. "Hopefully we'll be meeting and discussing the issues, and we would love to hear any questions or specific items coming from the meeting."

Horsemen's representatives said they also discussed signal pricing and medication issues, which have been a source of contention for the Kentucky HBPA. But communication and the relationship between horsemen and corporate management apparently was the primary issue.

"The focus was on CDI and CDSN," Stirling said. "That's not to say we won't look at (Magna Entertainment Corp.), but essentially they seem to let their tracks run themselves."

MEC, based in Toronto, Ontario, is the largest racetrack company in North America in terms of number of holdings. In the past year or so, MEC and CDI have teamed on a few projects, including a proposed reconfiguration of the pari-mutuel tote system and the expansion of simulcasts into international markets.