Horsemen held a brainstorming meeting Aug. 16 to discuss the ramifications of a plan by Rockingham Park to offer Thoroughbred races Sept. 5 in partnership with the New Hampshire Thoroughbred Breeding and Racing Association.
The meeting was held by the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and attended by National HBPA president John Roark. The New Hampshire association isn't recognized by the HBPA.
The leadership of the New England HBPA, led by executive director Chuck Andre and acting president Anthony Spadea Jr., fully supports the return of Thoroughbred racing to Rockingham, which switched to Standardbred racing last year. But the National HBPA is leery of lending credence to a non-HBPA organization, particularly through revenue sharing via purse distribution and simulcast fees.
"The New England HBPA is working feverishly to cooperate to get the Sept. 5 races run and have Thoroughbred racing return on a regular basis to Rockingham Park some day, but circumstances have to be right for everybody," Andre said at the meeting on the Suffolk Downs backstretch.
Rockingham has a contract to continue harness racing through 2006.
Rockingham Park vice president and general manager Ed Callahan sent a contract proposal to both groups July 31, and a follow-up letter Aug. 10 to the New England HBPA because he hadn't heard back from regarding the initial proposal. In the letter, Callahan said he had been approached by two organizations that believe they represent the horsemen who would race at Rockingham.
Leadership of the New England HBPA believes the New Hampshire Thoroughbred Breeding and Racing Association group is a Rockingham puppet organization because two of its leaders are employed by the track.
"It appears as if (Rockingham Park) formed its own organization, one which it can control," Roark said. "Don't get me wrong. I wish Ed Callahan well. I'm a certified mediator as well as a lawyer, and I'd be more than happy to fly up there to help in a resolution. The HBPA wants to race in New Hampshire as long as it gets its fair share. The place to settle this is not in the courthouse."
When told of the meeting at Suffolk, Callahan said: "We anticipate putting on three Thoroughbred turf races on Sept. 5, weather permitting. We have filed our license and are getting the proper employees hired to run the events, with or without the New England HBPA. Legally, we don't have the power to make a group the sole and exclusive bargaining agent.
"We are willing to work with both groups, and if we need an election at some point to see who represents the horsemen, then so be it. We can't anoint either organization as sole representative. It's not my decision to make."
The National HBPA has said the plan to offer racing without a contract with the New England HBPA could violate the Interstate Horseracing Act. In addition, other horsemen's groups may not react favorable should the New England HBPA cut a deal and share revenue with a non-recognized horsemen's group.
"The HBPA would just like to sit down in a congenial meeting with Rockingham management, both sides keeping an open mind," Spadea said. "I'm a businessman and I have no idea why I can't deal with Rockingham Park. Can't we get a mediator?
"I wonder why nobody in the New Hampshire legislature is paying any attention to the loss of revenue to the state since the (Thoroughbred) horsemen left two years ago. The harness horsemen ship in and out the same day of the race. They don't spend like we did."
Said Callahan: "All I can tell you is that it has been more difficult to put together three Thoroughbred races than two years worth of harness racing. Does that tell you something?"