Mediation in Ohio Breed Dispute Remains a No-Go

A stalemate between Thoroughbred and Standardbred horsemen in Ohio continued when the Ohio Harness Horsemen's Association declined a proposal by the Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association to submit to mediation to resolve financial issues tied to state law.

The Ohio HBPA for at least a year has put forth numbers that indicate state law funnels pari-mutuel revenue from Thoroughbred racing to harness racing. Standardbred officials note one of the laws in question--a 1996 measure to authorize full-card simulcasts--was agreed upon by all parties: the two horsemen's associations and the seven racetracks in the state.

The Ohio HBPA, in an April 27 release, said its board of directors reacted with "anger and frustration" over the April 21 decision by the OHHA board to decline mediation. Bob Reeves, chairman of the Ohio HBPA Purses and Wagering Committee, said $107 million was wagered on Thoroughbred products at the state's four harness tracks in 2002, and $20 million in revenue from that handle went to fund the harness industry.

"Sixty percent of wagering at Ohio harness tracks is on Thoroughbred products, yet Thoroughbred horsemen in Ohio don't receive a dime of that except from in-state simulcasts," Reeves said.

Jerry Knappenberger, general manager of the OHHA, confirmed April 27 the board of directors did reject mediation. But he said there is more to the equation than the two horsemen's groups.

"The things they put out are one-sided," Knappenberger said. "Some of the things they want to change would take a nine-entity agreement, and some of the racetrack won't submit to mediation. Seven racetracks would have to agree, and obviously that's not going to happen."

In Ohio, the law that governs simulcasts and created a common purse pool for dark-day simulcast revenue can be changed by the legislature or if the two horsemen's groups and seven tracks agree to do so. The latter scenario is considered a longshot at best.

Dan Theno, executive director of the Ohio HBPA, said there are issues not tied to the simulcast purse pool. He said that while more than 50% of the cost of medication testing was paid by the Thoroughbred industry, 75% of the tests were performed on Standardbreds. Theno also said host-fee limits and a prohibition on evening Thoroughbred racing are sticking points.

"We have called for negotiations," Reeves said in a release. "We have called for mediation. We have done everything to try and get the harness side of Ohio racing to recognize the importance of resolving these issues."