Ohio HBPA Says Thoroughbred Racing at Disadvantage

The Ohio Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has told regulators state laws favor the Standardbred industry to the point where Thoroughbred racing is unfairly paying millions of dollars at a time when it badly needs the money.

Ohio HBPA officials have discussed the most of the issues before but recently issued a point-by-point rundown on the situation. They said the Ohio State Racing Commission has been notified and is reviewing Ohio racing law.

"It is our strong contention that Ohio harness tracks--Northfield Park, Raceway Park, Scioto Downs, and Lebanon Raceway--and harness horsemen have been subsidized by Thoroughbred tracks and horsemen at great cost to ourselves," the Ohio HBPA said in a prepared statement. "From time to time we have broached harness tracks and horsemen who have been adverse to even discussing our concerns."

The Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries have been at odds over the years but both have representatives on the Ohio Horse Racing Council and both have worked together in the push for racetrack video lottery terminals. The relationship in recent years has improved, but Thoroughbred horsemen and tracks have said state law puts an unfair financial burden on them.

"Ideally, what we're looking for is a division of simulcasting revenue by breed," said Bob Reeves, a Thoroughbred owner and Ohio HBPA board member. "Every time we turn over a rock...the harness people seem to have an advantage."

In January, Reeves made a presentation to the National HBPA that showed how a simulcasting purse-pool formula in the state shifts millions of dollars from Thoroughbred purses to Standardbred purses. Reeves said Thoroughbred simulcasts account for about 60% of the handle at harness tracks.

The common purse pool was agreed upon by both breeds in order to get a full-card simulcasting law passed in 1996.

Ohio HBPA board members are scheduled to meet Nov. 11 to discuss the issues, Reeves said. Among the guests will be National HBPA president John Roark and Jerry Knappenberger, general manager of the Ohio Harness Horsemen's Association.

"We haven't had any formal notice (of the Ohio HBPA's concerns) because the Ohio Horse Racing Council was determined to work only on the VLT issue," Knappenberger said. "Anything else was not to be discussed."

Knappenberger and others indicated the two breeds continue to work hand-in-hand to get VLT legislation passed, perhaps next year via March referendum. Along with the two horsemen's groups, the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners is a member of the Ohio Horse Racing Council

"We're all horsemen," Knappenberger said. "We'll try to work with them."

Handle in Ohio has dropped steadily each year, and 2003 is no exception. According to racing commission statistics, through Oct. 23, total handle at Ohio's seven commercial tracks was down $34.6 million from last year. Thoroughbred handle is down 7.5%, and Standardbred handle is down 7.3%.

The Ohio HBPA also contends that:

-- About 60% of simulcast handle at the four harness tracks is generated by out-of-state Thoroughbred signals. In 2002, $107,723,514 was bet at harness tracks on Thoroughbred simulcasts, and from that, harness purses earned $9,919,131. Ohio Thoroughbred purses, meanwhile, received nothing from wagers on the Thoroughbred signals.

-- Of the total wagering on Thoroughbred signals at harness tracks, $1,022,701 was awarded to the Standardbred Development Fund.

-- Ohio tracks receive a host fee of only 1.375% when they send signals to other Ohio tracks. If the customary host fees were charged, an additional $300,000 would to toward Thoroughbred purses.

-- By rule, $200,000 comes out of the Ohio Thoroughbred Development Fund for equine research at Ohio State University. The Standardbred Development Fund only contributes $65,000.

-- Annual costs for drug testing for both breeds are expected to reach $1.5 million in 2003. The Thoroughbred industry will pick up about $795,000 of the cost, and the harness industry $705,000. Commission records show about 25,000 samples are tested for harness racing, and about 8,000 for Thoroughbred racing. If each breed picked up the costs of its own tests, Standardbred tracks would pay $1,136,250, and Thoroughbred tracks would pay $363,600.

-- In 2002, the Thoroughbred industry contributed $1,809,531 to a fund that supports harness racing at county fairs, while the Standardbred industry contributed only $980,669.

-- Thoroughbred tracks in Ohio are prohibited from conducting live racing in the evenings. Thoroughbred handle, according to one estimate, would increase 20% with night racing and add nearly $6 million to Thoroughbred purses.

"We are continuing to urge the harness side to be fair and reasonable," the Ohio HBPA statement said. "We are continuing to urge the Ohio Racing Commission to address our concerns. We are not seeking to have an advantage over our harness friends. We just seek what is fair and reasonable."

Ohio HBPA executive director Dan Theno said the organization would seek to have each track pay its "rightful share" of drug-testing expenses and lower costs for Thoroughbred horsemen and tracks.