Alabama HBPA: Return of Live Racing is Objective

A representative of the Alabama Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association said that, despite concerns from a few National HBPA affiliates, the organization is working to improve the outlook for Thoroughbred racing in the state.

Alabama HBPA representatives were questioned during a Jan. 28 meeting of the National HBPA executive committee in Phoenix, Ariz., about plans for a return of live racing, and whether its financial house was in order. Charles Town HBPA president Dick Watson said he had received calls from people in Alabama with questions about the organization and its finances.

Mike Wallace, counsel for the Alabama HBPA, said the questions may have stemmed from "bad blood" that lingers from previous lawsuits, breed wars, and an old battle with the Alabama Thoroughbred Association.

"Everything we have done is to promote Thoroughbred racing and bring it back," Wallace said. "There are a lot of things we've done to rectify things. I question whether (the individuals that contacted Watson) are Alabama HBPA members. We've got a lot of enemies."

During the National HBPA executive committee meeting in Phoenix, Ariz., Wallace and Alabama HBPA president Skip Drinkard said a budget crunch and Indian casinos have made the time ripe to pursue legislation for racetrack gaming. The bill would require Birmingham Race Course to offer live horse racing should it get video gaming machines.

Birmingham, which now offers live Greyhound racing and full-card simulcasting of horse and dog races, closed for Thoroughbred racing in the 1990s. When an anti-trust suit tied to simulcasting was dismissed, the track paid the Alabama HBPA a $1-million settlement, Wallace said.

Under the terms of a current contract, Birmingham pays the Alabama HBPA $10,000 a month for the right to simulcast horse races. Wallace also said there is money in an escrow fund. (In the late 1990s, that purse money was mentioned by the ATA as a possible way to fund the Claiming Crown and bring live racing back to Birmingham.)

A few years ago, the Alabama HBPA paid the National HBPA $183,000. Though there is no live horse racing in the state, a fund administered by the Birmingham Racing Commission supports five Alabama-bred stakes held at other racetracks.

The Alabama HBPA has about 300 members, down from 600, and its board meets once a year. But its deal with Birmingham, and the fact an election hasn't been held since 1994, led to questions from Watson and Florida HBPA president Linda Mills. (Florida is the closest Thoroughbred racing state to Alabama.)

Wallace said general membership meetings have been called, but there hasn't been a quorum. Members have scattered in the absence of live racing in the state.

During the Jan. 28 meeting, Mills asked why the Alabama HBPA doesn't remove the Thoroughbred signals from Birmingham to force a return of live racing. Drinkard said such action would put the organization "right back to square one."

Wallace said the legislative session in Alabama begins March 4. He said three Indian casinos--connected mobile homes that took in a total of $100 million--have caught legislators' attention because they generate no revenue for the state. Racetrack-based gaming would, however, provide money for the state.