Dueling Horsemen's Groups Stall Playfair Dates Request

Two separate horsemen's groups representing Playfair Race Course appeared at a Washington Horse Racing Commission meeting on Wednesday, preventing the commission from granting any of the 40 requested racing dates to the track near Spokane, Wash. According to WHRC executive secretary Robert Leichner, no dates will be granted until a single horsemen's group is recognized and that group can prove it has a viable contract with the racetrack.

"I think this is the central issue because nothing else may proceed until that is resolved," said Leichner. "There was a lot of controversy over this issue (at this meeting) between the horsemen's organizations."

The two groups are the Organization for the Preservation of Horse Racing in the Northwest (OPHRN), which is the last group recognized by the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association as the horsemen's representative in the Spokane area, and the Inland Empire HBPA, which signed a contract with Playfair owner Eric Nelson.

Nelson has worked, until recently, with OPHRN, but he said the group wanted to have input on Nelson's personnel choices, and then at the last minute, it wanted include a clause in a contract that would give horsemen additional revenue from anything Nelson's company, Cleopatra Gaming, would do outside of the racetrack. Nelson also owns mini-casinos. Nelson leased Playfair earlier this year with an option to buy the track, requested 40 racing days beginning on Sept. 12.

"I think that was taking it over the line and they said that was non-negotiable," said Nelson. "They said 'sign the contract or don't run races.' It's ludicrous what they want." Nelson said at that point the Inland Empire group stepped up and was willing to work with him. This latest snag also prevents simulcasting at Playfair, which Nelson was hoping to begin this month.

Remi Bellocq, executive director for the National HBPA, said his office has suggested the area horsemen need to have an election to determine which group has the mandate to represent horsemen with Playfair.

"Our main goal is that there's a resolution to live racing can come back to Eastern Washington, but in a way that's fair to the majority of the horsemen," said Bellocq. He said his organization would endorse whichever group earned a majority vote in an election monitored by a third party.

All the horsemen in the area were invited to meet at 5 p.m. on Thursday in Spokane.

Also at the racing commission meeting, Emerald Downs' request for 92 racing dates from April 19 through Sept. 22 was approved. That schedule is nearly identical to that track's 2002 schedule which offered 91 racing dates in the same time period.

Four smaller tracks also received dates. Sun Downs was granted 10 days of racing from April 5 through May 4; Walla Walla will run five days total, two in May and three in August; Days of Real Sport at Waitsburg will run May 17 and 18; and Dayton Days will offer racing May 24, 25, and 26.