Tampa Bay, Horsemen Remain at Odds

Representatives from the Tampa Bay Downs Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association met with Tampa Bay president Peter Berube Dec. 4 in an effort to resolve a dispute over stalls that threatens the track's ability to receive out-of-state signals when the live meet begins Dec. 15.

Tampa Bay HBPA board members Don Rice, Tom Maida, and John Reading suggested to Berube that the track could avert the loss of signals -- along with a likely corresponding drop in purses -- by allotting stalls to HBPA president Bob Jeffries.

"We went there because we know horsemen will suffer," said Maida, who noted that purses were "precipitously lower" during the 12 days that out-of-state signals were withheld in 2000 at Tampa Bay due to a stalemate over contractual issues between the track and the horsemen. "He said that they would not change their position on that matter."

Though he would not comment directly on the situation, Berube said only that the stalls are allotted "at the track's prerogative."

In a show of support for Jeffries, HBPA affiliates from around the country have indicated they will withhold their approval for their racing to be sent to Tampa. Horsemen from Texas and Kentucky have made such a decision, while groups in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia are expected to follow.

"We've got to take care of our own," said John Roark, president of the Texas Thoroughbred HBPA and National HBPA.

The track and horsemen have a recent history of acrimony, including failure to reach a contract at the time of the meet's opening in four of the past six years. Last year, stalls were denied to then-HBPA president Leonard Alexander, and representatives from the national HBPA were denied access to the grounds by track management.

"Last year they separated the horsemen from the board, and this year, they're working to get the board out of here," Jeffries said.