Horsemen's Groups, Tampa Bay Downs Seem Poised for Battle

Though horsemen's groups in various states did not vote to pull their signals from all wagering outlets in Florida in response to a stall-application denial by Tampa Bay Downs, their forces are being marshaled.

"We didn't think it was fair to the Calder (Race Course) horsemen to deny the signal to the whole state," said John Roark, president of the Texas Thoroughbred Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. He noted there are inconsistencies between the Interstate Horseracing Act and Florida law regarding simulcasting.

Under Florida law, a simulcast signal is sent to the state through a racetrack operating a live meet, and it must be made available to all simulcast-only facilities, including tracks not open for live racing. Thus, until the opening of Tampa Bay for living racing Dec. 15, a vote by a horsemen's group to deny the signal to Tampa Bay would impact every location in the state.

Roark's group has advised Tampa Bay management of its decision to deny permission to accept the Texas signal, though the track continues to take bets on Sam Houston Race Park.

"We think they're at risk by accepting (the signal)," Roark said. "It seems their action circumvents our rights to control our signal."

The Texas Thoroughbred HBPA is researching the legal aspects of the matter and could chose to litigate, Roark said.

A number of states are likely to line up behind Texas and deny Tampa Bay permission to import signals when the meet begins. Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky HBPA, said his board would likely meet within the next few weeks to consider that possibility.

At issue is Tampa Bay management's decision to deny Tampa Bay HBPA president Bob Jeffries' request for eight stalls following a protracted battle between the track and horsemen's group last year. In 2000, the late Leonard Alexander, then president of the horsemen's association, was denied stalls.

Tampa Bay president Peter Berube said the decision comes down to availability. He said 55% of stall requests are denied strictly on the basis of space. "Jeffries was denied stalls because he failed to produce the mix of horses we need to operate our meet," Berube said.

But Jeffries, who used as an example his runner Pass The Cash, who finished second in a $50,000 maiden-claiming race at Belmont Park, scoffs at that claim.

"It has nothing to do with the kind of horses I have," Jeffries said. "They're singling me out because of the union. Last year, they knew Leonard was dying, and they took one last shot at him. I'm not going to give up on this."