Tampa Horsemen Approve New Contract

Horsemen at Tampa Bay Downs gave their leaders a strong directive Friday morning to end a protracted contract dispute with track management.

Members of the Tampa Bay Downs Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association vote 160-2 to accept a purses contract as proposed by racetrack management, according to John Grady, general manager of Tampa Bay Downs.

"We counted the votes twice because no one could believe it," Grady said, who counted the votes along with trainer Don Rice and two owners. "I don't think we could have done this well if we were giving away Super Bowl tickets."

The vote was held during a meeting open to all members of the Tampa Bay Downs HBPA. After listening to a five to eight minute presentation by Grady and assistant general manager Peter Berube, horsemen were left to discuss the matter in private. A half hour later the vote was taken. Members were asked if the contract should be accepted as is or whether a Tampa Bay Downs HBPA negotiating committee should continue pressing for a better deal.

"I think this tells you a lot about this (HBPA) board and their connection with the people they represent," Grady said.

HBPA officers who have been negotiating with track management could not be reached for comment.

Tampa Bay Downs is 13-days into its live meet without a purses contract. Track management cut purses 40% after the first three days because they were losing millions of dollars a day in simulcasting revenue. The racetrack cannot sell its signal without a contract.

Horsmen have been holding out for a year-round, multi-year contract that would include a non-retaliation clause to protect HBPA officers involved in the contentious contract negotiations. In November, track management denied stalls to six Tampa Bay Downs HBPA officers and/or their trainers. Tampa suffered a similar contract dispute a year ago.

Grady said he didn't know what the next step would be toward solving the contract deadlock. He said he was waiting to hear from the HBPA officers.