Tampa Bay's Stall Denial Upheld by Court

Tampa Bay Downs and its horsemen face off in court Tuesday.

The racetrack is being sued by the Tampa Bay Downs Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association for allegedly breaching its current purse contract. The contract, which was made after a bitter dispute over the distribution of purse money, included a clause protecting horsemen from retaliation by track management. This year, track executives denied stalls to six Tampa Bay Downs HBPA officers or their trainers.

Tampa Bay Downs general manager John Grady has insisted that denial of stalls is not retribution. He said the track had 2,300 stall applications and only 1,328 stalls.

A hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. before 13th Circuit Court Judge Manuel Menendez. The judge may even issue a ruling Tuesday, according to Bob Van Worp, a vice president with the Tampa Bay HBPA and one of the officers who was denied stalls through his son and trainer Jud Van Worp.

"Our attorney feels the judge will make a decision because of the pressing nature of the issues," Van Worp said.

What's causing the pressure is Tampa Bay Downs' opening day on Saturday. The denial of stalls is one particularly sticky issue in another contentious contract negotiation. If a contract isn't signed by Saturday, Tampa Bay Downs cannot simulcast its races and track executives have said purses will be cut by $35,000, according to Van Worp.

Last year, Tampa Bay Downs opened without a contract. The day was plagued with short fields, poor attendance, and a total on-track handle of $165,920.

Horsemen met Monday afternoon with Grady and assistant general manager Peter Berube, but no progress was made toward drafting a new contract. Van Worp said he believes no work on new contract can be done until after the lawsuit is settled. Grady could not be reached Monday for comment.