Tampa Bay, Horsemen Again in Purse Dispute

On the heels of a horsemen's dispute that spoiled its 1999 opening week, Tampa Bay Downs is having problems signing a purse contract before opening day Dec. 16, and it could be compounded by legal problems.

The Oldsmar, Fla., track appears to have violated its existing purse agreement with horsemen by denying stalls to six officers, or their trainers, of the Tampa Bay Downs Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, according to HBPA officials.

Last year, a dispute with horsemen over the distribution of money between overnight and stakes purses forced the track to open without a purse contract. Opening day was dismal -- no simulcasting, short fields, poor attendance, and low on-track handle. A one-year contract soon was ironed out, and it included a provision that protected HBPA officers from retribution by track management.

"I don't think there is any question they violated that agreement," said Bob Van Worp, vice president of the Tampa Bay Downs HBPA. His son, Judson, trains his horses and was denied stalls.
"It appears Tampa Bay Downs is manipulating this whole thing," said Kent Stirling, executive director for the Florida HBPA, who is helping negotiate the new contract. "They want a rival horsemen's group formed so they can negotiate with them."

John Grady, Tampa Bay Downs general manager, said he wouldn't comment on Van Worp's and Stirling's allegations. He has insisted that no one is being picked on, and that stall allocations are strictly "business decisions." The track has 2,300 stall applications and only 1,328 stalls.

Contract negotiations have stalled for nearly two weeks. The Tampa Bay Downs HBPA sent a draft contract to track management Nov. 10, but received no response and has been unable to set up a meeting to discuss it, according to Van Worp.
"I think this will be tougher than last year," Van Worp said. "We'd rather sit down and work this out, but we have not qualms about going to court because we feel we'll prevail."

The horsemen want the new contract to specify how new purse money will be distributed,and would like HBPA officers to hae more of a voice in how existing purse money is spent.
Grady said he didn't want to negotiate the contract through the press, but did say track management would prefer to simply renew the current contract.