Tampa Bay Downs may be headed for another contract dispute with the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association for the second consecutive year.
Robert Van Worp, a vice president of the Tampa Bay Downs HBPA, has accused track management of attempting to coerce horsemen into joining a rival association by denying stalls to him and other HBPA officers for the meet that begins Dec. 16.
Last year, the Oldsmar, Fla., track opened its season without a simulcasting contract. The Tampa Bay HBPA would not sign a contract because track management had moved money from overnight purses into the stakes program. The result of the deadlock was an opening day with short fields and poor attendance. The total handle for opening day was $165,920.
Van Worp said he believes management is denying him stalls as punishment for last year's problems. He also said in his letter he believes management wants a rival horsemen's group formed so it can negotiate its contracts with the new group instead of the Tampa Bay HBPA.
"There is no reason to deny us stalls other than to serve notice that the HBPA is going to be pressured," Van Worp said in his letter. "It might be better not to ship to Tampa until this contract has been executed with the Tampa Bay HBPA."
Tampa Bay HBPA president Leonard Alexander also was denied stalls, and HBPA vice president Marshall Novak had his stall request put on hold.
Van Worp is not being punished, said John Grady, Tampa Bay Downs general manager. He said the track simply has only 1,328 stalls and 2,300 requests. Every year, Grady said, some trainers feel they were treated unfairly.
"It is not that we are picking on anyone," Grady said. "We are making the best of what is otherwise a very nice situation. People want to come to Tampa Bay Downs, and it wasn't always this way."
Grady said stall allocations are not made by a precise formula. They are simply business decisions made by track management, he said.