Kent Stirling, the first executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association who took on a national role with regard to regulation of medications in horses, died Sept. 6 at age 72 as a result of cancer. A memorial service is planned for a later date at Gulfstream Park.
A former trainer, Stirling served as FHBPA executive director from 1995 until the end of 2015. During his tenure Stirling represented horsemen as the Sunshine State's racing industry underwent a plethora of changes, including deregulation and slots at racetracks.
As those issues arose Stirling negotiated on behalf of horsemen in areas such as race dates, purse splits, and stabling.
"We are all very saddened," said current FHBPA president William White. "He was a big part of anything that happened in Florida for some 25 years. He had to face the situation where Hialeah was battling Gulfstream over dates, he was in place when we started simulcasting, he was in the seat when slots were an issue, when we went with the concept of revenue sharing between us and the racetracks, and he was the major part of any purse contract the HBPA negotiated."
Stirling was known for his near relentless representation of horsemen when it came to regulation of medications in horses, especially with regard to therapeutic medications.
"He was a great advocate to make sure government regulators heard the horsemen's side of medication," White said, noting that Stirling had a major role on medication issues throughout the U.S. and not just in Florida. "Through self study and going to seminars and dealing with experts, he became an expert also. He was an incredible voice in making regulators understand that therapeutic medications at certain levels are beneficial to a horse and can't be put in the same hopper as substances that have no place in a horse or racing."
Stirling also was an advocate for those who worked on the backstretch, and assisted Gulfstream chaplain Tom LaPointe to establish an on-site health clinic. He also helped expand benefit programs to include eye and dental care.
"They supported our ministry big time," LaPointe said of the FHBPA under Stirling and since.
"Being a former trainer and living it and breathing it for years, he understood how difficult it was to make a living doing this, and even though he was long removed from the backside, he was sympathetic to those who worked there," White said.