JC / Railbird

The Impasse, Cont.

As the dispute over terms for a 2011 Suffolk Downs meet continued, the union representing the racetrack’s workers warned of possible job losses and the number of bettable tracks available to Massachusetts horseplayers declined by one when the Oregon horsemen blocked the Portland Meadows signal in support of the New England horsemen on Monday. That’s in addition to the loss of New York last month and the Ohio and Florida signals last week.

Unless bettors travel to the simulcasting halls at Plainridge or Raynham, which are not affected by the dispute and retain signal rights, leave the state, or open an offshore account or ADW account with an out-of-state address — options discussed by horseplayers on forums and Facebook — they won’t be able to play Aqueduct, Gulfstream, or Tampa races on track or by ADW beginning today, a shut-out Suffolk called “a slap in the face” to fans.

I asked NEHBPA lawyer Frank Frisoli on Tuesday morning what the horsemen would like horseplayers to know about why the signals have been blocked. He replied that he was unable to provide a response at that time, but would have one by mid- to late-afternoon. No further reply was forthcoming*.

How long before the dispute is resolved and what resolution might look like is uncertain. Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle told Matt Hegarty that there was no progress in negotiations as of Tuesday afternoon. “We’re still waiting on a counterproposal to the proposal we offered on Jan. 26.” The NEHBPA board met in a closed meeting last night.

Suffolk management considers itself “free to discuss parameters of the 2011 season with any individual owners, trainers or organizations” (PDF), and a new organization representing Massachusetts horsemen, the Thoroughbred Horsemen of Massachusetts Association, is reportedly being formed, although those who may be involved in it are reluctant to speak publicly about the group or its positions on purses, days, and revenue splits. The Facebook page for the group that has been viewable on-and-off since late last week is on again, but has no followers or messages other than the original posting, reported here on Sunday. “If this association were to become a reality,” said a horse owner who approved of the group’s apparent stance, “I would pledge my support to them to keep racing at Suffolk Downs a reality.”

The most visible support for a new group came from horsewoman Laurine Barreira on Monday when she wrote on the Suffolk Downs Facebook page, “I am more than glad that people are working on making a mass hbpa! we as horseman need someone representing us that actually cares about the future of racing in massachusetts!” Barreira is the granddaughter of horseman and breeder Lloyd Lockhart, the third generation of her family involved in Massachusetts racing, and a co-owner of Ask Queenie, the exceptional Mass-bred retired last fall with 27 wins and $780,365 in earnings.

The effects of the impasse are being felt among the Suffolk community, scattered to other tracks for the winter, reports Lynne Snierson:

“I can’t believe what a nightmare this is,” said one trainer currently stabled in Florida who requested anonymity. “We need a contract in place and it’s already late in the game if we’re going to be able to ship in and start racing again at the beginning of May. We need to submit stall applications and firm up plans. It won’t be easy to get stalls at other places because all of the other tracks on the East Coast offer higher purses and space there is at a premium. Even if we could get in, we don’t have the horses to compete.”

Or, as a horseman succinctly said to me when I asked for impressions of the situation, “If they can’t get it together, we’re fucked.”

*11:45 AM Update: Frisoli replied this morning, stating that “action to deny permission for transmission of the NYRA signal was taken as authorized by state law only after all other alternatives were exhausted” (the NEHBPA does not have control over the other blocked signals), and provided a fact-sheet produced by the NEHBPA in response to one posted by Suffolk Downs earlier (PDF), which includes additional details about the purse structure in dispute.

1 Comment

[…] If the loss of popular simulcasting signals from New York and Florida dented attendance at the track this afternoon, it wasn’t immediately obvious. But there was something missing, a lack of energy, the usual rise and fall of excited chatter as races went off. “Why isn’t there racing from Gulfstream?” asked a frustrated fan, standing in front of TVs that showed Laurel, Freehold, and Monticello, the three tracks available for betting. […]

Posted by Jessica Chapel / Railbird v2 - Suffolk Scene on February 9, 2011 @ 5:53 pm