JC / Railbird


NEHBPA Discussions Continue

The NEHBPA board met on Monday night for round two of a discussion on the latest offer from Suffolk Downs for the 2011 meet. There was no resolution to the dispute at the meeting’s conclusion. Via email, NEHBPA lawyer Frank Frisoli said this morning that the board “is continuing to discuss the matter and is seeking to discuss alternatives and modifications with Suffolk Downs.”

As Lynne Snierson reported for the Blood-Horse yesterday, and a Railbird source confirmed, the net simulcasting revenue split remains contentious, and days may be a matter of dissension within the board. The horsemen have sought 100 days of racing this year. Suffolk, which originally offered 67-76 days, has now proposed 75-85 days. What does not seem an issue at this point is the track’s total purse offer of $8.4 million. That’s about the total paid last year, and matches up with the horsemen’s last offer to the track.

Regarding the proposal, Frisoli noted, “we believe [it] remains open.” Contrary to a report yesterday that Suffolk has threatened to shut down in March if the blocked simulcasting signals were not restored by February 26, a source indicated that there is no deadline to the proposal, although it is based on revenue assumptions that may not hold if signals are not restored soon. The board will meet again to discuss the offer on February 23.

9:30 PM Addendum: Lynne Snierson has more on Monday night’s meeting. As mentioned above, days remain an issue. Snierson’s source says that that board is in agreement on 100 days; Frisoli’s response is a study in lawyerly parsing:

“Part of the problem is that the number of live racing days is more important to some of our members than it is to others. As a board, we are trying very hard to do a good job of representing the entire membership. I think the board is doing that.”

Also clarified is the possibility that the purses and days on offer will be cut if simulcasting signals are not restored quickly, as a racetrack source told Railbird yesterday. “[T]he offer Suffolk has on the table now is contingent upon all simulcast signals being turned back on no later than Feb. 27. After that, Suffolk will start cutting race days and total purses,” reports Snierson.

Horsemen, Suffolk Talk

The NEHBPA and Suffolk Downs resumed negotiations this afternoon, one week after the horsemen offered the track a proposal for the 2011 meet, and almost four weeks after talks over purses, days, and the simulcasting revenue split initially broke down. No details of the discussion were divulged. Frank Frisoli, the horsemen’s lawyer, sent the following statement:

The NEHBPA conferenced with representatives of Suffolk Downs this afternoon. It anticipates receiving a proposal in the very near future from Suffolk Downs which will be presented to the Board of Directors of the NEHBPA.

The NEHBPA will have no further comments on this matter pending receipt of a proposal.

Track officials have not yet commented.

Hopefully, that the horsemen expect a proposal soon from Suffolk is a sign some progress was made today in finding a resolution to the bitter dispute.

2/18/11 Addendum: Lynne Snierson reports on the Thursday conversation:

“We had a good dialogue today and some of it is encouraging,” said Chip Tuttle, chief executive officer of the East Boston, Mass., track. “There are some places where we still have additional work to do to reach a consensus. We will keep the process moving forward.”

In light of the past few weeks, that’s a promising statement.

9:00 PM Update: “Constructive” talks continued on Friday …

Stalemate Update

Paul Daley reports on the Suffolk Downs-New England horsemen dispute:

It is Frisoli and the NEHBPA’s contention that shortly, if a contract cannot be ironed out, other HBPA’s around the country — such as Gulfstream Park — will block their signals from being sent to Suffolk out of solidarity to the New England horsemen’s plight. Stay tuned for that one.

Pity the horseplayers, caught between.

The Other Side

Yesterday’s post may have been intemperate. Via Twitter, I heard from a New England horseman that the dispute with Suffolk Downs is one of fairness. “[W]e … just want what every other racing jurisdiction gets, a 50/50 split on simo revenues, not 75/25 split for suf.” For another, who prefers anonymity, it’s about protecting the state-mandated days the horsemen have now and the Massachusetts breeding program, which registered two foals in 2010. “If the Downs runs less days this year, it won’t run more next year,” he said. “We’ll never see those days again.” Underlying the fight over purses and dates is also the memory of purse reductions last August following the failure of expanded gaming legislation, cuts that left many on the backstretch feeling demoralized.

That the horsemen have legitimate concerns isn’t in question. They’re fighting for their livelihoods, and they’re in a desperate spot. And, of course, there’s the possibility of slots. Everyone wants to hang on, in case …

And yet, Lynne Snierson’s Blood-Horse report on Suffolk’s “militant” horsemen was a stunning read. The NEHBPA’s stance belies broader trends in racing; there are reasons contraction is a hot topic across the industry. The tactic was tried at Rockingham; there is no thoroughbred racing at Rockingham anymore. Suffolk, legislatively freed to run shorter meets, may not run 100-plus day meets again, but horses won’t race at all in East Boston if the track is closed, and very few outside Massachusetts would notice. “If [horsemen] continue to thumb their noses at Suffolk Downs in hopes for a currently non-existent alterative venue in Massachusetts in which to conduct thoroughbred racing,” writes Foolish Pleasure, “do they seriously believe anyone outside of their little circle will care when the lights go out for good there?” A Paulick Report commenter certainly doesn’t: “Good luck running those horses anywhere else.”

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