JC / Railbird

Digging In

New England HBPA lawyer Frank Frisoli told Paul Daley on Thursday that other horsemen’s groups might pull simulcasting signals from Suffolk Downs “out of solidarity” with the Massachusetts group, which is negotiating with the track over 2011 race dates, purses, and the simulcasting revenue split. Lynne Snierson reports that the Ohio and Florida horsemen have now done so:

On Jan. 29, the New England horsemen withdrew their consent for races from the New York Racing Association to be simulcast in Massachusetts and now races from Beulah Park are no longer available. As of tomorrow (Sunday, Feb. 6), races from Tampa Bay Downs will not be available and Gulfstream Park must stop sending its signal on Monday. Under Massachusetts statute, Advance Deposit Wagering account holders in the state are also prohibited from betting those tracks through TVG, Twin Spires, XpressBet …

Unbelievable. Unsurprisingly, there’s not a word in Snierson’s piece from the NEHBPA acknowledging, much less apologizing for, the affect blocking the feeds has on Massachusetts horseplayers. I would complain about how bettors — the people who fund much of the purse account at the center of this fight — are the only ones getting hurt at this point, but Suffolk kicked the backstretch assistance center, the Eighth Pole, off its grounds, and not being able to play the Whirlaway at Aqueduct this afternoon really pales in comparison to being shuttled to a homeless shelter for medical treatment and social services.

So, the situation is ugly, and complicated, and seems likely to become more so before anything is settled. I heard a few days ago that there were horsemen unhappy with the NEHBPA’s handling of the negotiations, none willing to talk even anonymously, which Snierson confirms, and a group calling itself the Thoroughbred Horsemen of Massachusetts Association appeared on Facebook at this URL before disappearing early Saturday. [2/6/11, 4:00 PM Update: The group’s page has returned. “We are a newly formed organization reaching out to the horsemen of Massachusetts who race regularly at Suffolk Downs,” reads its description. “If you feel that the New England HBPA is misrepresenting Massachusetts horsemen in their quest to sign a purse agreement for the Suffolk Downs 2011 race meet, then we want to hear from you!”]

Meanwhile, the track is apparently planning for a meet beginning in May. “I hope there is room for an agreement [with the NEHBPA],” Suffolk COO Chip Tuttle told Snierson. “But if not, we intend to run a race meet in 2011 regardless.” This makes about as much sense as the NEHBPA’s earlier claims of seeking an alternate venue for live racing. There’s nowhere else to race in Massachusetts, and there’s no one else who wants to race in Massachusetts.

(And if there is? Are these horsemen wanted at Suffolk? There have been years, not recent, in which stalls have been given to unsavory trainers banned from other jurisdictions for the purpose of bolstering the local horse population. Even at the higher purse structure under discussion, the average daily purses will still be lower than any other track on the East Coast. Rogues will apply.)

But I also hope agreement is possible. This just isn’t the way for racing at the last thoroughbred racetrack in New England to end. Suffolk posted on its website this morning a dispute fact sheet (PDF), and a copy of the track’s response letter to the NEHBPA when negotiations initially broke down last month (PDF). A few things jumped out on reading, not least:

The letter also omits other elements of the proposal that further demonstrate SRR’s good faith negotiations. These include a willingness to spread the racing days over a 23- to 26-week meet and to keep the barn area open from late April until at least early November, which you have conveyed is important to your members but creates considerable extra expense for SSR. The SSR proposal also would have committed SSR to adding racing days to the season in the event that the handle generated at Suffolk Downs approaches the level it was at last year.

Suffolk is proposing a shortened meet, and is offering to spread out race dates and keep the barn area open for almost seven months. That doesn’t just sound like good faith, it sounds like a perfectly viable solution, considering the current state of the racing industry and the never-ending, ever-surprising expanded gaming maneuvering on Beacon Hill. The NEHBPA wants the state-mandated minimum 100 days and total purses of $10.6 million, but there’s just no market for that much Massachusetts racing, and there’s no money to support that much Massachusetts racing without slots.

“Even running for a little bit of money is better than no racing and no money,” horseman Charlie Assimakopolous told Snierson. That’s the bottom line.


interesting comment from mr. assimakopolous since he was one of the trainers who opted to take most of his horses to laurel when suffolk cut the purses 25%.

Posted by don on February 7, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

[…] 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 […]

Posted by Jessica Chapel / Railbird v2 - The Impasse, Cont. on February 9, 2011 @ 6:56 am