Updated: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 10:11 PM
Posted: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 10:06 PM
By Lynne Snierson
The New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Suffolk Downs have reached an agreement in principal for a 2011 contract and the deal is expected to be sealed March 2, according to the general counsel for the horsemen.
Only one remaining point of contention prevented the NEHBPA board of directors from accepting Suffolk’s binding proposal March 1.
According to a highly placed source, the NEHPBA voted 6-3 not to accede to one of Suffolk’s demands. The horsemen, who as recently as Feb. 25 still refused to cooperate with the track on its legislative agenda to reduce the minimum of 100 days of live racing currently mandated by state statute, have now agreed not to oppose the track in its pursuit. What they would not go along with is Suffolk’s request the NEHBPA send written letters to the Speaker of the House and the Senate President in Massachusetts which publicly state that horsemen will not stand in opposition to Suffolk’s position in the state capitol. Suffolk is also trying to get favorable legislation to expand gambling passed in this year’s session.
“There was limited support to accept the letters,” said attorney Frank Frisoli. “What we need is a clarification of terms. I fully expect we will get over this final hurdle and resolve matters tomorrow (March 2). The board also voted in favor of authorizing the president to then accept the terms and sign the deal once this last point is resolved.”
The contract negotiations, which have been acrimonious at times during the six weeks they had dragged on, have taken a far more civil tone in recent days. By the end of February, the two sides had already resolved their differences on the purse structure, the split of the simulcasting revenue, and the number of racing days.
Under the terms of the new deal Suffolk will host a live meet of 80 days, provided the state law is changed, and the NEHBPA also agreed to race fewer than 100 days in 2012 because the legislative cycle spans two years. The program purses will be $8.25 million in 2011 and the track will share the revenue generated by simulcasting 50-50 with the horsemen.
When reached late in the evening Suffolk Downs Chief Executive Officer Chip Tuttle said: “As we strive to offer a competitive racing program for bettors and horsemen alike, it’s great that the HBPA has agreed that fewer days for higher purses is preferable to the alternative. Given that they have agreed not to oppose the change in the statute, I am confident we can resole the remaining minor details.”
There is now a strong spirit of cooperation to finalize the contract March 2 and devote their efforts to the upcoming meet.
“The attitude on both sides now is that we really want to get this done,” said Frisoli, who is also a Thoroughbred owner. “We both want to compromise. We recognize that there probably won’t be racing at the track if we don’t compromise. We recognize that we race 80 days this year or not at all. To not reach a deal is harmful to the industry, the track, the horsemen, the breeders, the bettors, and the employees.”
While the sides engaged in battle, the NEHBPA and horsemen across the country shut down simulcast signals. The local horsemen withdrew their permission for races from the New York racing Association to be simulcast at Suffolk Jan. 28 and then HBPA chapters in Ohio, Florida, Oregon, Maryland, and Oklahoma pulled their signals in solidarity. Suffolk experienced a dramatic decline in handle, which is used to generate purses, in the month of February and as a result, Suffolk had cut back both staffing and hours of operation.
“As soon as the agreement is signed, we will restore the NYRA signal,” said Frisoli, who by federal law cannot instruct the other chapters what to do in this regard. “We will also alert the national HBPA that we have a new deal and then it will be up to the other chapters to decide what they will do. I would expect that to be no different from what we will do.”
A Suffolk official said that although firm dates have yet to be set, Suffolk plans to race from mid to late May through the Breeders’ Cup weekend this year, and the track will now begin the process of printing and distributing stall applications and condition books. The backside will open during the last week in April and the track will be ready for training.
First I applaud Oklahoma who joined the rest and pulled their Signal in support of the NEHBPA.
” The program purses will be $8.25 million in 2011 and the track will share the revenue generated by simulcasting 50-50 with the horsemen.”
This was the one thing on the NEHBPA Agenda that wouldn’t budge them. They wanted a 50-50 split and them uniting together and fighting Suffolk Downs with the move of Pulling Their Permission for the use of their signal has gotten them exactly what they fought for. And the support from the Florida, Ohio, Oregon, Maryland & Oklahoma Thoroughbred Horsemen also pulling their signals sent a very clear message to many Track Owners across the country. That the Horsemen & Women being used for a Whipping Post has ended. Some now are finally fighting back.
And if Maryland & New England Horsemen who fought and WON, hasn’t woke up and taught other Horsemen in the country to also fight for themselves. Then understand the more you’re willing to be dumped on, the more the States and the Track Owners will be all too happy to oblige them. One must be willing to finally say Enough is Enough, decide to Unite and stand as one and fight.
Because in Reality, there’s nothing else left to lose. The ones who are willing to take that chance and make the same move will also come out the Victors. And if that fight fails, at least they can hold up their heads and say we gave it our best shot. We didn’t lay down voluntarily, but went down swinging back.
To All the Thoroughbred Horsemen & Women, your future IS WORTH THAT FIGHT. But you have to be willing to take a stand and not cave or give in until they give you what you’ve worked so hard for and earned the right to.
And you keep fighting with that same Dignity. You know what you’re worth so don’t sell yourself short.
Stand Up And Fight.