May 10, 2019
Thoroughbred racing appears to have dodged the decoupling bullet for another year in the State legislature. The once yearly session ended on May 4 with no gaming bill being filed. But there was one in the hopper that apparently included total decoupling of the requirement of facilities to offer a minimum of pari-mutuel days at pari-mutuel facilities that offer gaming. The bill apparently also included no purse pool for thoroughbreds to make up for expected losses to thoroughbred purses. Newly elected Governor Ron DeSantis called a meeting of all pari-mutuel stakeholders in the state on April 26 to discuss the pending bill that was presented to him. After listening to the positions of most in attendance, including the FHBPA, the Governor stated that he would have been derelict in his duty not to hear from this group before moving forward and that it was clear that more work on the bill needed to be done. Also purportedly included in the bill was sports betting at all pari-mutuels and sports arenas with the Seminole casino acting as the hub. There was no indication that horsemen would have received anything from sports betting other what we might receive contractually with our tracks. Needless today these issues remain on our radar for the coming year.
Calder is not waiting for legislative relief to decouple from horse racing as it has received authority from the state to build a jai alai fronton and use that pari-mutuel activity as its basis to continue its gaming operation. The jai alai fronton appeared to be completely built in May and an opening may occur this spring or summer. Calder/Churchill Downs, Inc. constructed the fronton in the face of lawsuits brought by the FHBPA regarding the issuance of the jai alai permit and also the destruction of the former grandstand pari-mutuel facility which are still pending. The jai alai lawsuit questions the legitimacy and propriety of the state’s actions and as of early May the judge in that case allowed Ocala Breeders Sales Company and the breeders’ association to intervene in the FHBPA case over the objection of Calder. The FHBPA and Gulfstream have contracts with Calder to have thoroughbred racing there through 2020.
The FHBPA holds annual elections for five of its fifteen director positions which have three-year terms. In this year’s election owners Tom Cannell and Herb Oster along with trainer David Fawkes won re-election to three year terms. Trainer Carlo Vaccarezza, who had been a one-year alternate last year, also was elected to a three-year term. New to the FHBPA Board is trainer Patrick Biancone who was elected to a three-year term. One-year alternate positions went to trainer Marcus Vitale and nineteen-year-old owner Nicholas Vaccarezza.
Attorney owner Stephen Screnci was unanimously re-elected by the Board to be President of the FHBPA for 2019-2020. Screnci also serves as Regional Vice President of the National HBPA. The Executive Board for this year consists of owner Chester Bishop as 1st Vice President, trainer Joe Orseno as 2nd Vice President, owner Herb Oster as 3rd Vice President, owner Tom Cannell as Treasurer and trainer Chuck Simon as Secretary.