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President’s Message

June 9, 2021
 
With all of the changes we’ve seen at Gulfstream Park in the last 30 days, it seemed a good time to touch base with our members and review all that is happening.
 
Construction on the Tapeta track has begun. We know this will mean some disruption over the next couple of months, but the industry will benefit down the road. Gulfstream will now have the ability to move off-the-turf races to the synthetic surface, so horsemen will have the chance to run, rather than scratch to wait for another day. Field size will remain intact, leading to increased handle and increased purses. The new drainage system, combined with the flexibility provided by the Tapeta track, will help to preserve the turf course throughout the year.
 
The Gulfstream Park racing office is working diligently to add races to the card while we are on a three-day race week during the construction, so that we cut down on lost racing opportunities. We have also instituted a new Incentive Fund for our owners and trainers. Beginning June 11, the owner of every horse that finishes fourth through last in any race on the main track will receive an additional $300, and the trainer will receive $200.
 
Gulfstream has also implemented several protocols on behalf of the safety and welfare of the horses. Under the new voided claim rule, any horse that is claimed will be examined by the track vet after cooling out and, if deemed to be unsound or to have bled, the claim will be voided. This protects not only the horses, but our horsemen as well. There will also be increased scrutiny on horses that have been sidelined for a year or more and first-time starters that are four or older, mandating workouts observed by the track vet. We are in full support of any measure that safeguards the health of horse and rider.
 
The decoupling legislation that passed in Tallahassee does protect Thoroughbred racing, but the tax advantages and incentives that we lobbied for so strongly were not included in the package. That puts Gulfstream Park at a competitive disadvantage to other gaming outlets in South Florida, which we fear will impact Gulfstream’s casino revenue and, in turn, our purses. We will be monitoring that situation closely.
 
It’s not all bad news on the purse front. We were able to negotiate a deal with Churchill Downs Inc. that earmarks 6% of the revenue from the Calder casino to the Gulfstream Park purse account. Purses at Gulfstream were raised 10% at the end of May, the second purse increase at the track this year.
 
On a lighter note, our FHBPA-sponsored Backstretch Recreation Program is now back in full swing, after a year’s hiatus due to the pandemic. Thanks to Pastor Tom LaPointe, more than 40 backstretch workers and their families enjoyed a trip to Rapids Water Park last month, and we have many more outings planned for the summer, including the return of our annual 4th of July BBQ for the backstretch.
 
We continue to work on long-term initiatives that will grow the purse account, protect our horses, provide for our backstretch community and ensure the continued stability and growth of South Florida racing. We welcome your questions and your feedback.
 
Sincerely,
President Stephen Screnci, FHBPA
 
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April 30, 2021
 
I want to share encouraging news with our owners and trainers. We have been in discussion with Churchill Downs Inc. for several months, and the hours at the negotiating table have paid off with a short-term agreement that will earmark 6% of the revenue from the Calder casino to the Gulfstream Park purse account. The first payment of $1.61 million, revenue from the first four months of 2021, has already been wired to the FHBPA for distribution to the purse account.

The number one objective of the Florida HBPA is to get more money into the purse account. We want to set a goal – what should our purses look like, and how do we get there? Ultimately, we would like to see New York-type numbers for the Championship Meet, and Championship Meet numbers for the rest of the year. We have a lot of work to do to get there, but this is an encouraging development, and one we will build on.

The agreement with CDI runs through July 31, 2021. The next months will be spent working on a permanent long-term solution to increasing revenue streams for our purse account, and we will keep you posted on our progress.

Sincerely,
President Stephen Screnci, FHBPA

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April 13, 2021
 
It’s been a tough year for everyone. Thanks to a strong partnership between Gulfstream Park and the FHBPA, and the cooperation and dedication of our horsemen, our backstretch workers and our jockeys, South Florida racing was able to avoid the shutdowns experienced in much of the country. But getting through the pandemic has been anything but easy.
 
We had good news this week – owners with proof of full Covid-19 vaccination will be allowed into the Gulfstream paddock. There are signs of a slow return to normalcy. But the FHBPA is looking to be better than business as usual. To that end, we will focus on improved communication with our membership, starting with this Letter from the President.
 
There are issues of vital importance to our industry at play – decoupling legislation in Tallahassee, contract negotiations with the Stronach Group and CDI, capital improvements at Gulfstream and Palm Meadows. Our owners and trainers need to be informed, and it will be our mandate to provide that information to you.
 
With regard to the decoupling bill, SR 7080, I drove up to Tallahassee on April 12 to give testimony on behalf of the horsemen. We are in favor of the bill, but agree with the Stronach Group that, in its current form, it will create an unequal playing field and put the thoroughbred industry at a competitive disadvantage. The casinos that decouple will be able to take the revenue that was used to host live racing or jai alai matches and spend it on marketing and capital improvements, which could have a negative impact on business at the Gulfstream Park casino. We struggle with purses as it is here in Florida and we rely a great deal on the portion of the purses that come from slots revenue. Any future decrease will inevitably result in less race days and a smaller industry as a whole.
 
It says volumes about the Stronach Group that they are choosing not to decouple to support the industry, and there are ways these inequities can be addressed, whether it be through a purse pool collected from those casinos who choose to decouple, or as a simple tax deduction for the thoroughbred permit holders who choose not to. We hope the legislature will support the Stronach Group and Florida’s horsemen.
 
This bill is still making its way through the process, and we will keep you updated as it progresses. Keep an eye out for updates and in-depth reports on other areas of concern for horsemen. We will provide details on the many programs supported by FHBPA to the benefit of the industry, and profiles of the Board members who represent you. You can follow FHBPA on Facebook and Twitter and visit our website to learn more about the work of the organization.
 
Sincerely,
President Stephen Screnci, FHBPA