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Gulfstream Park Draws Ire From Horsemen for Running Last-Minute Quarter-Horse Race

Two major horse owners' associations are once again miffed by a local casino giant's efforts to conduct races in order to keep a second gambling permit under Florida's twisted rules for pari-mutuel casinos.

Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach usually runs thoroughbred races, according to an extensive contract with the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA), which promises horsemen substantial purses and a cut of slots revenues. Under Florida law, this racing allows the casino to have slot machines as well.

It also retains a second permit, for quarter-horse racing -- which allows it to keep a second gambling-room permit, in case it should expand to a second location. To keep that permit active, Gulfstream has to run two quarter-horse races a year.

They ran one on Sunday, closing day of the regular season, with very short notice. And the horsemen's association is not happy.

FHBPA, along with a sister organization that organizes quarter-horse races, calls the Easter Sunday race "illegal," saying that law requires all quarter-horse events (in which horses dash along a straight 400m track) to be overseen by the association.

Kent Stirling, executive director of the FHBPA, says his organization was informed of the last-minute race to keep the permit last Wednesday or Thursday. Since Friday was a holiday leading into the weekend, he says, he could do little to stop it, although he says the association's contract gives it approval over all quarter-horse events.

At the root of the issue, Stirling says, is an attempt by Gulfstream to freeze out more expensive horsemen in favor of barrel racers, who run their horses for less. "Barrel racers get nothing," says Stirling, while Gulfstream can "keep all the money that we would normally be getting in purses for thoroughbreds. Barrel racers are very happy with just $2,000 a day."

Stirling speculates that Gulfstream is planning on cutting out thoroughbred horsemen and their expensive contract if it should build a new hotel/casino.

Meanwhile, David Joseph in the media office at Gulfstream Park released a statement on the issue on Good Friday:

Gulfstream Park has been advised by counsel to exercise our second permit on closing day, April 8, or face the consequence of revocation of the permit in the future. Since December we have worked in good faith with the horsemen on this subject. We will continue to work with the horsemen and will continue welcoming their input and suggestions.

The contract for the barrel racers, whose main purview is the loopdy-loop sprint of rodeo fame, was written by David Romanik. Romanik recently teamed up with Ron Bergeron to apply for a jai-alai permit in Broward (no more quarter-horse racing permits were available); he also operates a barrel racing facility in Gretna that's drawn jeers from the horsemen's association.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph

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