For Now, “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing” Qualifies Gretna Racing LLC For Slots

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA’s Dara Kam reported on May 29, 2015:   “In what could be a game changer in Florida’s gambling arena, an appeals court today ordered state regulators to allow slot machines at a Gadsden County racetrack . . . “

The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is disappointed that the First District Court of Appeal ruled on May 29, 2015 in favor of allowing slot machines at Gretna Racing LLC.  We are hopeful that the Florida Attorney General will continue in her efforts.

During the span of December 2011 to January 2012, Gretna Racing LLC leveraged “pari-mutuel barrel racing” to convince the Gadsden County Commission to hold a slot referendum on January 31, 2012.

Given that three court rulings have held that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was not even real barrel racing, but wrongly approved as a new gambling product by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering with no legislative authorization, regulatory hearings or public input, the FHBPA strongly questions whether a slot license legally can, or or should be granted to Gretna Racing LLC, or any similar permit that has used horse-related events in a manner afoul of the “pari-mutuel barrel racing” court rulings.

Further, for every pari-mutuel permit that has since been used in this manner to gain a 365-day per year card room, slot referendum or otherwise, there have been thousands of Florida horsemen’s jobs lost that would otherwise have been created if accredited and legitimate horse racing would have been required in these locations.

We urge General Bondi to strive to preserve one of Florida’s foremost economic generators–its world-renowned Thoroughbred horse racing industry, as well as its rapidly growing Quarter Horse racing industry.

This is a good opportunity to remind that the purpose of state-sanctioned gambling is to increase tax revenues and economic impact, not to create the optimal atmosphere for out-of-state casinos or otherwise untaxed profits on the backs of horsemen’s small businesses.

To read news coverage by Dara Kam of THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA, click HERE.

Gambling regulators at the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation rejected Gretna Racing’s request for slot machines late in 2013, relying in part on an opinion issued by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office represented the agency in the First DCA lawsuit.

Gretna Racing has since conducted “flag drop” events, which are not approved, accredited or sanctioned in any way by theFlorida Quarter Horse Racing Association, which is the Florida Chapter of the American Quarter Horse Association.


Florida Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse Owners, Trainers, Breeders Adopt Unprecedented Therapeutic Horse Racing Medication Uniformity Plan

Yet, Florida Legislature May Not Act to Seal the Deal

April 22, 2014–As national voices have gained strength in the debate on the use of therapeutic medication in horse racing, a group of organizations representing nearly 10,000 Florida Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse owners, trainers and breeders had already taken the unprecedented step of uniting behind a uniform policy endorsed by both the Jockey Club and American Quarter Horse Association.  The proposal was filed in the Florida Legislature as amendment language and is yet awaiting the chance to be approved by lawmakers.

Born of a longstanding working partnership known as “United Florida Horsemen” on both Florida legislative and regulatory issues, the agreement was finalized during early April and includes the approval and endorsement of the following professional associations and organizations:

“Unfortunately, with Florida lawmakers having declared pari-mutuel and other gambling issues to be ‘dead’ for this Session, the legislative authorization needed for this unprecedented consensus will most likely have to wait another year,” explained FHBPA Executive Director Kent Stirling, a credentialed national authority who has testified before Congress on the issue.

“Florida horsemen have long stated that their goal has always been a set of national rules that gives all racing jurisdictions a level playing field in terms of thresholds and which medications are allowable.  Earlier this month, working with Matt Iuliano from the Jockey Club, we were finally able to draft and submit legislation here in Florida which achieves that goal,” explained FHBPA President Phil Combest.

Among the most notable components of the plan espoused by the United Florida Horsemen was the adoption of Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) Penalty Guidelines and agreement to adopt the Schedule of ARCI Controlled Therapeutic Medications.

“With the power of Florida’s horsemen now in complete alignment, we’re optimistic that the recent commitments toward uniformity by our industry colleagues will continue to drive the national conversation toward state-by-state adoption of both legislation and regulation necessary to make real uniformity a reality,” Stirling said.  “While we wait on Florida’s Legislature to act—hopefully in alignment with the aggressive goals set forth this week by the Stronach Group’s ambitious plan, we’re confident that Florida now sets the standard for true uniformity for others that have yet to come on board.”

Florida’s 2014 Legislative Session concludes on May 2.

To learn more about legislative and regulatory issues facing Florida’s billion-dollar horse racing industry, go to

Horse Racing’s Dragsters Flocking to Florida’s Frontier . . . Will Florida Be Ready For Business?

American Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park

“Florida legislators should realize we are running big businesses.”

Great success has a funny way of riling folks up.  But to those used to winning, it doesn’t much matter, anyhow.  They just keep their eye on the goal.

For a seasoned set of executives who have targeted Florida as ripe for expanding the high-octane world of American Quarter Horse Racing, that goal is well in range now that their business at Hialeah Park is booming.

Monumental, storied, nearly a century old and steeped in old-guard tradition, Hialeah Park is looking a whole lot different lately since the equine equivalent of drag racing has moved in.

These days, if you want to find the money crowd at Hialeah, look for the cowboy hats and Western belt buckles—attire favored by not only the Midwestern and North Florida executives drawn to Florida’s resurging Quarter Horse racing scene, but also by their Hispanic counterparts who fervently share their passion. So zealous are the fans, they mirror the racehorses’ explosive, blinding dashes down the Hialeah homestretch—dramatically different than their Thoroughbred counterparts—which are long-distance runners more comparable to NASCAR.

Accredited American Quarter Horse racing at Hialeah Park draws a markedly active, diverse and highly engaged crowd infused with new energy and enthusiasm, thanks to the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA)—the Florida arm of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), an international organization of nearly 350,000 members in 14 different countries.

Like a more potent version of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, the AQHA sets the standardized rules of accredited Quarter Horse racing to ensure product integrity for the wagering public, and safety for the participating animals and horsemen.  So stringent and exacting are the AQHA standards, Florida law defers to its collective years of experience to oversee statewide regulation through the FQHRA’s statutory work.  Both organizations are trusted by industry investors to ensure a proper environment in which to do business.

“The fact that we would jump on an airplane just to attend an FQHRA Board meeting says a whole lot about what we think the potential is for Florida’s AQHA-accredited Quarter Horse racing market,” explained Ben Hudson, the 40-year publisher of Quarter Horse Track Magazine—one of the sport’s foremost publications.  Hudson is one of the newest members of the FQHRA Board–a collection of horsemen from around the United States who have seen a thing or two in their lifetime.

After watching the FQHRA’s growth and carefully evaluating Florida’s market potential, Gary Walker, an AQHA trainer and former racetrack executive with college professor credentials, joined Hudson among the new Board recruits this year, along with veteran horseman Butch Wise, who has managed the Lazy E Ranch–one of the nation’s largest, most successful racehorse breeding operations–for over 20 years.

An AQHA director for the past 30 years, Hudson brings with him the burning memories of Florida’s Quarter Horse racing glory days when “ . . . some very important old Florida guys were also very important in the AQHA.”

Back then, large Central Florida ranchers and landowners were instrumental in developing Florida’s accredited Quarter Horse racing market, which grew very successful, very fast.

The youngest member of the FQHRA Board, Walker sometimes gets morose when politics get too thick.  Whether it’s a Tallahassee legislative brawl, a litigation fiasco or an argument among fellow horsemen, dealing with the figurative mano-a-mano that horse racing law and regulation tends to spawn all boils down to less time that he and his colleagues can spend on growing their business.

Back home in Oklahoma, Walker also serves on the Board of the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association—an FQHRA sister organization that also includes people who have long understood that American Quarter Horse Racing isn’t a weekend fancy.  It’s a way of life and often a family business.  As evidence, while Walker competes his 24-horse public/private stable at Hialeah Park, his mother, assisted by his children, takes care of 60 more horses back in Oklahoma.

But lately, even in Oklahoma—an enlightened, established state when it comes to the economic benefits of American Quarter Horse Racing—the casino industry seems to influence every aspect of the horse racing conversation, Walker laments.

In Texas, the largest-Quarter Horse-producing state in the nation, breeding farms are multi-million dollar full-time employers.  And yet, accredited Quarter Horse racing and its backbone breeding industry still works overtime to garner respect its popularity and revenue generating capacity should warrant.

If there’s one thing he wants Florida lawmakers to know about accredited Quarter Horse Racing, is that the industry goes far beyond the visual surface of the horses at the racetrack.  It extends to the breeding farm and ancillary enterprises that service and benefit from a typical race meet, including tourism, transportation and real estate.

“We’re not a bunch of weekend warriors,” Walker emphasizes.  “Florida legislators should realize we are running big businesses.”

But the problem in educating lawmakers about the horse racing industry lies in the very infrastructure and daily routines of its myriad businesses.  By 5 a.m., seven days a week, most horsemen are already at work and finishing their most intense training hours by the time most office workers are just pulling into their downtown parking spaces.

“The problem with the horse industry is that we’re invisible because we’re often dispersed throughout the state, and in rural locations,” explained Butch Wise.  “Unlike Disney World, you can’t just drive in and count the number of cars in the employee parking lot.  In a typical racetrack barn area, there are hundreds of people working there, but you don’t all see them in the same place all day long.”

Indeed, one accredited Texas farm with 60 full-time employees bred 1,800 mares last year.  Breeding fees start at $2,500, with the higher stallions commanding $35,000 a pop.  Assuming an average stud fee of $5,000, farms like these can turn millions of dollars of business annually.

But that’s not where it ends.  Syndication deals produce eye-popping price tags like a recent $12 million stallion who commanded $300,000 for each of his 40 shares.

Wise points to a 2012 Oklahoma study that found accredited Quarter Horse racing has a $3.2 billion dollar annual statewide economic impact there.  Last year, his own Oklahoma farm saw traffic of more than 2,600 horses, 1,200 mares of which were also bred on the premises, and others that even originated overseas.  Together, they ate more than 800 tons of hay during the same time period, among the many other expenses and staffing required to run the operation.

“That’s the kind of business that can be developed in Florida,” Walker says.

And the demand for accredited racing Quarter Horse “dragsters” is international in scope.  The AQHA advantage?  More modern rules that include artificial insemination allow stallions’ semen to be shipped anywhere, while enabling breeders to still qualify to bring their horses to participate in lucrative racing program bonuses like Florida’s.  For state economies, it’s literally a seed that keeps on growing.

“Our elected officials need to know that anything to do with horses takes years.  It’s like trying to turn the Queen Mary on a dime,” Wise explained.  “But the hurdles are being eroded and we’ve already established high class racing in Florida.  People are noticing and starting to participate.”

Not surprisingly, the FQHRA Board and its membership have a business plan to develop the industry statewide.

With counsel from Board members like Hudson, Walker and Wise, coupled with input from AQHA veterans who have seen the best and surmounted worst that politics has levied on accredited Quarter Horse racing in states across America, they are executing a clear course designed to propel Florida to national greatness in the American Quarter Horse Racing industry.

“An accredited Florida-bred stands for quality,” says Dr. Steve Fisch, the FQHRA President.  “Our horsemen are already getting the best mares and stallions in the country to compete in a forward-thinking Florida program designed to grow Florida business.”

“By working with an established, respected organization like the AQHA and its local chapters like FQHRA, legislators and regulators can be assured they have people representing the horsemen who have the experience of actual skin in the game.  More than anything, that will ensure integrity while growing the industry,” Wise said.

Remember those old Florida guys?  They’re still around.  And the last five years of FQHRA racing at Hialeah Park has stoked their fraying hopes, big time.

“Those horsemen who have survived still want to do this, even though they haven’t had racing in Florida for 20 years,” explains Hudson.  Now the next generation of Quarter Horsemen feels it, too.

“Florida is the ‘new’ old frontier,” Walker says.  “I feel like this is the place of the future, especially for young guys like myself trying to make it in this world.”

Bolstered by a lifetime of experience, Wise is even more confident.   “I can assure you that if elected officials support accredited Quarter Horse racing, there will never be a time they’ll be sorry, because the returns for Florida will be huge.”

“No one wants to be a pioneer, because they’re worried they might get hit with a few arrows.  But if you wait until the fort is built, you may find yourself behind the curve,” he said.  “It’s important to get on board now.”

Florida Horsemen to Testify at Pensacola, Jacksonville Senate Gaming Committee Hearings This Week

Florida Horse Racing, Florida Thoroughbred Racing, Florida Quarter Horse Racing

Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse Racehorse Owner, Trainer and Breeder Representatives to Speak at Both November 14 and 15 Hearings

Leadership representatives from Florida’s most prominent racehorse owners, trainers and breeders associations will be on hand to testify at both Florida Senate Gaming Committee public hearings this week, Thursday, November 14 in Pensacola, and Friday, November 15 in Jacksonville.

Scheduled to speak at both hearings is Teresa Palmer, a Board member of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA), as well as a member of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association.  She will represent Thoroughbred owners, trainers and breeders.

At the November 15 Jacksonville hearing, Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association Board Member John Shaw will address the panel of lawmakers.   Mr. Shaw also represents the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders’ and Owners’ Association.  Both Quarter Horse organizations are part of the American Quarter Horse Association, an international organization of over 350,000 members.

“The fact that these two individuals have the degree of involvement in the Florida horse racing industry they do is a good indicator of just how far-reaching our economic impact is,” explained FHBPA Executive Director Kent Stirling.  “Our goal is to convey that to our legislators as they contemplate the implications of future public policy on our members’ businesses and their employees.”

To view the complete list of speakers and agenda for the November 14 Pensacola hearing, click HERE.

To view the complete list of speakers and agenda for the November 15 Jacksonville hearing, click HERE.

Both hearings will be Webcast LIVE on and on the Florida Senate video page at

As Florida Senate Spectrum Gaming Study Hearings Begin, Independent Horsemen Who Put on the Show Remind Lawmakers Their Interests Must be Separately Considered

With the Florida Senate Gaming Committee set to hold its first interim meeting this Monday (September 23) before commencing a series of public workshops next month (the first is October 23 in Coconut Creek), the professional horsemen of Florida’s horse racing industry seek to remind legislators and others that they—and often their interests–are independent of pari-mutuel permitholders and their casino corporate owners.

“The term ‘horsemen’ designates those men and women who are either racehorse owners, trainers or breeders,” explained Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Executive Director Kent Stirling, whose organization represents nearly 6,000 independent Thoroughbred owners or trainers, all of whom individually operate thousands of businesses—most staffed with full-time employees.

“Horsemen are those individuals, businesses and their employees who make the costly investment of time and money to get a young horse ready to race,” added Dr. Steve Fisch, President of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association—the Florida arm of the American Quarter Horse Association.  “We are the professionals who shoulder the task of breeding, raising, nurturing and ultimately maintaining that horse during its racing career.  We put on the horse racing show from which tracks profit.   Essentially, horsemen supply the figurative ‘gasoline’ that runs the horse racing ‘engine’”

“It’s often mistakenly assumed that horsemen’s interests always coincide with those of pari-mutuel permitholders.  Sometimes they do—but other times, they simply don’t,” Stirling said.  “In crafting any future pari-mutuel laws and regulations, that’s an important point for our policymakers to remember.  So important, in fact, that horsemen’s rights have long been protected by both state and federal law.”

Also defined as horsemen are members of the venerable Ocala-based Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, who power the state’s internationally acclaimed horse breeding industry, along with another statutory organization–the Florida Quarter Horse Breeders’ and Owners’ Association—which is growing in size as legitimate Quarter Horse racing has gained exponential popularity at Hialeah Park, despite the scourge of imposter events staged by various rogue North Florida permitholders during the past few years.

As Senators begin their statewide public workshops on the results of the final phase of the Spectrum Gaming Study, united advocates from Florida’s horse racing professional organizations will be on hand throughout the entire process to ensure that horsemen’s interests are well-defined and vigorously represented.

Gretna “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing” Awarded Mystery License

Announcing “business as usual,” Gretna Racing LLC (“Gretna”) applied for and has received an amended racing license from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering yesterday, June 6, 2013, that authorized it to conduct back-to-back weekends of mysterious and unspecified “quadruple-header” events this month on June 22 and 29.

In the wake of a court ruling against Gretna last month concluding that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was illegal, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering ordered the North Florida facility not to conduct the contrived event, which was judged to be a definitive sidestep around Florida’s live horse racing requirements in order to enable Gretna to concurrently hold cardrooms and possibly slot machines.

But, in a snub to the court’s sharply worded 85-page ruling, Gretna immediately and publicly announced it would simply “tweak” the format of its spurious activities and continue on with its self-crafted events, which are not even sanctioned as legitimate barrel racing by the National Barrel Racing Association and other longstanding national organizations.

“Especially in light of the court ruling last month and the pending legislative gaming study underway, the public deserves transparency on the exact details of what is now taking place at Gretna’s facility,” said Kent Stirling, Executive Director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA), a statutory statewide organization of Florida Thoroughbred owners and trainers that joined with the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners Association (FTBOA) in supporting the FQHRA throughout the recent litigation.

“We have seen no indications of any construction taking place on a regulation Quarter Horse racetrack,” said Dr. Steve Fisch, president of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA), which prevailed in last month’s landmark case. The FQHRA is Florida’s statutory arm of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), a national organization with 350,000 members worldwide that ensures proper racing regulation and safe, humane treatment of the horses involved.

“According to amended Gretna license, it appears they are holding eight ‘performances’ held over two Saturdays.  Bearing in mind that a Florida defines a ‘performance’ as eight individual ‘races,’ this means four days’ worth of performances are held in the afternoon and evening of one day.  Normally and historically, eight performances take place over eight different days,” explained Dr. Fisch, a nationally recognized equine veterinarian.

“A major concern is if the horses are performing more than once per day, then the health of the horse and, hence, that of the rider are both at risk,” Dr. Fisch added.  “In American Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing, horses race no more than once every fourteen days on average.  Six to eight races per year is an average schedule for a racehorse.   Knowing this, the health and welfare of the horse and rider should always be first and foremost to Florida’s pari-mutuel permitholders.  This is why it’s imperative that an independent group knowledgeable in equine health and welfare must represent horses and horsemen alike.  The FHBPA, FQHRA, AQHA and FTBOA are all established, respected groups that have proven they hold horses’ health as a major criteria on all fronts.”

FQHRA President Dr. Stephen D. Fisch, DVM

“We have seen no indications of any construction taking place on a regulation Quarter Horse racetrack at Gretna’s facility,” said Dr. Steve Fisch, FQHRA president

While Gretna’s cardrooms continued to operate, wagering on Gretna’s “pari-mutuel barrel racing” has been recorded as low as $24 per day and contests there have often been canceled due to lack of interest. Just several months after the initial license was awarded with which “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was conducted, Gadsden County, in which the City of Gretna is located, approved the holding of a referendum to install slot machines at the Gretna Racing facility.

Gulfstream Park’s unusual GPTARP slots petition has Florida horsemen wary, Daily Racing Form’s Matt Hegarty Reports

Daily Racing Form Reports on Florida Thoroughbred Horse Racing

An unusual regulatory petition is stirring confusion among Florida horsemen and breeders who do not know whether the request to the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering  indicates an attempt by GPTARP, as it is known, to conduct an end-run around legal requirements for a binding agreement with the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA).

“GPTARP,” the acronym for “Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Aftercare Retirement Program,” is the new name for Gulfstream’s decades-old Quarter Horse permit, which was converted this past February 2013 into a Thoroughbred permit.

Last year, “GPTARP,” a non-profit entity, also sought to be declared as the lowest pari-mutuel revenue generator for a certain time period, so as to secure a “Summer Jai Alai” permit that would then, in turn, allow it to re-apply for another Quarter Horse permit.  The State of Florida turned down the request,  which was based on a phony “race” staged on April 8, 2012, featuring two Gretna “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing” women dressed up as jockeys and mounted on aged horses of questionable breeding that were bedecked in Western-style saddles.  The horses, one of which had been entered the same day as the “race,” were started at the drop of a flag.  Shockingly, wagering was offered on the event, which had not even been sanctioned by the American Quarter Horse Association as being a legitimate Quarter Horse race.  To round out GPTARP’s “meet,” a Thoroughbred race at Gulfstream on December 31, 2011 had been run under the GPTARP permit (likely unbeknownst to the entries’ connections).  It is predicated on these two “races” that GPTARP’s 2,000 slot machines would be installed, if allowed.

Also a remaining question is whether the GPTARP permit is domiciled in Miami-Dade or Broward.  The case is mired in administrative litigation.  Certainly, the actual location of GPTARP’s address given in the March 7, 2013 petition is troubling, with its “corporate offices” located on or off Gulfstream’s property, depending upon the source consulted.  According to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser, the address does not exist.

But Tim Ritvo, general manager of Gulfstream Park, said horsemen have no reason to fear the plans of GPTARP.  He said that under a contract the track reached with horsemen earlier this year “they are guaranteed a share of any revenue from slot machines if we exercise the permit.” The contract runs for at least 25 years, Ritvo said.

So why is GPTARP seeking clarification of the statute regarding the requirement to have an agreement with horsemen and breeders?

Matt Hegarty of the Daily Racing Form reports here: