By Carlos E. Medina
Published: Monday, July 15, 2013 at 11:53 a.m.
A 150-yard thoroughbred race run July 1 at Gulfstream Park was held illegally, according to a complaint filed by the Florida Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering.
The race came as a surprise to most in South Florida racing circles, as well as to the Ocala-based board members of the organization that held the race. The race featured three horses that sprinted 150 yards on the part of the Gulfstream track that lies in Miami-Dade County.
The race was run under the thoroughbred license of the Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Aftercare Retirement Program, a non-profit subsidiary of The Stronach Group, which also owns Gulfstream Park. Frank Stronach, a major Marion County landowner, is chairman of the group.
The administrative complaint by the state alleges the retirement program was required to hold at least two races and did not inform the state of the race at least 10 days prior to its running, as required by law. The complaint seeks to fine the program $1,000 or suspend or revoke its racing permit.
Lonny Powell, executive vice president and CEO of the Ocala-based Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, said the race was planned without the inclusion of the four association members on the Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Aftercare Retirement Program board.
“We started insisting about a year ago that GPTARP needed to start treating it like a proper business, with open discussions among board members. Our representatives on the board were never included in a single meeting until we demanded one a couple of months ago. There was a definite understanding that there would be no more surprises, so you can understand the shock we got when a few weeks later this thing happens,” Powell said.
Association members on the program board are J. Michael O’Farrell Jr., Fred Brei, Brent Fernung and Phil Matthews.
“By statute, the FTBOA has four seats on the board. Those members are thoroughbred people with major investments in the industry and they don’t like being treated like potted plants,” Powell said. “They are not figureheads, they are not phantom board members. That has been communicated clearly.”
No one from Gulfstream or the Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Aftercare Retirement Program could be reached for comment.
The endgame for the race was an attempt to add more casino-style slot machines to the facility using the retirement program license. The move by the organization was criticized for its making a mockery of racing well before the state filed its complaint.
Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents owners and trainers who race at both Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park in South Florida, lamented what some were doing to the sport in order to gain other types of gambling, including card rooms and casino-style slot machines.
Vagaries in the laws led to the state allowing pari-mutuel barrel racing at Gretna Racing in 2011. Earlier this year, an administrative law judge ruled the state overstepped its authority by allowing what amounted to a new form of racing. In gaining the initial license, representatives for Gretna, including Gretna stakeholder Marc Dunbar, argued to the state that the law did not explicitly define racing. Dunbar was also part of the Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Aftercare Retirement Program race. Dunbar, a longtime Tallahassee lobbyist for Gulfstream, could not be reached for comment.
“They have been getting some very poor advice on how to conduct this thing. I know Mr. Stronach well. I used to work for him. I know this is not the way he would truly want to be conducting business,” Powell said. “It’s supposed to be about the racing of thoroughbreds, not putting on some cheap facade to circumvent the investment which goes into racing to gain other forms of gaming.”Copyright © 2013 Ocala.com — All rights reserved. Restricted use only.