Florida’s Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Associations Urge Warring South Florida Tracks to Settle Their Differences—And Soon

With South Florida’s two Thoroughbred tracks engaging in an escalating regulatory battle over racing dates, the professionals who do the “heavy lifting” to provide the actual horse racing product—the horse owners, trainers and breeders—find themselves as unexpected bystanders in an unwanted dispute.  Thus, the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA), made up of Thoroughbred owners and trainers, and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association  (FTBOA) can only urge Gulfstream Park and Calder Casino and Racing—each facility remotely controlled by giant corporations—to settle their differences—and quickly.

“I’m all about the free market, but there are certain types of products that require a greater degree of regulation.  Horse racing is one of them,” said FHBPA Executive Director Kent Stirling.  “Done right, horse racing and breeding affords Florida with enormous economic impact because of all the jobs and businesses it creates.   But unfortunately, the current dates conflict is rooted in a statutory glitch that is being exploited by clever lawyering at the expense of what could be most beneficial for all of us, not to mention Florida taxpayers.”

Overlapping dates can drain the local horse population and fragment wagering dollars—making it difficult for the entire industry to prosper.

“This serious distraction of racing dates overlap, combined with other current issues like ‘pari-mutuel barrel racing’ and related spurious lawsuits over the constitutionality of independent horsemen’s associations have the real potential of scaring away investors in Florida’s horse racing industry,” Stirling said.  “Most of our members are small business owners and need to feel confident that their investment in Florida is protected and fostered.”

Lonny Powell, a former horse racing regulator and track operator, who now serves as CEO of the FTBOA agreed.  “It’s imperative that our members—Thoroughbred breeders, horse and farm owners throughout the state—see a flourishing, stable and growing racing industry in South Florida.  We certainly want both of these tracks and all horsemen racing in Florida to prosper.   It’s more than troublesome that this dates overlap crisis distracts from all of our collective efforts to grow Florida’s $2.2 billion-a-year Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry, which among the national few that show an increase in foal numbers, while our tracks continue to offer races that consistently feature some of the best competition on the national stage.  To place any of this at risk for a self-inflicted dates overlap collision course causes us much concern and frustration.  History has clearly shown there is no industry upside that comes from an uncooperative and intensely competitive dates battle like we’re facing here in South Florida”

Phil Matthews, a prominent veterinarian and FTBOA president, agreed.  “Much to all of our frustration, it appears that both we and the FHBPA have little ability to affect the situation.  That’s why it’s important for our policymakers to understand our members have a major investment in putting horses—our core product—out on the track, so Florida’s Thoroughbred industry can thrive.  It is imperative that we do everything we can to encourage these giant corporations to make the right decisions, not just for both their respective facilities, but for the industry and marketplace as well.  In fact, our future depends on it.”

Both organizations agree it’s long overdue for Gulfstream and Calder to finally settle their key competitive differences and successfully move forward. 

“The addition of slot revenues to purses has kept Florida competitive and held our place in the prestigious international world of Thoroughbred racing,” FHBPA President Phil Combest added.  “It was Florida’s horse racing industry that provided the platform and the partnership for the corporations that control these facilities to bring slots to Florida to begin with.  Because the horsemen stand to lose the most in this crisis, we’d like to see this conflict settled very soon.”


Ray Paulick’s The Breeders’ Cup Forum: Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association (FTBOA) Chief Lonny Powell

The Breeders’ Cup Forum: FTBOA Chief Lonny Powell

by Ray Paulick | 01.25.2012 | 6:38am

Earlier this month, Lonny Powell assumed his duties as CEO of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, replacing longtime executive Richard Hancock, who retired Dec. 31 in the wake of growing dissatisfaction rippling throughout the FTBOA’s membership.

Powell has a resume that encompasses racetrack management (from small tracks like Longacres and Turf Paradise to large ones like Santa Anita), advance deposit wagering, regulatory and legislative issues, and higher education.  He has served as a director/member on numerous industry boards and task forces, as well as industry charities.

Santa Anita

What are your immediate goals in your new role at FTBOA?
I want to have an immediate positive impact on the spirit of the staff, membership and entire association. We will do so by clearly and enthusiastically declaring that this is a period of re-tooling, new vision and forward thinking.

Enhanced communications on all levels with a new focus on individual as well as team accountability will bring our office and Association up to the level of expectations we have for FTBOA.
I think the most positive feedback I have gotten so far has been based on the reception over my own personal style and personality – a consummate communicator, very outgoing, not afraid to debate, a straight-shooter, speaks from experience, big sense of humor.
As you know, I really do love and understand this business and would guess that I have one of the most diverse and successful backgrounds. I try to be a good listener and am always trying to learn more. I am a big people/relationship person with a major work ethic and strong moral and leadership compass.

I want my members and Association to have no doubt and feel comfortable at all times that their CEO has the level of experience, street smarts, brains, fortitude, confidence and presence to best represent their collective needs and interests.
We are about a new vision and esprit de corps.

What are the biggest challenges the FTBOA faces, and what are its greatest resources?
Like any breed association, we continue to keep our eyes on the national, regional and local foal crops. That plus a very dynamic state gaming market keeps a guy like me in an industry CEO position like this on point and looking for every possible intended and unintended ramification.

Our greatest resources remain our quality home breds, nationally renowned racing scene, and, of course, our people – those who invest incredible increments of time and treasure in order to breed and/or own Florida Thoroughbreds.

How do you build consensus between the small breeders and larger operations?

If you step back and think about it, this is one of the constant challenges faced by any membership organization How do we represent and take care of all levels of membership … from large to small to in between … from recruiting new members to retaining existing members?

When I was at RCI (Association of Racing Commissioners International), it was more of an issue for “big” states and provinces (in terms of industry and wagering) not wanting to see their votes smothered over by the “little” jurisdictions. When on the TRA (Thoroughbred Racing Associations) Board, it was oftentimes “the big tracks vs the little tracks.”

There is no perfect way to represent competitive and sometimes disparate parties. What we need to do as leaders within our associations is always remain cognizant as to the somewhat different needs and perspectives and points of view that exist across our membership and industry segments. I try to unite and collaborate when working towards some reasonable level of consensus. This type of ability to work and cooperate with others has helped me significantly throughout my career and life.

Have you studied or immersed yourself in Florida breeding enough to have an understanding of why, in a state rich in Thoroughbred tradition, the foal crop and stallion population has declined so significantly at the same time slot machines were added to the two South Florida racetracks?
What we all need to keep in mind (are you listening out there “have-not states”?) is just because we have Racinos does not mean that the hard work is over. In fact, I would suggest that the work has only just begun.

There are also plenty of other competitive Racino markets that pull breeding stock such as New York, Pennsylvania and Louisiana based on the programs and economic incentives offered in those other states.

The good news from an indicator perspective is it seems like our stallion numbers have hit bottom and now are slowly climbing back up. We are also seeing a little more life on the sales front at places like here at OBS and Kentucky, which also gives some cautious optimism.

How to you stop the declines in the number of mares and stallions and reverse course?
It’s so much about the economics. That’s why we target economic growth and diversification as always in play objectives to shoot for. We need more indoctrinated and prospective owners. We need to give the farm owners enough faith and confidence for the future so that they just don’t sell out the farmland to developers.

Are there other states with better-designed or more effective incentive programs?
I’m sure there are a number of other programs that POTENTIALLY may offer better features or programs. I want us to take a look at what’s out there as well as what might be possible if we could totally reinvent the wheel when it comes to state incentive programs.

You know me, as is the case in everything I have done in this business – track, association, regulatory authority, academic program , ADW, etc.  – from a leadership perspective is based on: a) no “sacred cows”; b) no baggage; c) no pre-conceived notions that we do everything either right or wrong; d) no pride in authorship or insecure need to be the smartest person in the room.

Therefore, anything and everything we do is up for review and possible enhancement.

Will you recommend a review of the Florida program?

That’s already on my list once the dust settles. We will not just review it because of me being the new CEO; we will look at key economic drivers such as our Florida-bred program on an ongoing basis so that we might continue to modify and evolve in order to best meet the needs of our membership.

The loss of revenue to ADW wagering has been singled out as a problem. Is there a way to reclaim a greater share?

This is really a challenge. On one hand, nobody wants to crush or weaken legitimate ADW as it provides the only pari-mutuel growth channel in the industry today. The convenience and quick accessibility and variety associated with the activity make it a fan favorite. It is here to stay (and must).

The issue, to the point you raise, is all about the fairness in revenue splits. In Florida, ADW certainly impacts my members – the breeders and farm owners. Our law says that for every dollar wagered in Florida we, the Florida breeders, are to receive X%.

My organization and membership have a very strong suspicion that the breeders are not being remunerated by ADW at the level granted to us by law.

This remains a HUGE issue to the FTBOA. It negatively impacts our economics as an Association plus those of our members each and every day. Should there not be a timely and sensible business fix from the ADWs to us, we will investigate and/or pursue other possible means including political or legal. We are hopeful that the solution can be kept a common sense one via either creative and proactive business conversations or legislative touches. We are not looking for our entitled share to come out of the HBPA’s purses, wagering customers’ commission or even the track’s share; the margin is on the ADW’s side, so they and  their contracting client tracks will need to address it pretty darn soon.

What will you do differently in terms of lobbying in Tallahassee? What are the biggest challenges there?
Everyone has a little bit different style and philosophy when it comes to lobbying. I’m a real hands-on type of guy when it comes to lobbying for my organizations, members and stakeholders. I have been also blessed by having access to the services of some of the finest lobbyists out there – including the great individual we have on our Tallahassee team as we speak. I enjoy the political arena part of our game about as much as any aspect. I devote considerable time to the activity. I have been a registered lobbyist in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and now Florida.

No matter what state capitol you are working, when it has to do with Thoroughbreds or pari-mutuels, our challenges always remain: a) maintaining  a perception of unity and peace; b) doing your economic homework; c) developing a realistic and collaborative strategy; d) represent credibility and integrity;  e) keep relevant; f) develop relationships and access.

I see Florida racing and breeding needing to continue walking and talking both sides of the very dynamic debate over the destination resort casino environment we find ourselves in. There is also a certain level of political and public relations backlash regarding the pathetic pari-mutuel barrel racing effort that could have some negative unintended consequences on those who try to play by the rules and do things right.

Anytime there are this many gaming interests, scope and bills during one single session, we must also prepare for the possibility of no racing or gaming bills being heard this session.

I plan to work closely with my racing brethren on legislative and regulatory issues as much as reasonably possible and will try not to surprise. I prefer to settle differences behind the scenes and away from the stage.  I would much rather collaborate on versus lone wolf legislation. 


Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Chairman Fred Brei: “Lonny Powell has all of the things that we as an association need if we can go forward past where we are today.”

Above:  Lonny Powell, FTBOA’s new Executive Director as of January 1, 2012
From the Ocala Star-Banner
By Carlos E. Medina, Correspondent
Published:  Thursday, October 13, 2011  

The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association’s annual membership meeting Thursday revealed an organization still fraught with mistrust and a lack of confidence between some members and the board of directors after a year of upheaval that has seen the organization’s senior leadership replaced.

Several members of the FTBOA’s board of directors tried to plead with the members gathered at Golden Hills Golf and Turf Club to give the board and newly named Executive Director/CEO Lonny T. Powell a chance to regain their confidence.

Powell will take over for Richard Hancock on Jan. 1, ending Hancock’s 22-year administration of the association.

Hancock’s was a reign that should probably have ended several years earlier, said Fred Brei, outgoing board president.

“He needs to retire. It’s that simple. I told the man he needed to retire before I even took the presidency last year,” Brei said.

It was announced in June that Hancock would retire. Initially, the plan called for him to turn over full-time control of the association by the end of the year and serve out the remainder of his contract, which runs through August 2012, on a part-time basis at a “greatly reduced” pay scale.

Thursday it was announced that Hancock’s association with the organization would not continue past Dec. 31. How he will serve until then will be decided by the board of directors. Hancock did not attend the meeting.

Brei said the need for Hancock’s retirement became clear after it was discovered that he misrepresented the amount of money involved in an employee embezzlement case that was discovered almost two years ago.

“When this fraud came up, the way this was spun when it was reported to the board of directors, it was spun as, ‘Well, we believe this man took us for $10, $11, $12,000. We later found out that that was spun as being the profit. … We have found that the true fraud was the gross amount of 90-some-thousand dollars. That was known by Hancock and a couple of officers,” Brei said. “It made an ass out of every member of the board and also made it time for Mr. Hancock to retire.”

After the extent of the embezzlement became clear earlier this year, it was reported to the Ocala Police Department. The State Attorney’s Office is reportedly investigating the incident.

Brei also said the association’s insurance policy covering employee theft was dropped in 2005 without the board’s approval.

Contacted later by telephone, Hancock said he had no comment on the allegation that he had misrepresented the alleged embezzlement.

* * *

Despite Brei’s openness about Hancock’s planned departure and the embezzlement investigation, some members in the crowd still expressed frustration with the board’s perceived secretive nature.

“I think all the board members should simply resign. If you truly want this organization to function well, then everyone has to be behind you. … We can’t have secret things going on,” said Beth Whalen, one of the members at the meeting.

The two-hour meeting at times spurred heated exchanges, sarcastic laughs and groans from those attending.

“Believe me, we have improved things. Our whole goal here is to bring this organization back together,” said Brent Fernung, the board’s first vice president and owner of Journeyman Stud.

“I do this for nothing. There isn’t a cent in this for any of us. We’re doing this because we are concerned about this industry. We wouldn’t be up here taking this abuse if we didn’t care. There are guys in here who won’t breed (their horses) with my stallions anymore because they are mad at this board,” Fernung said.

* * *

Even the decision to hire Powell was questioned by some at the meeting.

Some brought up the fact that Powell had spent less than two years at several of his last posts.

“That was one of the first things that stuck out to me. It was the first thing we looked at. Those changes were either shifts into other positions or the job had expired,” said Phil Matthews, FTBOA second vice president.

“We’re trying to bring this fractured organization together and make it stronger going forward. That’s all we want to do,” Matthews said. “Give Lonny Powell a chance. I think you’re going to be impressed.”

But members were also annoyed when it was revealed that the company hired to search for the new executive director charged $25,000. The board hired MJM Global Search out of Colorado to conduct a nationwide search to fill the position.

“It seems no matter what we do there is always a problem,” Brei said. “Lonny Powell has all of the things that we as an association need if we can go forward past where we are today.”

Powell is the current director of the Arizona Department of Racing and Boxing and has had extensive experience in managing and operating race tracks, including Santa Anita Park in California, where he served as president and CEO in the late 1990s.

He has held top management positions with Magna Entertainment Corp. and horse wagering site Youbet.com and was director of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program, of which he is a graduate.

“We thought $25,000 to make the most important decision this organization was going to make wasn’t money wasted,” Matthews said.

After the membership meeting, the board of directors met and elected Matthews as the new board president. Brent Fernung remained first vice president, and Francis Vanlangendonck was named second vice president. Bonnie Heath kept his treasurer spot, and Shiela DiMare continues as secretary.

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