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Court of Appeal affirms that “Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing" is unadopted rule

In a short opinion issued on Friday, Feb. 7, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed last year’s lower court ruling that Florida pari-mutuel regulators’ licensing of “pari-mutuel barrel racing” failed to follow proper rulemaking procedure. The opinion stated, in part, that “ . . . the narrow issue in this case is whether the (Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s) policy of treating barrel match racing as an authorized form of quarter horse racing is an unadopted rule.”

Barrel racing is considered a “show” event.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“The irony is that, during the years of litigation on this case, the professional riders who actually compete in real barrel racing have come to learn that the empty promises made by ‘pari-mutuel barrel racing’ were not about promoting their sport, but about Gretna Racing LLC using them as a means to run a cardroom 365 days a year,” said Kent Stirling, Executive Director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, a statewide organization comprising over 6,000 Thoroughbred owners and trainers that supported the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association in the litigation. “The unfortunate aftermath of ‘pari-mutuel barrel racing’ is that the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering immediately pivoted and issued a license to Gretna for ‘flag drop racing’—another contrived event conjured up for the same exploitative purpose. The collateral damage for this and other statewide misuses of American Quarter Horse pari-mutuel permits is that the State of Florida cannot fully realize the immense positive economic benefit that legitimate horse racing actually brings.”

Hialeah Park, the only venue in Florida that hosts AQHA-accredited American Quarter Horse racing under the stewardship of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, has seen record crowds and growing wagering handle each year.

“This case is not about the merits of one sport over another,” explained Trey Buck, Executive Director of Racing for the American Quarter Horse Association. “It’s about following the rules. The fact is, legitimate American Quarter Horse racing is a proven economic driver nationwide. By ensuring AQHA accreditation of American Quarter Horse racing, the State of Florida can be assured it is not only maximizing the revenue-generation of its pari-mutuel permits, but ensuring the integrity and safety of the events for fans and participants alike.”

AQHA is the world’s largest breed registry and equine organization with its international headquarters located in Amarillo, TX. The AQHA issues and maintains the pedigrees, registration and performance records of American Quarter Horses. AQHA also promulgates rules and regulations that govern AQHA-approved events and competition including competition involving the pari-mutuel racing of American Quarter Horses and the showing of American Quarter Horses.

AQHA does not recognize barrel racing as a pari-mutuel racing event. Instead, barrel racing is considered a “show” event and as such is governed by the show rules and regulations set forth in Show and Performance sections of the AQHA Official Handbook of Rules & Regulations.

According the a statement from the AQHA, while rules of Racing Authorities take precedence, AQHA, for purposes of AQHA records and programs, reserves the right to deny or revoke recognition of a race which does not observe the rules and regulations contained herein. American Quarter Horse racing is defined as two or more American Quarter Horses registered with the American Quarter Horse Association, entered and competing in the same race at the same time from a regulation starting gate, at distances and conditions recognized by AQHA and running at full speed, unimpeded by obstacles, thru a common finish line.

In short, AQHA supports both types of disciplines as competition for American Quarter Horses. Horse racing is conducted on a traditional oval racetrack covering distances between 110 and 1,000 yards without obstacles. Barrel racing is an individually timed contest conducted in a pen or arena running around 3 evenly spaced barrels or obstacles.

This issue will doubtless be debated in the courts and on the racetrack for many years to come, though the only real losers in this are the horses, who don't care whether the racing is for show or for money. They just want to run!

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