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 permit holders 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.
Many true fans of horse racing in the state have noticed that with the increase in casino style gambling, the facilities referred to as race-inos have been allowed to fall into disrepair, while the money made from slot machines has generally been pocketed by the corporate owners. Though a small amount of the profit does trickle down to the horsemen in the form of higher purses, maintenance and improvements at the racetracks themselves has been put off for far too long.
“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.’”
These original producers of horsepower are still an important economic engine in Florida, and offer a safe, family friendly atmosphere in which to interact with other people, as well as possibly make a few dollars.
“It’s often mistakenly assumed that horsemen’s interests always coincide with those of pari-mutuel permit holders. 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 impostor events staged by various rogue North Florida permit holders 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.
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