Serving Florida's Thoroughbred Horse Racing Owners, Trainers and Horsemen

Executive Director’s Message

Note to Legislators – Thoroughbred Racing in South Florida is Thriving

The horse racing industry in Florida is world-renowned for both its breeding and racing of thoroughbreds. The Ocala area boasts most of the State’s breeding farms and helps make Florida the second largest producer of thoroughbred racehorses in the United States after Kentucky. Racing in Florida, and particularly at Gulfstream Park, is the envy of most racing jurisdictions in the country with a combination of home-bred horses and out of state horses causing field sizes to be well above the national average.

A 2014 study revealed that the Florida horse racing industry supports more than 12,000 in-state jobs, pays those workers more than $400 million in wages and benefits each year, and generates an economic impact for the State of nearly one billion dollars annually. It is safe to say that approximately half of those workers are employed by trainers who race their horses in South Florida and the vast majority of those workers are minorities.

Live thoroughbred racing in South Florida is a growing, year-round industry with 10 months of racing at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach and 2 months of racing at Gulfstream Park West located in Miami Gardens.

In 2015, Gulfstream Park achieved a record handle (amounts wagered) of $1.34 billion which represented a 14% increase over the previous record handle of $1.17 billion set in 2014.

The upward trend continues in 2016 as the Gulfstream Championship Meet from December 2015 to April 2016 achieved a record handle which was 15% higher than the previous record handle set the year before. Gulfstream also set an all-time record Florida Derby Day handle in 2016 when more than $32 million was wagered on April 2nd this year. Gulfstream Park horse racing continues to be a major tourism attraction for South Florida and fan interest is on the upswing.

The typical racehorse trainer operates an independent business which has 6 to 8 horses in training and employs from 4 to 8 people per year. The out-of-pocket cost of training a racehorse is approximately $25,000 – $30,000 per year. Most of that cost goes to workers who care for the horses on a daily basis. Other costs include feed and bedding from local producers and local veterinary and blacksmith care. With a racehorse population of 2,500 year-round in South Florida, the direct economic impact of the upkeep alone for these horses to the local economy is approximately $70 million every year. Racehorses start their careers at age 2 or 3. Getting a racehorse to the track is also a very labor-intensive effort. From breeding, to foaling, to raising and training the horse for 2-3 years, many workers and suppliers of goods are involved in the process.

The owners of a typical racehorse have invested at least $100,000 into each horse before the horse even starts its racing career. For the horses racing in South Florida that represents an initial investment of at least $250 million. And with an average racing career that ends at around 6 years old, owners must replenish their stables and renew that $250 million investment every 3-4 years.

The loss of guaranteed racing opportunities that would surely come if casino Decoupling were allowed in Florida, would cripple this thriving thoroughbred industry, cost scores of jobs for Florida workers and would have an ever-lasting negative effect on the State’s economy.

( Attention horsemen – This is a letter that can be handed to legislators you meet with this summer. If you would like a pdf version, please forward a request to gberman@floridahbpa.com ).

Controlled Therapeutic Medicines Update

Soon after my arrival as FHBPA Executive Director in February this year, I was greeted with a deluge of positive tests being called against trainers by the State of Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (the “Division”).

I came to learn that Florida passed into law changes to Permitted Medications for Horses in mid-2015 that were implemented starting January 10, 2016. Included in those changes were new threshold levels for 23 controlled therapeutic medications plus primary and secondary thresholds for three non-steroidal anti-inflammatories – flunixin, ketoprofen and phenylbutazone.

Although the law was enacted months before it was implemented, no warnings of positive threshold violations were provided to trainers and veterinarians during the interim period to allow for adjustment of therapeutic treatments to help prevent even slight threshold race day overages upon implementation.

As threshold overages began being called this year and the penalties assessed seemed out of line with many of the offenses, several issues were raised. There is an overall desire for Florida’s medication policies to be uniform with other states. Unlike other states that have adopted ARCI recommended thresholds and penalties, the Division only adopted the thresholds. As a result, many trainers were being called for positives for the approved controlled therapeutics with thresholds (and partly as a result in the delay in notice by the Division, sometimes multiple positives for the same drug), that just months before were not being called. And instead of being assessed ARCI recommended penalties, the Division assessed large fines and suspensions that were subject to negotiation.

The FHBPA met with the Division recently to discuss these issues and is working toward solutions that protect the integrity of the sport while also addressing inconsistencies in the law and its enforcement.

FHBPA has proposed a Petition to Initiate Rulemaking to the Division that would:

  • Adopt ARCI Model Penalty Rules as its penalty guidelines;
  • Provide that changes adopted by the ARCI for thresholds or penalties would be incorporated in the Division’s Rules without further rulemaking; and
  • Make NSAID stacking violations a single infraction with a set penalty schedule

As FHBPA Executive Director, I believe it is better to work with the Division in an attempt to correct the problems in the laws, in the best interest of the horsemen, the State and the sport.

Glen Berman

No Dying Horse Racing Industry Here

FHBPA Executive Director Glen Berman

FHBPA Executive Director Glen Berman

My first two weeks as Executive Director of the FHBPA, culminating with the record-setting Fountain of Youth Day at Gulfstream Park, have been quite eventful.

In addition to all the new names and faces, I encountered many friends and acquaintances from my home town of Chicago during that time.

Among the familiar faces were owners, trainers, track officials and track employees – some just visiting and some relocated to South Florida.

Distinctly unfamiliar to me were the massive crowds, $2 million plus/race handles, and the volume of high quality horses, trainers and jockeys.

I am used to the propagandist casino lobby in Illinois arguing that Illinois tracks should not get gaming to fund the ‘dying’ horse racing industry. It is more than a little disconcerting to hear proponents of decoupling in Florida begin their discussions referencing that same, worn-out refrain.

Dying?  At Gulfstream?  Hardly.

It is clear that the anti-horse racing interests will attempt to shove that round peg in wherever it can – even into the square hole that is Florida thoroughbred racing and breeding. It is up to the horsemen to fight for our industry. Tell the naysayers to try and find a parking spot at Gulfstream on a Thursday, let alone on the weekend, and then let’s discuss the health of thoroughbred horse racing in Florida.

From someone who has watched Florida racing from afar, it is clearly the envy of most other racing jurisdictions. The vast majority of tracks don’t hold a candle to Gulfstream Park and most states can only dream of a breeding industry like Florida’s.

It is unfathomable that the State of Florida would be complicit with pulling the plug on this enormously successful industry with all of the jobs and positive economic impact it provides to the state.

I arrive at the Florida HBPA, humbled by the success of my predecessors, and ready to work to protect and advance the interests of the horsemen here – to keep it great and make it greater.

Glen Berman