02/06/2014 12:57PM

Harness Racing: Multiple contract disputes wreaking havoc

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There are two ongoing impasses between horsemen and track management that are wreaking havoc in the standardbred world.

At Monticello Raceway, the horsemen have exercised their right to restrict the track from sending its simulcast signal outside of New York. In Illinois, both Balmoral and Maywood Parks have placed their racing seasons on hold (racing was supposed to begin Feb. 5) as horsemen and management haggle over purse cuts and recapture.

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The situation in Monticello revolves around a law which states that the horsemen’s share of purse money is capped at 2013 purse levels. So even though full-blown casinos and future revenues could be on the horizon, horsemen will see no increases.

Monticello Harness Horsemen’s Association representative Joe Faraldo summed up the dispute succinctly. “We are getting hurt, the track is getting hurt and the industry is getting hurt,” said Faraldo while driving up to Albany, New York on Thursday morning to meet on the issue. “Sometimes you have to fight for the future because if you don’t, you won’t have one.”

If Tuesday’s handle totals are any indication, the restricting of the Monticello Raceway signal to any locations or ADWs outside of New York is going to cost both parties a large chunk of money. Handle on that day was just $197,671 compared to $523,937 on the previous Tuesday they raced. That marks a 62 percent decrease and at the 3% rate Monticello charges for its signal, a $9,787 loss in revenue.

Faraldo, who said the horsemen are simply looking for a percentage of increase over the 2013 purse levels if they rise at some point, was hoping for the best but prepared for the worst.

“I expect a purse cut, because the last time this happened in 2006 that was the first thing they did,” said Faraldo. “I’m not looking short term, I’m looking long term. To remain competitive, the agricultural and horse industries need to share in the profit.”

Over in Illinois, the battle centers around control over the horsemen’s $5 million-plus purse account and what amount of money can be “recaptured” by the track. Illinois law states that tracks may recoup a percentage of losses from the horsemen’s purse account.

With over $5 million available in the account, horsemen are not eager to take the 15% to 35% purse cut reportedly being offered by the track. Meanwhile, track executives feel if they don’t cut purses substantially that their long term survival could be in jeopardy.

With the absence of a signed contract as of 12pm E.S.T. on Thursday (2/6) and no end to the dispute in sight, racing has already been cancelled through Sunday (loss of five racing dates) at Balmoral and Maywood Parks.

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As with any quarrel, everyone suffers. Monticello Raceway and its horsemen are losing money. Drivers, trainers and the Illinois standardbred tracks are losing money. Fans and bettors are losing the opportunity to enjoy their favorite tracks. No one is happy.

The good news is that these disputes always settle eventually. The bad news is that the final outcome usually leaves everyone feeling unsatisfied. Let’s hope that all parties can settle their differences quickly.