06/12/2001 11:00PM

Final wrinkle for Hialeah, horsemen


MIAMI - The Florida Division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association has asked the state to institute new regulations that would make it illegal for any racetrack in its jurisdiction to delay the transfer of horsemen's purse accounts at the conclusion of a meet.

Hialeah Park took three weeks to transfer the entire $5.285 million in the horsemen's purse account to Calder after the conclusion of the Hialeah meet May 22. Hialeah transferred what management considered to be the final $647,082 it owed the horsemen on Tuesday, although officials for the horsemen said the track still owes an additional $52,000.

"I've spoken to Rick Sacco [Hialeah Park's general manger] and explained where the $52,000 came from, and he assured me the money would be sent within the next couple of days," said Linda Mills, president of the horsemen's group. "Fortunately, upon receipt of the $647,000 today, I will sleep better tonight. Although we are going to work with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to establish rules which will protect the horsemen's accounts and keep this type of situation from ever happening again."

Mills and the horsemen's board have fought a bitter battle with Hialeah Park over the transfer of the horsemen's purse money ever since the end of what could turn out to be Hialeah's final meet. Hialeah sent $4 million of the $5.285 million balance in the horsemen's account on May 25 and an additional $585,239 on June 4. In the interim, the horsemen's group contacted Paul Kirsch, director of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, and advised him of the problem, at which time he sent investigators to audit the track's purse accounts. That audit is not expected to be complete until early next week.

In addition, several horsemen have reported that checks cashed against the Hialeah horsemen's account had been returned marked "insufficient funds," including one from the Six C's stable totaling in excess of $110,000. The majority of that sum was earned not at Hialeah but during the 2001 Gulfstream Park meet, according to the horsemen's executive director, Kent Stirling. Sacco said he was aware of the problem and directed an additional $300,000 to be deposited into Six C's account Tuesday to cover those checks.

Sacco left Hialeah for Monmouth Park in New Jersey the morning after the Hialeah meet ended to oversee the training of his brother Greg's horses while Greg served out a suspension. Rick Sacco said the situation probably would have been avoided if had he been able to remain at Hialeah to oversee the transfer of the funds.

"The late transfer of the monies was basically caused by an internal accounting problem," Sacco said. "As for the bounced checks, I'm sorry that happened, and I apologize to any horseman inconvenienced by the situation. If I was in town, this never would have happened. I never let any checks leave the office without verifying them first."