Updated on 09/16/2011 8:49AM

Florida breeding: Much to feel good about this year

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There were several positives for the Florida Thoroughbred industry in 2002, said Dick Hancock, executive vice president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association.

One is the expansion of the Florida-bred stakes program. Before this year, there were no big days of racing for Florida-breds outside of the Florida Stallion Stakes series for 2-year-olds. But this year the Florida Million, a day of stakes for statebreds, was inaugurated at Calder, and in January Gulfstream will hold the first Sunshine Millions, which matches Florida-breds against California-breds.

Hancock also said he's pleased with Florida's representation in this past Saturday's Great State Challenge at Sam Houston and with a $7 million increase in purse money for statebreds.

Hancock also cited the Horse Fever promotion as one of the year's high points. For the promotion, artists decorated 53 life-sized fiberglass horses, and the horses were placed all around Ocala, Fla.

"When the exhibition was over, we auctioned them off and generated $846,000 for charities and philanthropy," Hancock said.

As for this year's disappointments, Hancock cites the high cost of workers' compensation insurance. Hancock said the Thoroughbred industry is not alone in needing cheaper insurance.

"Because so many are impacted by the soaring rates of workmen's comp coverage, I am confident that the Florida Legislature will address this issue in the coming session," he said.

On another legislative issue, Hancock thinks there's a good chance that Gov. Jeb Bush will back legalizing video lottery terminals - slot machines - at horse tracks, dog tracks, and jai-alai frontons. Money from slot machines would be one way Bush could close a budget gap.

"The scenario says that the governor will not raise state taxes, does not want to cut services, and this leaves him with VLT's as a source of needed revenue," Hancock said.

Hancock said the FTBOA's responsibility is to make sure the Thoroughbred industry gets a fair share of any slots revenue.

Hancock said Native American casinos and cruise ships already offer such gambling in Florida, so that allowing slots at racetracks "is not revolutionary."

Although Florida's parimutuel industry "is pretty much on board" regarding slots, Hancock said regulations would have to be changed to accommodate them. For example, he said, Thoroughbreds are prohibited from running after 7 p.m., but if racetracks install slots, they surely would want to expose their evening customers to horse racing.

Hancock said that with the help of some industry-friendly legislation, Florida could have perhaps the largest purses in the country.

"Much depends upon what happens in Tallahassee - and we are very well represented in the state capital," he said. "Our board has worked closely with legislators and we have opened legislative eyes to our industry and its worth to Florida."