09/06/2017 3:06PM

Horsemen's executive Stirling dead at 72

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Kent Stirling, a longtime executive director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association who played a leading role in state and national medication reform efforts, died on Wednesday at his home, according to friends. Stirling, 72, had been recently placed in hospice care due to a recurring bout with cancer.

Stirling served as the executive director of the Florida HBPA from 1995, when the organization first established the position, until the end of 2015. A former trainer who also served as president of the FHBPA for three years prior to becoming executive director, Stirling played a pivotal role in representing horsemen’s interests as the Florida racing landscape underwent a massive transformation during his tenure, while simultaneously serving on a number of boards for national organizations seeking changes to the sport’s regulation of medication.

“He was the heart and soul of the FHBPA down here for 25 years,” said Phil Combest, a trainer and former president of the FHBPA who worked closely with Stirling for many years.

During the two decades that Stirling led the FHBPA, racing dates in South Florida were deregulated, leading to enormous shifts on the racing calendar that eventually led to the consolidation of most racing dates at Gulfstream Park. The maneuverings were complicated by the sale of many of the racetracks in the state multiple times, along with the passage of legislation that allowed racetracks, at first, to operate card clubs, eventually leading to the installation of slot machines at the facilities.

During those times, Stirling led the FHBPA in negotiations with the tracks on purses, racing dates, shipping, and stabling. Those talks sometimes led to bitter disputes between the tracks and horsemen, and Stirling was often not shy about using horsemen’s power to block interstate simulcasting as a means to pressure tracks.

Stirling was also an advocate for horsemen on medication issues, and served as chairman of the National HBPA’s Medication Committee and as a board member for the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an industry-funded group that develops model rules for the regulation of medication. As a horsemen’s representative, he continually urged racing commissions to treat therapeutic medications differently than performance-enhancing medications.

“He knew more about medication than just about any vet,” said Combest, who said horsemen were not fully aware of how much work Stirling did on the issue.

William White, an owner who is the current president of the FHBPA, said Stirling “stood front and center” representing horsemen in medication reforms.

“He was the one trying to get regulators to understand that there is a benefit to therapeutic medications and that you can’t throw those into the same soup as the illegal things that have no place in a horse,” White said. “He was an expert in that field.”

Stirling announced that he was stepping down from the FHBPA four months before his contract expired at the end of 2015. Earlier in the year, he was instrumental in an effort to get legislation passed that aligned Florida’s medication rules with many other states.