12/17/2004 1:00AM

Parimutuel supporters haven't given up


The year 2004 was another rainy one in Georgia for the Georgia Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Association. Hope was this would be the year when Georgians would get a parimutuel bill. This hope was dashed when the state legislature decided not to address the matter.

"We were rained on again," said GTOBA board of governors member Bob Mier. "But this does not mean that we're going to quit. I think Georgians would support a Thoroughbred track if they had the opportunity, and getting the opportunity to vote on this issue is number one on our agenda."

Mier, an Atlanta attorney, cited the efforts made by the GTOBA and its supporters. The GTOBA hired an expensive lobbyist to further its cause. Things almost got done, according to Mier, but not quite. Mier attributes much of the problem to former governor and senator Zell Miller, who made parimutuel legislation a constitutional issue. Under Georgia law, a change in the state constitution can only be made if approved by three-quarters of the legislature and then two-thirds of the electorate.

"We paid a lot of money over the years to lobby for parimutuels, but we simply did not have enough lobbying money or enough clout," Mier said. "So, we are taking an altogether different approach. We're going to try and force the issue by building a voting block of supporters."

Georgia has a modest breeding industry that is steadily growing in both horse population and acreage. Mier attributes this growth to retirees who have come to settle in the Peach State and have brought an affinity for the horse with them.

"We have around 15 stallions, a hundred or so broodmares, and a dozen or so farms," he said.

There are three stallions currently standing in Georgia whose get in 2004 have won over $100,000. The leader of this list is Level Sands (by Storm Cat), whose get have earned just under a million.

There is a close working relationship between the GTOBA and Florida stallion owners. This coming year, on Jan. 15, there will be a dinner party and auction at Dantannas restaurant in Atlanta.

Stallion seasons from Florida stallions and no-guarantee seasons from a half-dozen state will be auctioned off with the proceeds going to fund six $50,000 races. Two of the $50,000 races have been tentatively set for the Atlanta steeplechase meet next April. The remaining money raised goes toward the operational costs of the GTOBA.

"The people in Florida's Thoroughbred industry have been greatly supportive of us here in Georgia and what we are trying to accomplish," said Mier. "Florida stallion owners have donated hundreds of seasons."

The GTOBA-Florida stakes program, for the get of stallions who participated in the Georgia program, calls for four $50,000 races to be contested at Calder Race Course. Two are for 2-year-old fillies on the turf, one on Labor Day and one in December. There is a 3-year-old filly turf race in the spring and one for fillies and mares in the summer.

In an effort to expand membership in the GTOBA, the organization - in cooperation with an Atlanta all-sports radio station - will award to a member an expenses-paid trip and the chance to present the trophy to the winner of the April leg of the GTOBA stakes.

"We need bodies," said Mier. "We need bodies for political clout. The only way we're going to get racing in Georgia and build a breeding industry is with votes, and that takes numbers. We've tried going the lobbying route, we've tried to win over the politicians, we've tried and we've tried to get our elected representatives to listen. If we recruit enough GTOBA membership voters, the politicians will have to listen."