12/06/2002 12:00AM

Playfair licensee tries proxy effort

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SPOKANE, Wash. - Eric Nelson, who has been granted a license - but not dates - to conduct racing at Playfair next year, has asked eastern Washington horsemen to sign proxies giving their bargaining rights to Bob Johnston, president of Inland Empire Horsemen's Association.

Nelson and Johnston signed a purse contract agreement last Monday, but at a meeting of the Washington Horse Racing Commission on Wednesday, the commission ruled that Inland Empire is not the legally recognized agent for eastern Washington horsemen, who have been represented by Organization for the Preservation of Horse Racing in the Northwest since 1995. The commission therefore refused to grant Nelson's date request because he did not have a valid contract with horsemen.

Lengthy negotiations between Nelson and OPHRN failed to produce a contract, but the hastily organized Inland Empire signed with Nelson less than a week after it was formed.

At a meeting in Spokane on Thursday that was attended by more than 100 horsemen, 89 of the 93 trainers who had started horses at Playfair's last meeting in 2000 signed proxies, and many took proxy forms with them to distribute to other eligible voters.

It is unclear whether the commission would accept proxies in lieu of a formal election to determine which organization has the right to represent Playfair's horsemen.