05/10/2008 12:00AM

Purse cuts taking toll on horsemen


MIAMI - The usual excitement that accompanies a day at the races has been tempered for Calder-based horseman by the ongoing stalemate with track management that less than a week into the meet resulted in a purse reduction of 30 percent and the more recent announcement of additional cuts to the stakes program.

The two sides have been unable to agree on a purse contract that includes splits from a planned casino at the track.

The first noteworthy fallout from the situation came Friday when trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. withdrew his Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile runner-up Gottcha Gold from consideration for the Grade 3 Memorial Day Handicap, a race that will lose its graded status after having its purse slashed Friday from $100,000 to $36,000. Gottcha Gold will instead accompany stablemate Hey Byrn on a van departing here Monday for Maryland and will make his next start in the Pimlico Special.

Trainer Kathleen O'Connell, a regular on the local circuit for the past 18 years, may have summed up the feelings of her colleagues in one word.

"It's debilitating," said O'Connell. "Not only fiscally, but mentally as well. And this affects not only trainers but owners, breeders, jockeys, and all our workers. I've already lost 10 horses, mostly Kentucky-breds whose people were good enough to keep with me down here in Florida. But it's not economically feasible to run them for 30 percent less than the purses that were too small to begin with."

O'Connell, who presently has 38 horses at Calder, said the situation is getting to the point where she may have to lay off some of her help.

"I've got people who have been working for me for eight years, but if this continues and I keep losing horses I'll have to let some of them go," said O'Connell. "I'm trying to stick it out here. This is my home, and it's really too late to start thinking about moving somewhere else. We're all in dire straits right now."

O'Connell offered the following advice to remedy the situation.

"Everybody has to step up to the plate to get this thing settled as quickly as possible," she said. "Even if it means bringing in an outsider to help get both sides to the table."

Like O'Connell, veteran trainer Phil Gleaves is frustrated and losing horses on a daily basis.

"The horse I ran in the first race today [Fuzzy Buzz] is leaving for Philadelphia Park, and the one I run in the ninth [Can't Sleep] is going to Delaware after he runs," said Gleaves, who currently has 17 runners on the grounds. "And I'm advising all my owners to do the same thing as the situation arises."

Gleaves echoed the sentiments of his fellow horsemen when he said, "all we're asking for is a fair shake. It seems to me that what's happening down here now can not be productive to anyone."

o Apprentice jockey Paco Lopez rode four winners Friday putting him atop the standings with 11 wins, two more than Manoel Cruz. Lopez will have a five-pound bug until October.