Monday, July 4, 2011

Sampson Addresses MN HBPA Appealing of Ruling Coming Tomorrow

The July 4th meeting of the Minnesota HBPA was supposed to be a celebration of the 2010 racing season along with a look forward with the election of new board members and the crowning of leader trainer, jockey and owners.  With the long shadow the state shutdown has cast over the temporarily shuttered racetrack, it was hard for the standing room only group of horsemen to feel celebratory, however.

Track President and CEO Randy Sampson took the podium and updated the assembly on the shutdown and closure.  He started by apologizing for the closure, though it is widely acknowledged by horsemen that he has done all he possibly can to avoid it – and continues to try all avenues to get the track reopened.

“We will be appealing the judge’s decision tomorrow,” he said.  “We are also going to ask if we can have our appeal expedited so we can be heard this week.”

Parallels have been drawn throughout the racing community on the situation of the Minnesota Zoo, which was allowed to reopen, and the racetracks which were not.  The answer appears to turn on a technicality.  While both can run without funds from the general fund, the Zoo’s statutory appropriation is not capped, while the racing commission is.  Only the legislature can cap the appropriation and this must be done every year – even though the cap is always equal to the fees paid in.  This semantic twist appears to be what has made the difference between making a living and being unemployed.

This morning, a gifted groom was walking the shedrows looking for work.  She has just been let go by her boss, a small trainer, who has moved to rubbing his horses himself to save money, not knowing when the closure will end enabling him to run for purse money again.

“I’ll get by,” she said, cheery disposition and optimism evident. “It could get frustrating, but horses can feel your temperament and I need to stay up for them.”

Her trainer was disappointed to lose her, knowing the difference she makes with her charges, but with no end in sight he had little choice. So she walks on, hoping to latch on with another barn – possibly with one heading out of state.  As the closure goes on, the potential for an exodus of trainers is very much on people’s minds.

“With no chance for the 1,300 horses stabled on the backside to compete for purse money, the danger is that trainers will begin to take their stables from Minnesota and once they do, they will not return,” track President and CEO Randy Sampson said.

Sampson and MN HBPA President Tom Metzen, Sr. outlined several programs to help horsemen through what is hopefully a temporary closure.

“Horses affected by the cancelled dates will be eligible for payouts based upon the purse of the race,” Metzen explained.  “Horses entered for cancelled non-stakes races that carried purses over $18,000 will be eligible for a $2,000 payment; races for purses between $10,000 - $18,000, a $1,000 payment; and races with purses under $10,000 would receive $500 payments.  To be eligible the horse must make its next start at Canterbury Park after the track reopens.”

Track personnel will also be passing out coupons for free meals in the track kitchen to backside employees over the next few days in a gesture of cooperation between track management and the backside.

“We understand that this is a tremendous burden on the backside employees and we want to be able to help them in any way that we can,” Sampson said.

Depending upon the alacrity in which the appeal is heard and the ruling, decisions on the racing cards for next weekend will be done on a day to day basis.  The next racing day, Thursday, July 7, has already been drawn and a decision will be made Wednesday afternoon/early Thursday morning on whether or not the card will be run.  Ultimately that decision is wholly dependent upon the appeals court or a political resolution to the budget stalemate. 

In order to end on a high note – something that has been nearly impossible over the past week – here are the MN HBPA award winners from the 2010 season:

Mac Robertson took the crown for 2010’s leading trainer. Dean Butler took home top honors for the season’s leading jockey.  Bill and Al Ulwelling were the top owners for last year’s meet.

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