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More Controversy for Pari-Mutuel Barrel Racing in Florida

Gretna Racing receives racing license despite recent court ruling.

June 8, 2013

Barrel Racing

Announcing “business as usual,” Gretna Racing LLC (“Gretna”) applied for and has received an amended racing license from the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering on June 6 that authorized it to conduct back-to-back weekends of mysterious and unspecified “quadruple-header” events this month on June 22 and 29.

In the wake of a court ruling against Gretna last month concluding that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was illegal, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering ordered the North Florida facility not to conduct the contrived event, which was judged to be a definitive sidestep around Florida’s live horse racing requirements in order to enable Gretna to concurrently hold card rooms and possibly slot machines.

But, in a snub to the court’s sharply worded 85-page ruling, Gretna immediately and publicly proclaimed it would simply “tweak” the format of its spurious activities and continue on with its self-crafted events, which are not even sanctioned as legitimate barrel racing by the National Barrel Racing Association and other longstanding national organizations.

“Especially in light of the court ruling last month and the pending legislative gaming study underway, the public deserves transparency on the exact details of what is now taking place at Gretna’s facility,” said Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA), a statutory statewide organization of Florida Thoroughbred owners and trainers that joined with the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners Association (FTBOA) in supporting the FQHRA throughout the recent litigation.

“We have seen no indications of any construction taking place on a regulation Quarter Horse racetrack,” said Dr. Steve Fisch, president of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA), which prevailed in last month’s landmark case. The FQHRA is Florida’s statutory arm of the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), a national organization with 350,000 members worldwide that ensures proper racing regulation and safe, humane treatment of the horses involved.

“According to the amended Gretna license, it appears the facility is holding eight ‘performances’ held over two Saturdays. Bearing in mind that Florida law defines a ‘performance’ as eight individual ‘races,’ this means four days’ worth of performances are held in the afternoon and evening of one day. Normally and historically, eight performances take place over eight different days,” explained Dr. Fisch, a nationally recognized equine veterinarian.

“A major concern is if the horses are performing more than once per day, then the health of the horse and, hence, that of the rider are both at risk,” Dr. Fisch added. “In American Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing, horses race no more than once every 14 days on average. Six to eight races per year is an average schedule for a racehorse. Knowing this, the health and welfare of the horse and rider should always be first and foremost to Florida’s pari-mutuel permitholders. This is why it’s imperative that an independent group knowledgeable in equine health and welfare must represent horses and horsemen alike. The FHBPA, FQHRA, AQHA and FTBOA are all established, respected groups that have proven they hold horses’ health as a major criteria on all fronts.”

While Gretna’s card rooms continue to operate, wagering on Gretna’s “pari-mutuel barrel racing” has been recorded as low as $24 per day and contests there have often been canceled due to lack of interest. Just several months after the initial license was awarded with which “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was conducted, Gadsden County, in which the City of Gretna is located, approved the holding of a referendum to install slot machines at the Gretna Racing facility.