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No April Fool's Joke—but the Phony South Marion Horse Racing Will Be

March 31, 2014
Kent Stirling, Executive Director
URGENT CALL TO ACTION:  We Need Any Horsemen In the Ocala/Marion County Area On Tuesday, April 1 to Attend and Speak at the Marion County Commission Meeting at 9 a.m.
In the wake of Gretna “pari-mutuel barrel racing,” “flag-drops” and other contrived events designed to skirt Florida’s live racing requirements, another spurious pari-mutuel permit known as “South Marion Real Estate Holdings” [a.k.a. Central Florida Gaming, Marion Management and (prior to 2012) Ft. Myers Real Estate Holdings] has been granted yet another questionable racing license by the Florida Divison of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to conduct yet-unknown horse-related events.
Speaking on behalf of nearly 10,000 collective racehorse owners and trainers, Florida horse racing industry officials confirm the project is NOT Thoroughbred racing.  And it’s definitely NOT American Quarter Horse racing, either.
“No one really knows exactly what type of contrived horse activity the South Marion Real Estate Holdings project has been licensed to conduct, but we are certain that more phony activities will now take place as an excuse to allow another year ’round card room,” said Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) Executive Director Kent Stirling.  “It’s a good example of how unchecked gambling is expanding statewide at the direct expense of our lucrative horse racing industry.”
In 2012, an elderly horsemen was duped into renting his accredited American Quarter Horses for what he thought was a practice session under the auspices of the South Marion Real Estate Holdings pari-mutuel permit.   He reported seeing Florida regulators and law enforcement officials on hand at the event, which made him initially believe what he was doing was legitimate horse racing, but upon later consideration, he felt he had been misled.  To read the complete story, you can search Google for “Matt Hegarty, Daily Racing Form and South Marion Real Estate Holdings.”
“This is about Florida continuing to allow pari-mutuel permitholders to sidestep Florida’s live racing requirements, regardless of the law, court rulings, the Florida horse racing industry’s billion-dollar annual economic impact and the tens of thousands of jobs it produces,” Stirling added.   “If your business depends on the Florida horse racing industry, we need you to be present at this meeting tomorrow.”
According to Florida horse racing industry sources, despite the fact that “pari-mutuel barrel racing” was twice declared illegal by a court of law, the unknown horse-related competitive events will take place at the South Marion property in what appears to be a “bull ring” type structure with an adjacent modular trailer set up as a cardroom.
The American Quarter Horse Association and its Florida chapter, the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association (FQHRA) report that no one has contacted either organization in reference to the South Marion project to apply for accreditation as legitimate Quarter Horse racing.
To see a picture of what the “racetrack” looks like, go to
The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association issued a call to action today as well, with the following article providing additional detail on this urgent issue:
“Flimflam Fields”
“If you believe this is a racetrack, then I have some prime swampland in Florida to sell you.”
There is an oval of dirt that has been scratched out of the weeds of South Marion County, but the shape of it is the only thing that remotely resembles a “racetrack.”
Unlike most racetracks, this “track” has no grandstand, no bleachers, no concessions and the “facilities” leave a LOT to be desired.  The “placing judges’ stand” hovering above the finish line could be confused for a children’s playhouse on stilts, while the remaining structures include a modular office trailer and a shack.
The track itself is surrounded by rigid wooden fences (instead of safety rails), negligible banking on the turns, and—perhaps a nod to the legendary racetracks of Europe—a hill on the backstretch.  It might be the only horse track in America that demands its participants climb their way to the finish line.
With so little initial investment in building a real racetrack, it’s tough to see how further development would happen after a permit for a card room was issued.
So why do thoroughbred breeders and owners need to be concerned about the presence of a “bush” track in their own backyard?
Besides the poor facilities damaging the reputation of legitimate horse racing and dubious track conditions needlessly endangering the lives of horses and riders, this contrived form of racing will lower the standard for what is required to operate a racetrack.  It will establish the bare minimum requirements a permit holder needs to meet in order to open a card room.  If permitholders are allowed to open card rooms by offering bottom-level races for minimal purses at facilities that don’t promote horse racing, then horse owners and breeders can expect a diminishing value of their stallions, broodmares, and racehorses because the purse money won’t be there in the future.
It is suspected that the South Marion County facility is hurrying to hold a day of racing because the Florida Legislature is currently considering reforming the racing and gaming laws in the state.  Many people believe that they are trying to hold a race day to ensure that this form of racing is grandfathered-in should a reform bill be passed into law.
The American Quarter Horse Association and the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association opposes the opening of this track, as well as the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company, and the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
Marion County is proud of the title “Horse Capital of the World”, and it deserves a racetrack that reflects the pride of the owners, breeders, and horsemen who produce champion race horses in the Sunshine State.  Anything less than a first-class facility diminishes the strong reputation that we have worked so hard to build.
What can you do about it?  Speak up!
The Board of County Commissioners for Marion County will be holding a 9 a.m. meeting on Tuesday, April 1, at the McPherson Complex Auditorium in Ocala. The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association strongly encourages its members to attend this meeting and to sign-up to make a brief public comment in opposition to this track.  Public comments are limited to two minutes.
McPherson Complex Auditorium
601 SE 25th Ave.
Ocala, Florida 33470
Don’t miss your chance to stand-up for legitimate horse racing!