As I start my third term on the Board of our horsemen’s organization, it is an honor to be named President. There are big shoes to fill – Stephen Screnci was a dynamic leader and an asset in so many ways. He is a tough act to follow, but I am looking forward to the challenge. I believe we have a great group of owners and trainers on our Board, energetic and dedicated to helping the industry and the horsemen and women who make up our membership.
This is going to be an eventful year for Thoroughbred racing, in South Florida and for the entire country. The safety rules of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act go into effect on July 1, and we will be joining forces with our fellow Horsemen’s Associations to help our owners and trainers prepare for the changes involved. We are also at the table on discussions as to the cost of the program, and how it will be paid.
Gulfstream Park will give the turf course a greatly needed renovation, which will mean short-term sacrifice as the turf is closed for what is expected to be three months over the summer, but could be a win in the long term when we have a good, safe surface to run on year-round, and are less reliant on Tapeta. That said, the Tapeta has done its job for us, helping to maintain field size when races do come off the grass and mitigating the decrease in handle that we’ve seen this winter due to fewer starters overall. We are hopeful that bettors will become more comfortable with Tapeta racing as they have more data to use when handicapping.
We do face serious issues. The cost of doing business is always increasing, but purses have not kept pace. We will work with the Stronach Group, our fellow stakeholders in Florida and with our lobbyists in Tallahassee to come up with new sources of revenue for purses. We are looking at what’s being done in other states, to see what will work here. It’s a never-ending task. We also continue to look at ways we might decrease the cost of workers’ compensation insurance for trainers. We have hit a lot of roadblocks, but we will persist in the effort.
Communication is key. Many of you know me, I’m on the Gulfstream backstretch pretty much every morning, and I welcome the opportunity to talk with you and hear your concerns. Our office is open six days a week, and our Executive Director Andy Belfiore, Special Projects Coordinator Herb Oster, Business Manager Debbie Filippi and Administrative Assistant Kimberly Martinez are at your service.
We all love this sport and we want to see it succeed. Our mission for the coming year is to remain positive and upbeat as we work together to make Gulfstream Park racing the best it can be.