A class action lawsuit brought by members of Louisiana’s quarter horse racing community will cause the Fair Grounds to withhold a total of $2.7 million from the 2014-15 thoroughbred meets purses, including a 40 percent reduction for the Louisiana Derby and the outright elimination of 15 stakes races, the track announced Wednesday.
The quarter horse owners, trainers and jockeys contend that the portion of money made by the Fair Grounds’ video poker machines during their short summer meet dating back to 2008 belongs to them.
“Video poker purses have historically been paid toward thoroughbred racing pre-dating the existence of quarter horse racing at Fair Grounds,” the release from the Fair Grounds said.
The Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which distributes purses to horsemen, is also named as a defendant.
“We have litigation going so I can’t really go into details, but I hope we can get the issue resolved sooner rather than later,” HBPA President Bernard Chatters of Lake Charles said. “We actually represent both the thoroughbred and the quarter horse people, so it creates some problems for us, but hopefully we can come to some kind of resolution as soon as possible.”
The money could be restored if the lawsuit is adjudicated in time.
Representatives for the Fair Grounds and the quarter horse community did not respond to phone calls requesting further comment.
The legally mandated formula for purses takes into account projected handle made from the meet and OTB activities and supplements from gaming revenues. To keep the cost off horsemen racing at the Fair Grounds daily, overnight purses will decrease by 17 percent, from $223,000 to $186,000, while stakes purses will take 30 percent hit, from $6.7 million to $4.7 million.
The Louisiana Derby, a Grade II Kentucky Derby points race and the Fair Grounds’ biggest, will see its purse from $1 million to $600,000 and the Risen Star stakes, another Grade II points race, goes from $400,000 to $300,000. The Fair Grounds Oaks, its biggest Grade II filly race, decreases identically to the latter.
However, industry observers have said because of the points system, the quality of horses for those prime races should be suffer. However, the overnight reductions could cause owners and trainers to look elsewhere for their stables, particularly Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Gulfstream Park in Miami and Delta Downs in Vinton.
Al Stall Jr., a local trainer who was highly critical of the Fair Grounds and its ownership group Churchill Downs Inc. when the track’s purses were decreased by 10 percent in the middle of last season, said he had heard the rumors and was not privy to details, but added that “It’s a little coincidental” that the announcement comes so soon after reports stating CDI intends to sell the track and its 11 OTB locations. Fair Grounds and HBPA officials have both said that it is nothing but a coincidence.
The 143rd thoroughbred racing season at the Fair Grounds begins with Starlight Racing on Nov. 21 and ends with the running of the Louisiana Derby on March 28.