The Fox And The Henhouse: Harness Horsemen Question Validity Of New Kentucky Group

Harness horsemen in Kentucky say there’s something strange afoot.

At a public hearing of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission held Wednesday, many of them dialed in to express concern about the emergence of a new group purported to represent them in negotiations with racetracks and the commission.

The Kentucky Harness Horsemen’s Association (KHHA) has been the representative horsemen’s group in the state since 1973, but according to proposed rule language, a new group called the Kentucky Harness Association (KHA) could soon share its power. The trouble is, a number of Kentucky harness horsemen say they’ve never heard of the KHA. The KHA was first registered as a non-profit entity with the Kentucky Secretary of State on Nov. 20, 2019.

“We race a large stable of horses, anywhere from the East Coast to the Midwest. We are well-known,” said Tom Tetrick, third-generation harness horseman. “The new organization that they’re trying to start, most of the people on that board I may have heard their name, but I have never met them. I have never seen them on the backside.”

Several commenters Wednesday questioned how many members the KHA had, and who those members were. As one person pointed out, the organization seems to have no discernible online presence where someone could join if they wanted to – which raises questions about how many horsemen are actually represented by the group.

Numerous members and leadership of the KHHA offered comments via teleconference, expressing confusion and frustration that the KHA might soon share in control over revenue distribution for the Kentucky Sire Stakes and have equal say in whether a meet should take place.

Rule language approved by the horse racing commission would grant the KHA those powers. The proposed language changes are out now for public comment through the end of the month, and will then be sent to the Legislative Research Committee along with those comments. The LRC can then send the proposed changes on for a vote by the legislature on the way to becoming part of the state regulations.

Representatives of Churchill Downs and Red Mile spoke in favor of adding the new group, citing a need for more diverse representation of horsemen. That was echoed by the KHA’s co-founder.

“In Kentucky, we’ve seen tremendous growth in our industry with a substantial increase to our sire stakes program with the funds derived from the enhanced gaming at the Red Mile,” said Robert Brady, speaking on behalf of the new group. “With the addition of a second racetrack, Oak Grove, we are anticipating a program which will be competitive with any jurisdiction in America. With these positive events taking place, we feel that it’s imperative to be in a position to guide our industry in the best possible way to represent harness racing and the commonwealth of Kentucky.

“The KHA will be an inclusive association welcoming all owners, breeders, trainers, drivers and fans. We will strive to promote harness racing throughout North America and look forward to forming meaningful relationships with the KHRC and racetracks.”

If the KHA is inclusive, some commenters questioned why they hadn’t heard of the organization before.

“These people that are trying to form the new association, to my knowledge have never been members, have never been to one of our meetings,” said Mike Murphy, a 47-year member of the KHHA and former board member. “I would think if they didn’t like the way we operated, they would have joined and tried to change it through the legal channels of voting, which is the American way.”

Many people commenting pointed out the KHA seems to be primarily comprised of Brady and his brother-in-law, Ken Jackson, who are also partners in Kentuckiana Farm. Jackson co-owns the Lexington Selected Yearling Sales Company along with The Lexington Trots Breeders Association, which is the ownership of the Red Mile racetrack.

Jackson is also on the racing commission.

Churchill Downs, which is in support of the KHA, owns the new Oak Grove harness track in southern Kentucky.

To those in the KHHA, those associations are too cozy for comfort.

“In essence, what Mr. Brady is asking the LRC to do is to recognize a second organization that would allow he and Mr. Jackson, on behalf of the horsemen, to negotiate contracts involving a lot of money, again, on behalf of the horsemen, with their business partners,” said Jim Avritt, Jr., a longtime Standardbred owner and an attorney. “You don’t have to be a lawyer to recognize this obvious conflict of interest; is there anybody out there who would really believe that the horsemen are going to receive a fair shake?

“If that’s not a clear case of the fox being put in charge of the henhouse, then I don’t know what is.”

The post The Fox And The Henhouse: Harness Horsemen Question Validity Of New Kentucky Group appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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