Turf Paradise, Arizona HBPA Continue To Dispute Settlement Agreement, Winter Meet Cancellation

The following letter was written by Arizona HBPA president Bob Hutton and posted on social media on Aug. 15, following Turf Paradise’s announcement that the track would not host a live racing season this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Below Hutton’s letter is a response from Turf Paradise’s general manager Vincent Francia, posted on the track’s website on Aug. 17.

TO: HBPA MEMBERSHIP
FROM: PRESIDENT BOB HUTTON
DATE: August 15, 2020

As I am sure everyone is aware, Turf Paradise announced Thursday at the Arizona Racing Commission Meeting they are not running a race meet in 2020 / 2021. This is not a big surprise to me. As you all remember, when we fought last year to keep the track open till May 10th, Jerry Simms stated to all trainers they should take everything with them, do not leave anything behind, including walkers and pens. That was my clue that there would not be any more racing at Turf Paradise. At the commission meeting I stated no permittees will benefit from OTB revenue after the current signed consents for simulcasting have expired! No new approvals for signals will be signed if there is no live racing!

The HBPA has made numerous attempts to engage Turf Paradise in resuming negotiations to successfully run the 2020 / 2021 meet. It was obvious Jerry Simms had no intention of running a race meet, when for the most part the meetings deteriorated quickly once threats of lawsuits were thrown out in the direction of the HBPA Board members.

The arbitration settlement in October of 2019 resulted in the following changes: 1. The OTB split changed from Turf receiving a 60% / 40% split to 52% / 48%. 2. The advertisement contribution from the HBPA was reduced from $400,000 a year to $150,000 a year. 3. It was established that the purse money was the property of the Horsemen, and the purse account was to be in a HBPA controlled trust account, not in a Turf Paradise account. I believe once this happened Jerry Simms made the decision to close the track. The Covid 19 pandemic was just a convenient excuse.

I want all of you to know that in our most recent discussions with Turf Paradise, the Boards number one concern was to avoid the unprofessional behavior that we experienced in March of 2020. The HBPA could not in good conscience inform its membership they could return to Turf Paradise without some guarantee that the race meet would be run in its entirety. Jerry Simms refused to give that guarantee.

During the time that we were on the backside from March 14th till May 10th Jerry Simms charged the HBPA to keep the backside open for the horsemen. Although the HBPA Board did agreed to contribute to 50% of the expense, they were led to believe that it would be approximately $7,500 a week for the HBPA’s portion. Jerry Simms then made the HBPA pay a security deposit of $20,000 up front or horseman would have been evicted on March 28th. Not wanting to have everyone evicted on March 28th, we were forced to pay the deposit and sign the agreement to stay. When we starting receiving the weekly bills instead of being charged $7,500 a week, Jerry Simms charged us anywhere from $13,000 to $15,000 a week for a total of $121,162.70. This was almost double what we were told was the estimate. The HBPA filed a grievance in May 2020 with the board of stewards asking for a refund. As of today, we have had no response.

As I stated above, in October 2019 we went through an arbitration with Turf Paradise. As a result of that arbitration it was ordered by the arbitrators that purse money is the property of the HBPA and is to be held in a HBPA trust account, not in Turf Paradise account. Despite several requests throughout the year by the HBPA to have the money moved to the HBPA trust account Jerry Simms has continued to refuse to comply. Again, we filed a grievance with the board of stewards to get this money released to the HBPA’s trust account. As of, today we have heard nothing from the commission. We currently have $1.8 million in Turf Paradise’s purse account, that he will not move to the HBPA trust account. This purse money belongs to the Arizona Horsemen to be used for a 2020 / 2021 fall and winter race meet in Arizona.

I know these are scary times and I do not want to give anyone any false hopes. However I want everyone to know we currently are having negotiations with other permittees to run a fall and winter race meet. The Arizona HBPA is committed to year around racing and will continue to work with other track owners who may want to come to the Phoenix area! I would like to thank those who have supported the HBPA in their efforts to provide the horsemen in the state of Arizona with a racing venue you deserve! Year around racing in Arizona is our GOAL!

Following is Vincent Francia’s response:

Dear Horsemen,

This letter is written to respond to a post written by Mr. Bob Hutton, President of the AZHBPA that appeared on Facebook on August 15. This letter is written to clarify some of the statements and impressions in Mr. Hutton’s letter. In other words, to set the record straight.

Mr. Simms has owned Turf for 20 years; 19 of those 20 years race meets were successfully conducted, from beginning to end. It’s only this year, specifically when Governor Ducey declared a state of emergency on March 11 because of the Coronavirus that a race meet has
been cut short. The Coronavirus is the only reason Turf cut short its race meet on March 14 and the only reason Turf withdrew its request before the Arizona Racing Commission on August 13 to run a race meet from Nov. 1 to May 1, 2021. Turf does not want the liability of running a race meet while the Coronavirus is active.

Settlement Agreement (Attachment 1)

The Settlement Agreement was written by Mr. Casillas, Director of the Arizona Division of Racing, who also served as the mediator for Mr. Simms and Mr. Hutton as the two men compromised, negotiated and eventually signed the agreement in good faith on March 22.
Either side could have argued specific points of the agreement or declined to sign the agreement. But both sides agreed to sign. Read Attachment 1 for the complete terms of the agreement.

In his posting Mr. Hutton gives the impression that the Settlement Agreement, which by definition is to settle differences between parties, was somehow arrived at without the consent of both parties. On the contrary, both Mr. Simms and Mr. Hutton signed the 14 point
agreement. For example, the parties agreed to split the costs < 50‐50 > of maintaining the backside and training on the man track for 45 days. The AZHBPA was invoiced weekly and the invoices were promptly paid. When the 45 days expired the AZHBPA asked for an additional 10 days, at their own expense, and the request was granted.

It appears that Mr. Hutton’s personal feelings toward Mr. Simms and Turf are clouding his judgement. The HBPA is to be neutral, treating all tracks equally, but Turf is treated differently. When Arizona Downs abbreviated their race meet they continued to simulcast without racing live. When that track announced that it would not be able to conduct a meet because of Yavapai County and the City of Prescott Valley’s concerns about the Coronavirus, Arizona Downs, without objection from the AZHBPA, maintained their simulcasting and OTB system.

Why not the same for Turf?

Arizona Downs Letter (Attachment 2)

On May 22 Turf became aware of a letter from Mr. Dave Auther of Arizona Downs to Mr. Casillas. Specifically what caught our attention in the letter was the following that revealed how Arizona Downs was going to fund its purses: “This will include a contribution from the HBPA
toward purses. HBPA has a plan to secure purse money from the Turf Paradise purse fund.”

You cannot use the purse money of one race track to subsidize the purses of another track.

Mr. Hutton stated that without live racing there would be no simulcasting. Turf’s contract with the AZHBPA goes until May 2021. Turf expects the AZHBPA to honor that contract.

At a meeting in early August with Mr. Hutton and two members of the Arizona Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association in my office at Turf, Mr. Hutton asked me if I believed a contract existed between Turf and the AZHBPA. I replied in the affirmative that I believed a contract existed between us. Mr. Hutton then asked Mr. Simms (who was participating by phone) the same question. Mr. Simms answered that he not only believed a contract existed but that it was in effect until May 2021. Mr. Hutton responded that he did not believe a contract existed because we cancelled the race meet due to the Coronavirus, thus rendering the contract void. Mr. Simms then asked Mr. Hutton that if he really believed that, then why are we having a discussion about contractual matters. Mr. Simms then said, “Let’s continue to talk.” Mr. Hutton then stood up abruptly and said “We’re done,” and left my office.

The abrupt ending of the meeting notwithstanding, Turf has never declined a phone call, an email/ text or a request to meet with the AZHPBA. That door is still open.

Sincerely,
Vincent Francia
General Manager

The post Turf Paradise, Arizona HBPA Continue To Dispute Settlement Agreement, Winter Meet Cancellation appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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