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Judge backs up Downs' decision


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000

OLDSMAR -- Tampa Bay Downs management won a legal battle with local horsemen Tuesday when a Hillsborough County circuit court judge denied a request for a temporary injunction that would have forced the track to reallocate its stalls.

The ruling by circuit Judge Manuel Menendez was taken by TBD officials as a vindication of their decision -- for "business reasons" -- to deny stalls to five members of the 10-person Tampa Bay Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association board of directors. It also may maintain an obstacle to reaching a new contract before the season opens Saturday and harden one of the horsemen's demands.

TBD general manager John Grady, however, did not think it would hinder work toward a deal.

"This should help us progress," he said. "They took it to court and the result was clear. This was a big issue with them and hopefully now we can get some others solved."

A TBD news release said the track received approximately 195 applications for 2,178 stalls. The facility maintains 1,328 stalls.

Horsemen claimed TBD violated the spirit of a "non-retaliation" clause in their previous contract by denying stalls to their representatives.

Menendez, according to TBHBPA board member Robert Van Worp, ruled that argument was null because the previous contract expired in May. Horsemen already had their stalls when they signed last year's contract.

That point, Van Worp said, likely will make horsemen push harder for a yearlong deal.

"We tried to get a year contract last year and they've never wanted to give it to us," he said. TBHBPA vice president Robert Jeffries said because board members such as he, president Leonard Alexander and Van Worp were denied stalls, access to the backside has been rescinded and communication with horsemen has been difficult.

"The big thing here is they will not let us communicate," Jeffries said. "They are trying to divide and conquer and they are trying to control everything."

Jeffries said TBD management has not allowed horsemen to bring outside legal representation into meetings. John Roarke, vice president of the national horsemen's association, is expected to sit in on a bargaining session at 1 p.m. Thursday. Among other contentious issues will be overnight purses.

Jeffries said his board will not ask horsemen to boycott races Saturday if a deal is not reached.

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