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American Pharoah trainers say decoupling could ‘ruin’ horse racing in Florida

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It doesn’t take much horse sense to know decoupling is a bad idea, say Florida Thoroughbred trainers.

On Monday, Kevin McKathan and his brothers – the family who brought up Triple Crown winner American Pharoah — stepped forward to condemn the latest attempt at gambling expansion.

Lawmakers are once again considering decoupling – removing the race requirements for slots and card rooms at pari-mutuels. Racinos and big-name casino companies are doubling down on any Florida politician who gives the idea the time of day.

The McKathan Brothers are native Floridians whose father, Luke, first found success with American Quarter Horse racing, eventually earning an international reputation for training racetrack champions since 1989. McKathan Brothers Training Center now is home to 158 stalls, employing a full-time staff of 30.

According to the McKathans, who together own the 200-acre Citra-based horse racing training “school,” getting rid of race requirements would “start a slow erosion toward the ruin of horse racing in Florida.”

They aren’t just talking about the sport, either.

Horse racing supports a larger economy, from rural corners of Marion County to the heart of South Florida. Once casinos don’t have to hold races, they say, it’ll dry up virtually overnight.

“What elected officials may not realize is part of the economic good of a racehorse is really how expensive they are to maintain,” said J.B. McKathan. “Even though owning a racehorse is a complete luxury, no one is going to make that investment if they don’t know they have at least a reasonable shot at recouping it, so they ultimately do business where they can actually accomplish that.”

And if owners leave, Florida jobs could leave with them.

“There will be no money and no reason for our clients to stay and race their horses here,” McKathan said. “Owners are already leaving for states like New York and Pennsylvania, where there’s a focus on creating a positive business climate for the horse racing industry.”

Decoupling could impact as many as 12,000 Florida jobs in all corners of the state, he says. The horse racing industry pumps $2.6 billion a year into the Marion County economy alone – with most of that staying in the Sunshine State.

The McKathans are certain that for the racinos to win, Floridians have to lose. And if that happens, they are afraid money will start leaving Florida – one quarter at a time.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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