Ocala company looks to exploit gambling opportunities by running Quarter Horse races

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Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company in Marion County, Fla., plans to run a Quarter Horse race and a Thoroughbred race on Dec. 11 to activate a 25-year-old permit for Quarter Horse racing that would allow the track to pursue a card room or other forms of gambling that might one day be legalized for permit holders, officials of the company confirmed on Thursday.

The sales company’s plan is the latest in a series of efforts by Florida companies to activate permits for Quarter Horse racing to exploit the gambling opportunities afforded to permit holders under a convoluted set of laws and regulations. Under those rules, permit holders are eligible to apply for a license to run card rooms, and many of the principals involved are optimistic that they will be successful in convincing lawmakers to expand those opportunities later to include slot-machine parlors or casinos.

The efforts have concerned officials representing both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses who fear that the companies will use Quarter Horse permits to skirt regulations requiring the distribution of card-room revenues to horsemen. Under Florida law, Thoroughbred permit holders must provide 50 percent of all card-room revenue to purses, but Quarter Horse permit holders do not have any such requirement.

But Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company officials said on Thursday that they would hold the Dec. 11 races only with the sanction of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, said Tom Ventura, the president of the company. Still, OBS is seeking to activate the permit to keep its options open should the Florida legislature authorize additional forms of gambling, Ventura said.

“What lies ahead is still uncertain other than that we wanted to activate the permit, run the races, and leave the door open for anything that might come in the future, whether that’s card rooms or whatever else,” Ventura said.

That goal is also the hope for a variety of other companies – many of which have shared ownership – seeking Quarter Horse permits, which are currently held by 12 entities in Florida, including Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Aftercare Racing Program. The Gulfstream Park Aftercare group received its permit after running a single Quarter Horse race on April 8 at Gulfstream that was organized by the track and run over the objections of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

Including the Gulfstream Park Aftercare group, none of the companies that has activated the permits has contacted the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association about an agreement governing the racing, and they have instead enlisted independent Quarter Horse trainers to provide runners for races that are held under conditions that strain the boundaries of legitimate racing.

For example, last weekend, a company called South Marion Real Estate, under a lease that South Marion reached with OBS to use the sales comapny’s property, held two races on the grounds using horses provided by one Quarter Horse owner-trainer, Marcus Strickland. When Strickland arrived with the horses, organizers of the races said they had to be listed under different trainer names, despite Strickland’s owning and training the horses, Strickland said.

Strickland said he was told that his horses were being rented to the program trainers. The races were then run as parimutuel events, which will likely allow South Marion to apply for a Quarter Horse permit.

Strickland said he provided the horses because he was promised by the organizers of the races that they intended to run at least 20 Quarter Horse races at OBS once they received the permit. However, after discussing the situation with the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, Strickland now says that he has doubts about the group’s intentions of ever running another Quarter Horse race other than the minimum required to activate the permit.

“I don’t know if this was on the up and up or if it was a scam and I got caught in the middle of it,” said Strickland, who received $6,000 for providing the horses. “If I was misled, I may have done more harm than good.”

The races at OBS were organized by Tony Mendola, according to Ventura. Strickland said that the check to pay him for providing the horses was from Bellwhether Properties.

Mendola did not return phone calls to his cell phone on Thursday.

Via Matt Hegarty of the Daily Racing Form.

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.