Friday, March 27–Live Racing Guaranteed For 3 Years

BERLIN – The future of live racing at Ocean Downs is a little more secure this week as track officials and the horsemen who use the facility announced on Monday they had finalized a contract that will ensure the continuation of a live meet at the Berlin track for the next three years.

For roughly the first month of 2009, the historic track near Ocean Pines was largely dark as contract negotiations stalled, with the track owners accusing the horsemen of holding out for a larger share of the potential slots proceeds, and the horsemen accusing the owners of closing down the training areas as part of a long-term effort to eliminate live racing.

The contract impasse arose when track owner William Rickman, Jr. informed the horsemen, allegedly in the 11th hour of the negotiations, the “backstretch” area of the facility, including the sandy practice track and some of the barn areas would close at the end of August 2009. When Ocean Downs included the closure of the backstretch areas in the new contract in late December, talks broke off between the track owners and the horsemen. The Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, which represents the horsemen, then withdrew its consent for simulcasting at Ocean Downs and the offsite betting venue, the Cambridge Turf Club, also owned by Rickman.

The wedge between track ownership and the horsemen widened two weeks later when Rickman accused Cloverleaf of holding the track’s feet to the fire for a larger share of the potential slots revenue. At that time, Cloverleaf countered that the potential for slots at the Berlin track were never part of the contract discussions or the assurances the live meet would continue at Ocean Downs. On January 30, the two parties issued a joint statement briefly stating an agreement had been reached in principle that would guarantee live racing continues at Ocean Downs for the next 15 years.

However, nearly two months passed before the contract was finalized last week and the finished product guarantees a live meet for just three years, not the 15 years alluded to in the joint statement released in late January about a tentative settlement.

Under the terms of the final agreement reached this week, Ocean Downs will continue to host 40 nights of live racing each year for the next three years. Ocean Downs Chief Operating Officer Bill Fasy said this week the contract helps ensure the future of live racing at the historic Berlin track.

“We’re pleased and excited that we can continue to officer live racing at Ocean Downs,” he said. “This agreement, which has the longest term of any agreement that we have had with Cloverleaf, provides security for the horsemen and for Ocean Downs.”

Details of the contract forged last week reveal some concessions by both sides. For example, the backstretch training area will close as of Dec. 31, 2009 and rent on the backstretch stalls has been waived for January and February.

In addition, the horsemen agreed not to seek funds from the operator’s share of the anticipated proceeds from slots at Ocean Downs assuming a license is awarded to the Berlin track. In return, Ocean Downs committed to supplement purses by $900,000 annually over to help cover Cloverleaf’s administrative costs over and above the projected $4 million horsemen will receive from the state’s share of the slots proceeds.

Cloverleaf President Thomas Cooke said the final contract was amenable to both parties and opened the door for a continuation of live racing at Ocean Downs.

“The association was happy to see this matter resolved in a way that guarantees the future of standardbred racing at Ocean Downs,” he said. “All along, our main concern was providing our members with future security. This agreement has that and we look forward to working as partners with the management of Ocean Downs.”