National HBPA Winter 2001 Convention Maybe Things Are Bigger And Better In Texas

It seems like every time the National HBPA converges on a city over the last few years for one of its semi-annual conventions, there is no way that convention can top the excitement and entertainment of the last one. Yet, somehow, they always seem to do just that. A case in point was the recently held National HBPA Winter 2001 Convention, which was hosted in San Antonio, Texas, by the Texas Horsemen's Partnership, LLP, from January 20 through 23. By its conclusion, it was hard to argue that things may just be a little bigger and better in Texas.

Many people simply think of San Antonio as the home of the Alamo, but the historic city is home to many other attractions and entertainment venues. Among the top places to visit are theme parks like Sea World and Six Flags Fiesta Texas, tours of the Spanish missions, the Alamodome (home of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs), Retama Park, and the Riverwalk.

The Riverwalk, or Paseo del Rio, might just be the biggest draw outside of the Alamo. The 2.5-mile cobblestone trail features restaurants, nightclubs, retail stores and hotels. The trail runs along each side of a narrow part of the San Antonio River that runs through downtown. The Riverwalk is bustling with activity and excitement every night.

As over 230 HBPA members from all over North America converged on San Antonio for the National HBPA Winter 2001 Convention, they found themselves right in the midst of the excitement as they checked into the host hotel, the Hyatt Regency on the Riverwalk. For many, a simple look out of their hotel room window gave them a clear view of both the Riverwalk and the Alamo.

One of the first things the convention attendees noticed when they looked across the street at the Alamo was a familiar truck sitting in front of it - the NTRA Racing Experience truck. Billed as the NTRA's mobile marketing tool, the interactive exhibit is 60 feet long and 12.5 feet high, and it's modern look struck quite a contrast against the backdrop of the Alamo. The first stop on the NTRA Racing Experience's 2001 tour of the country lasted for three days of the National HBPA convention in San Antonio before moving on to Tampa Bay for a four-day Super Bowl stay.

Saturday, January 20, was a day for everyone to register and just relax and enjoy the casual atmosphere and fun of downtown San Antonio and renew old acquaintances. Attendees were treated to a cocktail party that evening, sponsored by Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie.

Sponsorship was definitely one of the things done bigger and better at the San Antonio convention than ever before at a National HBPA convention. The convention host, the Texas Horsemen's Partnership, LLP, instituted a trade show in conjunction with the convention, and the result was a number of prominent sponsors enjoying a very visible presence throughout the event. As well as some other exhibitors at the trade show, the event's sponsors included Allstar Copying & Printing, American Quarter Horse Association, Coady Photography, Compass Bank, Lone Star Park, NTRA, Retama Park and Sam Houston Race Park.
The business got underway on Sunday as the Benefit Providers Committee, the Medication Committee, and the Executive Committee of the National HBPA Board of Directors met. Once that work was out of the way, it was time for more fun as the convention attendees boarded buses and headed off to nearby Retama Park for a dinner and evening of simulcasting.

Greeted as they entered the grandstand at Retama Park by a mariachi band, attendees were shown up to Retama Park's Turf & Field Club, where manager Jo Ann Weber had taken care of all the details to ensure a wonderful evening for the crowd. A lavish buffet accompanied the evening of simulcasting, and the mariachi band moved upstairs to entertain the crowd, as well. It should be noted that Weber played a large role in planning the convention with the Texas Horsemen's Partnership.

The rest of the Board of Directors committees met on Monday, preparing for the following day's semi-annual Board meeting. They were followed after lunch by a highly informative afternoon of speeches by industry experts.

Leading off the speeches was the HBPA's own Sandy Erreguin, who gave an update on the Information & Technology Committee's important and groundbreaking endeavor: a publication titled, "North American Gaming Facilities Locations," that documents the locations of all wagering outlets across North America. The copyrighted publication is the first of its kind, and it is already being sought after by a number of industry organizations. Because of the rapidly changing nature of the information, Erreguin detailed the need for constant updating of the material. This will be an ongoing project for the National HBPA, which plans to eventually make the publication and updates available to the public at a yet to be determined fee.

Next up were Dan Metzger of the Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders' Association (TOBA) and Claiming Crown Coordinator Nat Wess to give an update on this year's Claiming Crown (details on changes for this year's event can be found on page 12). They were followed by a legislative update from Jay Hickey of the American Horse Council (AHC), a discussion of innovations in technology by Carl Hamilton of The Jockey Club, an update on the National Licensing Compact by John McKinnie, an NTRA update by Keith Chamblin, and a forum on simulcast issues by Texas Racing Commission Executive Director Paula Flowerday.

Chamblin had a number of interesting developments to report for the NTRA. The most exciting one was a new program whereby the NTRA will make up to $1.5 million available to horsemen's groups for 2001 on a case by case basis in the form of incentive programs. It will be similar to the advertising program the NTRA uses with member tracks, whereby the organization matches the advertising dollars spent by the member track. Chamblin also noted that NTRA Charities has now become officially affiliated with the Ronald McDonald House Charities. He also explained the NTRA has hired Host Communication to take over selling sponsorships for the organization, noting that it is the same company that built the highly successful NCAA Final Four basketball tournament sponsorship program from the ground up.

The biggest treat of the convention was on tap for Monday night as the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) sponsored a Texas-style evening of food and entertainment at the Institute of Texas Cultures. It was a chance for convention attendees to immerse themselves in Texas culture for an evening, and many of them took it very seriously based on how they dressed for the night.
The Institute of Texas Cultures is a educational center dedicated to enhancing the understanding of the history and diverse cultures of Texas. Opened in 1968, it currently houses over 50,000 square feet of exhibits. The exhibit floor features permanent exhibits on 26 ethnic and cultural groups.
Acting in the capacity that he has for so many major events of our industry over the last two decades, Chris Lincoln served as master of ceremonies for the evening. Host of ESPN's weekly "Racehorse Digest" series and global presenter of the Emirates World Series Racing Championship, Lincoln is one of our industry's most beloved and recognized faces. Never short on colorful humor and touching stories, Lincoln did his usual terrific job of entertaining.

While enjoying an excellent dinner, attendees were treated to the Institute's "Faces and Places of Texas" multimedia dome show, which played above and around the tables. Lincoln also treated the crowd to a brief film, a moving musical tribute to the Kentucky Derby.

The Texas Horsemen's Partnership took the opportunity of the gala to present a well-deserved Special Appreciation Award to a leader of the Texas racing industry, Watson Macmanus. Macmanus was a founding member of the Texas Thoroughbred HBPA and the Management Committee of the Texas Horsemen's Partnership. He is currently the Chairman of the Turf & Field Club at Retama Park as well as being an active owner and breeder of racehorses.
Macmanus has spent many years representing the interests of horsemen in Texas. His service began while working on local committees at tracks like Trinity Meadows. Through the years, his leadership has helped shape the scene of Texas racing.

After dinner, things heated up as Texas musical legend Gary P. Nunn and his band took the stage. The country music star has penned a string of hits over the years, including "London Homesick Blues," which he performs and is now the theme song for the nationally syndicated PBS series "Austin City Limits." He has written hit songs for a number of other prominent country artists, including Rosanne Cash, Michael Martin Murphy, Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson.
When Nunn took to the stage, it did not take long for the dance floor to start filling up. And full is how the dance floor stayed for a long time as attendees raved about the great Texas entertainment. Nunn and his band, just back from performing at one of President Bush's inaugural balls in Washington D.C., put on a superb performance.

It was back to work the next morning as everyone convened for the full Board of Directors meeting. Board business was preceded by a speech from the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA)'s Dan Fick. Fick had some fascinating information to share about the projects and programs of the organization that boasts over 330,000 members.

Also before formal business started, the Nebraska HBPA presented the new National HBPA flag to the National HBPA and its members. The new flag was designed and produced under the direction of Nebraska HBPA President Bob Lee. The National HBPA flag will be flown at Canterbury Park on Claiming Crown Day this year.

The status and future whereabouts of the National HBPA's office was a major topic of discussion at this convention. The Board had been examining the possibility of relocating the office from Aventura, Florida, to Lexington, Kentucky, and that possibility came under significantly more scrutiny following former Executive Director and Secretary/Treasurer Scott Savin's resignation in November. Savin resigned to accept the position of President at Gulfstream Park.

The Board of Directors voted to accept Savin's resignation and to commend him for the excellent job he did while serving as the National HBPA's Executive Director. They also voted to have President Rick Hiles appoint a committee charged with the search for candidates for a new, full-time executive director.
Joe Santanna of the Pennsylvania HBPA was selected by the board to replace Scott Savin as the organization's Secretary/Treasurer. In addition, the Board voted to reappoint Bill Walmsley to serve another term representing the National HBPA on the NTRA's Board of Directors.

Following considerable discussion throughout the convention, the Board voted to move the National HBPA office to Lexington, Kentucky. A specific timetable was not set as other factors must be examined such as grants available to horse businesses moving to the Lexington area and finding suitable office space. However, the move is expected to come before the end of 2001. The relocation to Lexington should allow easier interaction between the National HBPA office and other major industry organizations.

In other news, the Board voted to accept the Medication Committee's motion by which the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ACRI) and National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities (NAPRA) will be requested to refer to all pending "positive tests" as "pending medication violations" for therapeutic classes III, IV & V. The Board also voted to endorse and support the National Licensing Compact.

The Board voted to delete the Colorado HBPA from its membership. The organization is reorganizing, and it will re-affiliate as the Colorado Horse Racing Association. The new Colorado Horse Racing Association has been asked to sign an affiliation agreement and submit its bylaws.

While much of the business of the winter convention was positive, one topic that weighed heavily on the minds of all horsemen present was the manner of the recent horsemen's contract negotiations at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida. The National HBPA Board of Directors found the disturbing events that led to the signing of what appears to be a less than satisfactory contract between track management and the horsemen unacceptable. As a result, the Board has drafted an open letter to the racing industry explaining its position.

Events such as those at Tampa Bay Downs further accentuate the need for solidarity among horsemen's groups on issues that all can agree upon. National Spokesperson Bill Walmsley continued at this convention to speak of such a need, and he strongly encouraged the National HBPA to lead the way in opening talks with other horsemen's groups about the possibility of forming some kind of alliance.

As a result, a committee will be appointed to investigate the feasibility and methods of forming an alliance of various associations dedicated to the betterment of horsemen for the purpose of uniting on certain issues pertaining to horsemen. The alliance would and could act and coordinate on those matters of unanimity. This committee is expected to report its findings back to the Board of Directors at the National HBPA Summer Convention in Boston, Massachusetts.

With business concluded, the Texas Horsemen's Partnership ended the convention by sponsoring a savory lunch on a rooftop overlooking the Alamo.
The Partnership's Executive Director Tommy Azopardi and his staff should be commended on a job well done in making the National HBPA Winter 2001 Convention a memorable and fun one. They did their part to uphold the belief that everything is bigger and better in Texas, and they should be a hard act to follow.

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