Running Aces has misplaced its priorities

Health of the racing industry should come first, says leader of horsemen’s group


Tom Metzen
Guest Writer

In reading Running Aces’ comments in Cliff Buchan’s article on the possible state revocation of the horse track’s license to do business in Minnesota, a reader might think that this is just a business dispute between two competing racetracks. Actually, Running Aces’ license is at risk because they are continuing to fight with the very people they promised to support – the thousands of people employed in Minnesota’s horse industry.

When Running Aces first applied for a license, it was denied for fear that the racetrack would damage the existing strength of Minnesota’s thoroughbred and quarter horse racing. The owners of Running Aces signed a contract with the Minnesota Horsemen’s Benevolent Protection and Association – not Canterbury Park – to directly support racing purses for thoroughbreds and quarter horses. The word “racino” never appears in that contract, because that issue had nothing to do with it.

In 2012, Canterbury Park gave up its long fight for a racino, moving ahead with a purse supplement agreement with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Running Aces not only tried to delay this agreement, but unilaterally ended longstanding contracts that supported Minnesota’s horse industry, including their contract with the HPBA that was critical to receiving their state license. After deciding to end the contract on their own, Running Aces then sued the HPBA in hopes of preventing the revocation of their state license by the Minnesota Racing Commission.

I have found this behavior is par for the course for Running Aces. For years, the primary barrier to a good legislative discussion of racino was the position of Running Aces on the use of racino revenue. While Canterbury Park’s proposals emphasized increasing purses and investing in the horse industry, Running Aces pushed for more profits for racetrack owners. Even today, the Running Aces racino bill at the Legislature creates a two-tiered revenue plan – if you are Running Aces, your racino plan says you get more profits for the owners and a smaller share for purses for the horse industry.

We and the Equine Development Coalition of Minnesota (EDCoM) asked Running Aces to join with us in promoting racino at the race tracks, and they were asked to be a member of EDCoM at no cost to them except to be represented at the Capitol. They refused to participate in this endeavor, free of charge.

If Running Aces doesn’t want to risk losing its license, it should continue to make the payments in the contracts it signs, or it should renegotiate those contracts. I, as president of the HBPA, indicated a willingness to discuss this contract as early as June 2012, but Running Aces never bothered to call. That’s right – when it comes to Minnesota’s horse industry, you can’t even expect a phone call from the owners of Running Aces.

Running Aces also decided to unilaterally end its simulcast agreement with Canterbury Park. This prevents Running Aces from showing thoroughbred and quarter horse races at its racetrack – yet another example of Running Aces’ lack of interest in promoting horse racing. Having offered to sit down and work on this and several other outstanding issues, Canterbury Park is also awaiting a phone call from Running Aces.

The horse breeding and training industry is on the rebound in Minnesota. Stables that have sat empty for years are now full. There is a new energy in our state that extends to tens of thousands of people who are employed to support the redevelopment of our billion-dollar horse industry. Ironically, it seems like the only people who are unhappy about the rebirth of Minnesota horse racing are the owners of Running Aces.

Minnesota’s horse owners understand what’s going on. Running Aces wants to own a casino, and they think owning a horse track is the best way to get that done. That is very unlikely to happen, particularly if Running Aces continues to show that their most important concern is profits, and not supporting a strong horse industry in Minnesota.

Tom Metzen is president of the Minnesota Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

  • Peg Hoffman

    This article is so full of inaccurate mistruths I can’t believe the Times ran it! Shame on you, you should b supporting your local businesses not buying into the HBPA’s lies!!

  • Eric Langness

    Tom Metzen –

    I do feel that your editorial here makes a number of good points but to call something an industry when in fact it’s a monopoly is misleading. An industry would have competition and that’s something your organization clearly hasn’t supported or has failed at it’s promotion.

    For the record: I don’t have a ‘horse in the race’ in the debate and have enjoyed time at both Canterbury and Running Aces. Your failure to reach agreement with Running Aces, Canterbury’s only competition, encourages me to seek entertainment outside your ‘industry’ as a whole.

  • Ted Grevelis

    Nicely said, Tom. I’ve been saying for years that the folks that are really being hurt by Running Aces ownership are the harness horsemen. On the Thoroughbred side of the business, our registered broodmares are up 77% this year over last and, as you pointed out, stall applications at Canterbury are at a record high. Harness racing could, and should, be enjoying such a resurgence as well, but the out of state private equity interests that own Running Aces have zero interest in racing except as a means to a casino that will never happen.

  • Mike


    • Laramie

      Mike don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. If Running Aces goes under, so do 600 decently paying jobs. Oh and your caps lock key is the one on the left.

  • Lisa

    The only people being misrepresented in Columbus Township are the Standardbred horsemen. The Running Aces people have done nothing to build the Standardbred racing or breeding industry in MN. Being actively involved with rebuilding the Thoroughbred and Racing Quarter Horse industry I know it takes the support of all involved….race facilities, memberships, breeders, owners, race trainers and breed organizations.
    RA maybe providing tax monies and a certain amount of jobs on site at their facility, but the equine industry spreads much further and deeper than Columbus Township. There would me 100s more jobs if RA would step up and make difference for the horseman that want to participate in Standardbred Harness racing.
    I don’t know of the mistruthes that Peg speaks of. I’m at the meetings. I have been involved with the offers of let us help and grow the Racing industry in this state. Eric, No monoply here. The different breeds don’t race against eachother, they don’t compete on the same surfaces.
    My wish for the Standardbred owners of MN is for growth, a safe and fair place to compete and the strength to stand up to RA owners to demand some support and resolution for the Harness industry.
    Good Luck.

  • charles beardsley

    I am interested in this situation to the extent that I thought both tracks were originally designed as horse racing/ gambling venues providing tax income for local, state and federal governments and as employers of individuals providing income taxes for the State and Federal Government and entertainment for the public. Gambling Income for the track owners/operators also would be necessary for them to inject their capital investment. Why did additional gambling venues have to be introduced to the tracks? It appears horse racing/betting is just something to satisfy the state and standing on its own can not provide the income the owners/operators expect, hense additional gambling venues. It looks to me that Running Aces really didn’t expect Harness Racing to cut the mustard, income wise, and just really wanted a Gambling Casino. By the way, just what are the “inaccurate mistruths” Peg talks about?

  • Royal Roland

    Your comments regarding concern with the health of the horse industry is the hight of hipocrisy.

    The $7 million annual supplement from the Indians is not enough to support the thoroughbred
    horse breeding industry in Minnesota? $400,000 more will really make a difference?
    There were 97 standardbred foals in Minnesota in 2012 and 96 thoroughbred foals.
    You would rather cause standardbred foals to be worthless than sacrfice 5.7% in purses.

    Running Aces is losing money. How much longer they will continue to do that, I do not know.
    Your organization’s efforts to extort money from them dispite violating the contract will not help the horse racing industry in Minnesota.