HISA Funded, Purses Preserved
2024-25 Record Florida-bred Incentives
BY BROCK SHERIDAN
OCALA, FL—When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 7063 on May 25, he approved a $1.3 billion tax package that provides sweeping benefits for millions of Floridians. He also punched a win ticket at long odds for the Thoroughbred industry that secured a well-timed and significant boost.
The legislation championed by Florida House Ways and Means chairman Stan McClain (R-Marion County) injects more than $55 million into the Florida Thoroughbred industry over the next two fiscal years plus approximately $12 million in tax credits that will recover Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act assessments.
Rep. Stan McClain
“The Florida Thoroughbred breeding, farms and industry are a vital part of the economy of Marion County and the state,” Rep. McClain said. “Nothing in Tallahassee is done alone and I was glad to have been part of a team effort to give a needed boost to the industry.”
Florida breeders benefit most directly from $5 million provided to the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association for awards and incentives while those who own and train Florida-bred racehorses will see an additional $2.5 million for Florida-bred stakes and purse bonuses.
Gulfstream Park will be allocated $15 million and an additional $5 million will go to Tampa Bay Downs for purses and facility improvements pursuant to agreements with their respective horsemen’s associations. As much as or more than a $7.5 million increase to Gulfstream Park purses may be anticipated while Tampa Bay Downs horsemen may benevolently receive up to a full $5 million increase in prize money.
FTBOA’s very early presence in Tallahassee set the course towards this monolithic infusion. Last fall and into January; FTBOA CEO Lonny Powell, who provided leadership and spirited encouragement; lobbyists Matt Bryan and Jon Rees, and FTBOA general counsel Warren Husband had already paced the first furlongs in Tallahassee. This early, focused spade-work set the table with framework bill language, legislative briefings and engagement recognizing the $3 billion Florida Thoroughbred economic engine.
“This industry is extremely fortunate to have some very determined supporters and leaders in Tallahassee who appreciate our nearly $3 billion economic impact to the Sunshine State,” Powell said.
Powell and Bryan said they were gratified for the support from McClain, House Speaker Paul Renner and Representative Lawrence McClure and backing from Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, Senate Finance and Tax chair Blaise Ingoglia and Sens. Keith Perry and Dennis Baxley. Powell also recognized the ongoing support and counsel from longtime Thoroughbred breeding friend and supporter Wilton Simpson, Commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“On something as meaningful as this, it doesn’t happen just because one or two people want it to happen,” Bryan said. “It happens because you’ve convinced a large segment of the House, the Senate, the staff, the Governor’s office. You’ve convinced a lot of people to make it happen. One or two people just can’t do that. We had a lot of help and it’s good to recognize that help.”
Powell eagerly recognizes Bryan for his masterful advancement of this package through the legislative process over the last many years.
“Matt [Bryan] gets our collective ‘Session MVP Award’ for his incredible determination and energy,” Powell said. “This amazing legislative victory could not have happened without him with big assists from Jon Rees and the Smith, Bryan & Meyers firm. FTBOA general counsel Warren Husband played his usual ‘A-game’ and we had quality support via our office in Ocala from executives Peggy Yost and Steve Koch, FTBOA president George Isaacs and his officer team all contributing greatly to this collective effort that ultimately included both tracks and horsemen leadership groups.”
FTBOA past president Brent Fernung, who owns Journeyman Stallions and Journeyman Bloodstock with his wife Crystal Fernung, said the significance of the legislation cannot be overstated.
“I’ve been actively working in the Florida Thoroughbred industry for more than 40 years and have been a member of the FTBOA board for most of the last fifteen. During that time, I’ve never seen anything remotely as beneficial out of Tallahassee for horse racing and breeding as this legislative package,” Fernung said. “All the participants, from the racetracks to the horsemen to the breeders owe Matt Bryan and CEO Lonny Powell a huge debt of gratitude. This package can be a real game changer for our industry.”
While the 2023 legislative session lasted the usual 60 days from early March through May 10, Isaacs said it was important to recognize the longtime effort from the FTBOA legislative team.
“Make no mistake, this landmark win was not just a lucky break,” Isaacs said. “It was the product of literally years of groundwork laid by the FTBOA in countless meetings with legislators and staffers to educate them about the importance of the Florida Thoroughbred industry and its internal dynamics. Without the sustained and consistent investment of time, energy and resources by the FTBOA, we would now likely be picking through the ruins of a ‘decoupled’ racing environment, just like our Standardbred and Quarter Horse friends. This remarkable legislation never would have crossed the finish line.”
Koch reiterated the important role played by the FTBOA team in garnering support in Tallahassee.
“Tallahassee’s enthusiastic embrace of the Florida breeders presents an eye-opening case study that Thoroughbred industries in other states may want to notice,” Koch said. “FTBOA presented a compelling economic story to true friends throughout the legislative process. This obviously built on years of thoughtful groundwork. Our breeders deserve this patient, hard-earned breakthrough. Let’s do it again!”
The new legislation enables a record $3.3 million in Florida-bred racing incentives at Gulfstream Park in 2024 and 2025, adding nearly 90% to the previous $1.75 million program.
In addition to cementing the lucrative $1.2 million FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes program through 2025, $5,000 win bonuses for Florida-sired 2-year-olds in maiden special weight races at Gulfstream expands to a $300,000 full-year program and the Florida-bred Incentive Fund (FBIF) increases to an unprecedented $1.8 million in purse supplements.
“This package will offer an exciting array of financial advancements to Florida Thoroughbred breeders and owners,” Yost said. “I look forward to seeing the many additional monies that will be distributed to those connections behind our Florida-bred Thoroughbreds through existing and significant new programs.”
Florida-bred incentives at Tampa Bay Downs expand to $1.56 million, a 47% increase. The additional $500,000 initiates FBIF incentives for the first time at Tampa Bay Downs.
FTBOA board member Marilyn Campbell, who owns Stonehedge Farm South in Williston and races and breeds Thoroughbreds in the name of her Stonehedge LLC, said the legislation was key to the future of her longtime Thoroughbred operation.
“I was thrilled to hear that Governor DeSantis and the state legislators passed a tax package that was definitely needed to keep racing in Florida alive,” Campbell said.
“I along with many were thinking about where to go next. We could not have stayed and supported Florida racing without this tax package. As an owner/breeder, the Florida program has been something that we have supported for many years and now we can continue to do so.”
Ocala Breeders’ Sales president and FTBOA board member Francis Vanlangendonck, who along with his wife Barbara operates Summerfield, a sales representation and preparation agency in Williston, said this package provides a building block for future legislative efforts.
“The current legislative success that the Florida Thoroughbred industry has received is a collective effort of the staff and board of directors of the FTBOA in the last 10 years,” Vanlangendonck said. “The goal now is to build on that and continue that success.”
Eddie Woods, who operates Eddie Woods Stables and is a leading consignor of 2-year-olds nationally, said the legislative package will benefit the Thoroughbred industry on many fronts.
“It will be good for our area in general,” Woods said. “Hopefully it gives our breeding end a boost and puts money back into our area. It’s going to help [horse auctions and consignors] because anytime there is a huge injection of cash into anything, there’s always a trickle-down effect. There really is no downside to it.”
Ocala Stud’s David O’Farrell said the landmark package sets a course for the Florida breeders and owners by crystalizing an optimistic future.
“I think this legislation is extremely important to keep the industry viable and moving forward. It gives everybody a boost from stallions, trickling down to help all of the breeders,” O’Farrell said. “I think it is important for the entire industry.”
“People that are breeding their mares now, those horses will not be racing for three years or they’re going to sales in two years or maybe one year. But this solidifies the future. It gives us a big boost going forward.”