Lawsuit pits horse tracks over agreement on purses

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 14, 2012 - 10:30 PM

Running Aces sued to void a contract that requires it to contribute to Canterbury Park. At issue is a deal with a casino.

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Running Aces Harness Track near Forest Lake.

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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The operator of Running Aces Harness Park has filed a civil suit against Canterbury Park and its horsemen, claiming their decision to stop pursuing racino legislation constitutes a breach of contract.

In the lawsuit, filed in Hennepin County District Court, North Metro Harness Initiative LLC requests that its purse fund agreement with the Minnesota Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association -- which represents Canterbury's horsemen -- be declared null and void. The deal was struck in 2005, when the harness track in Columbus was seeking its initial operating license. It agreed to contribute to Canterbury's purse fund if the HBPA did not oppose the license.

According to the suit, the Running Aces payments would stop when racino legislation was enacted. Last summer, Canterbury Park signed a 10-year deal with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community to contribute $75 million to its purses in exchange for dropping its quest for a racino and opposing future racino legislation. By supporting Canterbury's agreement with the tribe, the suit claims, the HBPA breached the contract with Running Aces by making it impossible to stop the payments.

The suit also claims that Canterbury interfered with the purse agreement between Running Aces and the HBPA, because its deal with the tribe caused the HBPA to end support for racino legislation.

HBPA President Tom Metzen said Running Aces stopped making its monthly payments to the purse fund on Aug. 16. The HBPA and Canterbury both have filed motions to dismiss the suit. "It has no merit at all,'' Metzen said.

In addition to ending the purse agreement, the suit seeks damages in excess of $50,000 from Canterbury Park and the HBPA.

Metzen said the HBPA has offered to help Running Aces reach a purse-enhancement deal with another casino-owning tribe that would be similar to the agreement between Canterbury and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, who own and operate Mystic Lake Casino. He said he has not received a reply.

The Minnesota Racing Commission will discuss the yearly license renewals and proposed 2013 racing dates for both tracks at its meeting Thursday.

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