Kent Stirling, longtime horsemen’s advocate, dies at 72

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Sept. 8, 2017

Kent Stirling, the longtime Executive Director for the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association who also represented horsemen on medication policy nationally, died Sept. 6 in Florida after a battle with cancer. He was 72.

The National HBPA, for which Stirling served as chairman of its Medication Committee, called him a “passionate and tireless advocate for the rights of horsemen throughout the racing industry.”

Stirling was a trainer for 20 years—he conditioned multiple Grade I winner Nijinsky’s secret—before deciding to invest his time in the Florida HBPA. He was president of the organization and in 1995 became its first executive director, a post he held for another 20 years.

Stirling worked, along with other national horsemen’s groups such as the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, on developing medication policy through the early years of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. In Florida, he was involved in the passage of uniform medication standards in 2015.

As chair of the National HBPA Medication Committee, Stirling directed the agenda for two conventions each year and, being outspoken, led lively and at times controversial discussions on various issues. He was a strong advocate for protection of the use of race-day Lasix for the health and welfare of racehorses.

“Kent was a mentor to me and many others, and to know him was to know his heart,” said National HBPA Chief Executive Officer Eric Hamelback said. “He was driven by the racing industry and by efforts to put horses and horsemen first.”

National HBPA President Leroy Gessmann noted Stirling’s contributions to the organization and said his “legacy through his accomplishments will be felt by all for many years to come.”

“I’ve known and worked with Kent for over 20 years,” THA Chairman Alan Foreman said. “As others have so correctly said, he was a tireless advocate for horsemen on many issues, not just medication policy, and he was devoted to the best interests of the horsemen he represented, backstretch workers and Florida racing.”

Aside from helping develop threshold testing levels and withdrawal times for therapeutic medications, Stirling advocated for uniformity. In Florida, he guided the horsemen’s group through numerous and often contentious contract negotiations at Calder Race Course, Gulfstream Park, and Hialeah Park.

(Photo of Kent Stirling courtesy of National HBPA)