by Debbie Arrington and Jack Shinar
After a second meeting of trainers and track officials, Hollywood Park on June 30 averted a threatened boycott of entries by trainers unhappy with soaring workers' compensation insurance costs.
Several trainers had said they would refuse to enter any horses for the July 3 races at Hollywood Park following a 90-minute meeting June 29 with Southern California racing association officials. That threat forced Hollywood Park racing secretary Martin Panza to hold open the entry box an extra day.
Eual Wyatt, the track's general manager, met with trainers again at an impromptu morning gathering June 30. Their talk turned the situation around.
The final count on entries for the Wednesday program was 68, or an average of 8.5 horses per race.
"We restated the efforts we're undertaking, and they were satisfied that the tracks are doing everything they could considering the situation," Hollywood Park president Rick Baedeker said.
If the boycott had materialized, Hollywood Park would have been forced to cancel its Wednesday program. But it also would have alienated the tracks and racing associations that are trying to find a solution for the trainers' dilemma.
"This logic (behind a boycott) is foreign to me," Baedeker said. "But it sends a strong message. They were willing to risk losing our help. It makes no sense to victimize the customers. It's disgraceful to stoop to that level. We're all trying to do what's right for the game.''
By noon June 30, Panza had received plenty of entries for the July 3 eight-race card. In addition, the racing office took entries for the July 4 holiday program, which features the $150,000 American Handicap, a grade II event.
"Entries have been very strong, particularly for Thursday," Panza said. "No one held back. We're grateful they were able to come to their senses."
However, trainers, owners, and racetrack management and employees are all deeply concerned. About 65 trainers were on hand for the first meeting with representatives from Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, Del Mar, the Oak Tree Racing Association, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California. They demanded to hear what the tracks and the TOC are planning to do in response to the workers' compensation issue.
About 450 trainers in the state had their current policies with the California State Fund expire June 30, and they are facing cost increases of 25% to 50%. The new base rates for policies will be $48.69 per $100 of payroll for backstretch employees and $105.66 per jockey mount. Those rates will pay less depending on the claims history of each trainer, but the lack of any significant private insurance options puts each stable at the mercy of the state fund.
After the first meeting, trainer Vladimir Cerin said he would try to persuade his fellow conditioners to enter horses. "We've made our point," he said. "We can stick together if we need to. A boycott of Hollywood Park isn't going to help. They didn't create the workers' compensation problem. They've offered to help."
Cerin said he knew of two trainers who have $100,000 deposits due with the state fund, and have been forced to mortgage their homes as a result. He said the trainers want assurances that state legislation that would redirect up to $5 million from purses to a workers' compensation fund will be used for that purpose.
He said they are frustrated that TOC president John Van de Kamp would not provide such a guarantee. "We're hearing the same old rhetoric," Cerin said.
Besides the state legislation, which still requires passage by both Houses, Baedeker said the tracks and TOC are willing to put up a $3 million or $4 million letter of credit to create a "captive insurance program" that would allow trainers to purchase self-insurance coverage.
"Both of these options are in the 20-to-30 day range," before they can be put into effect, Baedeker said.