The elimination of exclusive account deposit wagering contracts and meeting the challenges of racetrack closures were among the subjects addressed at the Thoroughbred Owners of California’s annual membership meeting Aug. 16 at Del Mar.
Drew Couto, president of TOC, assured the luncheon crowd of about 175 that California would end all exclusive ADW contracts when the current ones expire later this year.
“A change is coming,” Couto said. “The last of the exclusive contracts is up with the end of Oak Tree. You heard it here—absent some incredible financial deal, there will not be exclusive ADW contracts going forward, which means you’ll get to play all of your California racetracks on whatever ADW company you find best among those licensed here.”
Couto also told attendees that TOC was working with other industry leaders to deal with the closing of Bay Meadows in Northern California.
“It continues to be our biggest issue—where are we going to race?” Couto said. “We believe we have come to a firm plan in the north, and that is Pleasanton.”
Couto explained that because of difficulties in passing legislation, the industry has been unable to finalize funding to allow Pleasanton to make the improvements necessary to replace Bay Meadows.
“We are told and assured by legislators that we will get (the legislation) next year,” he said.
Tom Bachman, TOC’s Northern California vice chair, said that the Pleasanton plans include widening the main track, installing a synthetic surface, and adding a turf course. He felt that the earliest work could begin would be late 2009. With that timeline, he predicted, in answer to a question, that a turf course would be available by late 2010 or early 2011.
Couto also spoke about California’s existing synthetic surfaces. He cited the state’s previous fatality rate with dirt surfaces as being three times the national average and said that the state now has one of the lowest fatality rates in the country.
“We have these great new surfaces, but we don’t understand how to maintain them,” Couto said. “It has been a learning process that I think was a surprise to most everyone. That’s a challenge.”
Marsha Naify, TOC’s board chair, in opening the meeting, spoke about the strides TOC and the California industry have made. She praised the state’s new medication rules and stricter penalties, as well as the establishment of the Jockeys’ Welfare Corporation and the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA) “to handle the needs of two of our greatest assets, our jockeys and our horses.”
Naify acknowledged problems that continue to plague California racing, but she saw reasons for optimism. She listed those reasons as TOC’s strength both at the state and national level, the formation of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Group and its promise of better revenue models for owners from ADW, and the work of the California Horse Racing Board commissioners, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and Racing and Medication Testing Consortium.
Board members Billy Koch and Bob Bone are working with the track paymasters to allow owners to specify what percentage of a horse they own. The goal is for each owner to have just one account with the horsemen’s bookkeeper instead of one for each partnership. That drew a round of applause.
Board member Madeline Auerbach spoke about the establishment of CARMA, which has been done under the auspices of TOC. CARMA, which is gathering funds to help retirement facilities care for former racehorses, will have its kickoff fund-raising event, a poker tournament at the Del Mar Hilton after the races Aug. 21, and Auerbach urged all TOC members to attend.