Trainers Irked by TOC Board Ballot Snafu

Trainers Irked by TOC Board Ballot Snafu
Six years after a state law was passed extending full rights to horse-owning trainers and their spouses in the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the organization is scrambling to rectify an apparent exclusion sent out as part of the current board of directors election ballot.

Language on the cover page of the ballot, which is required to be postmarked for return by June 15, would appear to exclude owners who hold additional state racing licenses from voting.

Marsha Naify, chairman of the TOC Board of Directors, said an e-mail has already gone out "to a substantial bulk of multiple license holders" telling them they are eligible to vote in the election. She said a follow-up letter would be sent by standard mail to members of the California Thoroughbred Trainers stating the same thing, and offering to send a new ballot to those that discarded the earlier one.

"We should have the letters and the replacement ballots sent in plenty of time to make the deadline," she said. "Anyone who received a ballot originally is eligible to vote."

According to the California Horse Racing Board Web site, there are 602 multiple licensees who are owners. The great majority of them are trainers and some veterinarians. Naify estimated that there are 10,000 active owners in the state.

There are four director slots open on the 15-member board for the owners category as well as two in the "owner/trainer" grouping. The 2002 law gives trainers who own horses three places on the board. While there are nine candidates for the owner slots, there are just two nominated in the "owner/trainer" category: current directors Phil Oviedo and Ron Ellis.

Northern California trainer and owner Ellen Jackson, the farm manager at Victory Rose Thoroughbreds, first raised the issue over the ballot language, which reads: "To be eligible to vote in the Board election, a TOC member must hold a valid owner's license. Please note, however, that pursuant to the organization's bylaws, individuals holding multiple licenses, including but not limited to, assistant trainer, groom, and pari-mutuel clerk, are not permitted to vote in this election."

Jackson said she believes the provision was included to discourage trainer participation in the TOC election. She complained that the organization does not represent Northern California adequately while giving "lip service." She cited the TOC's decision two years ago to increase the region's purse split to 60% for winning from its previous level of 55%, in spite of strong opposition from horsemen.

She also noted that, unlike the southern half of the state, nearly all Northern California conditioners own at least a stake in many of the horses they race.

"I just feel frustrated," Jackson said of the TOC. "They have so much pull. But Northern California has always been the wicked stepsister they wish would just go away. They have a lot of say over my profession and I don't think they represent our needs at all."

Ed Halpern, executive director of CTT, the trainers' group, agreed that the ballot language was incorrect.

"If that doesn't exclude trainers, it certainly implies that," he said.

Naify said the language is consistent with past ballots, but needs to be changed.

"There was some confusion because of our bylaws," she explained, adding that those also need to be amended to reflect current horse racing law.

Halpern said he was glad to see the TOC was taking steps to fix what he called a "screw-up."

"Hopefully it will take some of the sting out of this," he said of the follow-up mailing.

The state's 2002 rule change extended voting rights to all horse owners who are multiple licensees and specifically mentions "owners who are trainers and their spouses who are licensed as owners."

After legislation was approved to form the TOC in 1994, trainer/owners were barred from joining until the measure amending the rule was signed into law eight years later. Following the divisive break-up of the California Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, trainers --  regardless of Thoroughbred ownership --  were restricted to membership in the CTT.

Halpern said residue of that tumultuous time remains alive in the TOC today. "I think there's a lot less (animosity) now, but there is still some feeling of ill will among some of the older members of the TOC."

Naify said the TOC had, in the past, tried to limit voting in its elections. But she said that has changed in the past three years.

"We decided at that time to send a ballot to anyone with an owner's license," she said. "We even have a veterinarian (Kim Kuhlmann) on our board. We're trying to reach out and be more inclusive."

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