The California Horse Racing Board is expected to waive its rules regarding the coupling of horses with common ownership during the current Hollywood Park meeting and upcoming Bay Meadows stand.
At the suggestion of board chairman Richard Shapiro, commissioners unanimously agreed to put out a 10-day public hearing notice for the purpose of waiving the rules, which require that horses with common ownership interest run as an entry.
At its meeting two months ago, the board approved a 45-day public comment period for the purpose of repealing the rules. But after hearing from the agency's staff that a majority of the 30 responses returned were opposed to ending coupled entries, it decided to seek approval for an "experimental waiver." The waiver of entries would be subject to track or "house rules," Shapiro said.
One racing fan told the board that he was opposed to the change because entries protect the betting public from owner or trainer manipulation. "It's a matter of fairness to the players that they be protected," he said.
"Let's see how it goes," Shapiro countered, adding that he hoped a change in coupling rules would be to the advantage of everyone. But he acknowledged that there is a suspicion on the part of the public when it comes to multiple interests in a race.
The California Harness Horsemen's Association had asked to opt out of the plan to repeal entries in a letter sent to the board, noted commissioner Jerry Moss, citing the preponderance of common ownership of Standardbreds at Cal Expo.
Thoroughbred track representatives, though, looking for additional wagering options when running short fields, lined up unanimously behind repealing coupled entry requirements.
"This thing about races getting fixed – I just don't buy into it," said Jack Liebau, president of the Bay Meadows company that owns both the San Mateo track and Hollywood Park. "The business being what it is today ... nobody is trying to do anything but win races."
Craig Fravel, representing Del Mar, argued that "as long as there's full disclosure," racing's integrity would be protected.
Renegade horse owner Jerry Jamgotchian saw the issue as one of "perception of tracks' control" of the CHRB.
"I don't see how you are protecting the betting public by uncoupling entries, but you are definitely helping the tracks," said Jamgotchian, who has been at odds repeatedly with Shapiro during board meetings.
The board was told that Santa Anita Park is in the process of tearing down two barns at the track's training gap and will be replaced with two state-of-the-art facilities.
"These are the same barns that were put in at Palm Meadows and Gulfstream Park," Ron Charles, president of California's Magna Entertainment tracks, told the board. "They are spectacular. It's full speed ahead."
He said later that the project, which amounts to 48 stalls, would cost about $1 million.
Charles said further rehabilitation of the Santa Anita barn area depends on the track's ability to move horses.
"We will probably have to do this in quarters," he said. Santa Anita stables more than 1,900 horses currently, but may lose a couple of barns if ambitious development plans come to fruition.
Pressed by Shapiro on whether Magna chairman Frank Stronach is committed to the barn rehabilitation project, Charles responded, "I'm going to say yes. Would you expect me to say no?"
Charles told the board that the Santa Anita backside has a serious rodent problem and that complete eradication is impossible as long as there are horses and other livestock in the barns.
He explained that the track would ordinarily be closed to training this summer while Del Mar is running and that would be the right time to remove the rats. But with Hollywood Park expected to install Polytrack this summer, it appears Santa Anita will have to stay open.