by Jack Shinar
Negotiations that would allow trainers who also own racehorses to join the Thoroughbred Owners of California are in progress. A state Assembly bill authorizing such a membership change is nearing a committee hearing as well.
"The mediation process is ongoing," TOC president John Van de Kamp said. "It's hard to say what's going to happen. Nothing has been struck as of yet."
Current law keeps trainer/owners, who number about 1,000 in the state, out of the TOC, which was formed in 1994 legislation following the acrimonious break-up of the California Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.
Trainers, who dominated the California HBPA, formed their own organization, the California Thoroughbred Trainers. While it is in charge of backstretch management issues and backstretch programs, the CTT has no say in business matters such as contract negotiations with tracks, establishing purse structures, and executing marketing and ownership programs.
Ed Halpern, executive director of the trainers' group, said trainer/owners have been "disenfranchised" as a result.
The bill was headed for its first committee hearing June 24, but so far, the boards of directors for both the CTT and TOC have not taken a position. Assemblyman Anthony Strickland, the bill's sponsor, met with Halpern and Van de Kamp recently to work out obstacles. Van de Kamp said there are still substantial philosophical differences.
"There's a law on the books, one we're happy with, and it says that all trainers are in the trainer' organization," Van de Kamp said.
For many among the owners' group, the California HBPA experience is still fresh. Trainers dominated that board and made decisions some believed went against the interests of owners. The TOC doesn't want any threat of that happening again, Van de Kamp said.
"Our group does not want to return to the unhappy circumstances that existed before the divorce," he said.
Halpern said he has offered to include provisions in the new bill that would prevent trainer/owners from ever comprising a majority of the 12-member TOC board. There are about 3,600 TOC members, which would give owners nearly a 4-1 ratio over trainer/owners, said Van de Kamp.
"There's a lot of personal animosity," Halpern said. "We understand their concerns. What we've suggested is that (trainers) can be elected (to the board of directors) but may not constitute a majority. The original bill has no restriction."
Van de Kamp said he would like to see the trainers endorse a position before the owners take action.
"I have a feeling that if a good faith resolution is made and nothing comes of it, then the bill will be pulled," Van de Kamp said.