by Jack Shinar
The general manager of California's only Standardbred racing association said it's unfair for harness horsemen to be lumped into the same workers' compensation insurance category as those who race Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses.
"The whole thing is out of whack," said Alan Horowitz, who oversees the Capitol Racing operation that leases Cal Expo in Sacramento for live racing 10 months a year.
Harness racing is being hit as hard by the California workers' compensation crisis, but it has a purse structure only a fraction of the size of the Thoroughbred industry, Horowitz said. Purses for most races at Cal Expo are in the $2,500 to $5,000 range.
Horowitz said workers' compensation insurance for drivers averages $68 per start, which is comparable to the rate of Thoroughbred jockeys, yet drivers receive only $20 per race or 5% of the purse, whichever is greater.
Insurance covering stable workers is the same as for the Thoroughbred tracks -- $43.30 per $100 of payroll. Both driver and worker insurance rates are all that's available through California State Fund Insurance, currently the only source for workers' compensation coverage.
"With the economics of our industry, those rates don't make sense," Horowitz said. "To pay those kind of rates is outrageous."
On top of that, harness racing has nowhere close to the number of work-related injury claims, Horowitz said. There have been less than 10 in seven years since Capitol began racing in Sacramento.
"The unfortunate thing is all of the breeds are lumped together," Horowitz said. "Our loss experience in terms of claims is significantly lower than that of Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse racing. Since we took down the inner rail and replaced it with pylons (about three years ago), the number of incidents and severity of accidents are greatly down."
He called on state officials to take a hard look at the problem.
"The (California Horse Racing Board) is in a difficult situation," Horowitz said. "They need to make sure employees are covered, yet they don't have the authority to do anything. Something has to be done by the legislature or the state insurance commissioner.
"Ultimately, someone in the Department of Insurance needs to look at our industry and this system."