For the second time in less than nine months, the California Horse Racing Board approved a 45-day public comment period for a series of rule changes that would replace the scale of weights assigned to horses starting at the state's racetracks.
The change, which was first requested by the national Jockeys' Guild more than a year ago, would establish the minimum weight assigned in most Thoroughbred races at 116 pounds. With 10 pounds of riding equipment, the new standard would be 126 pounds. The previous proposal, tabled in August after a 45-day public hearing period that began July 1, was for 128 pounds and carried a few other changes that were also amended.
The matter could be considered for approval at the earliest at the CHRB meeting at Hollywood Park on April 28.
Barry Broad, a labor attorney who represents the Jockeys' Guild, asked the board for a vote that expressed whether or not it actually favored the new minimum standard, but it was unclear whether that's what he got. Only commissioner Richard Shapiro expressed his clear preference for it.
"I want a healthy guy on top of my horse and I don't give a damn about a couple of pounds," Shapiro said in response to arguments from three Southern California racing secretaries. He noted that in addition to the relaxed weight standard, the rule changes also require that jockeys maintain a minimum body weight of 5% to ensure their health as well as "bring some honesty" to the weights that are reported to the public by stating exactly what the jockey weighs without equipment.
Board chairman John Harris said that the Jockeys' Guild has promised to push its effort with the state legislature if the CHRB fails to act.
While not expressing its support, the board moved the proposal along for public comment by unanmious vote over the objections of the racing secretaries who warned that the new rules would throw weight assignments into chaos.
"I'm not in favor of it and I don't think the industry should favor it," said Tom Robbins, the Del Mar racing secretary. "We're in a state where the industry is teetering," he added. "We have to take a good look at the entire picture."
Santa Anita's Rick Hammerle said he has not received one complaint since secretaries unofficially increased weight assignments by a couple of pounds, adding "our overweights are down to almost nothing."
He warned the board that it is "walking off a cliff here."
Martin Panza of Hollywood Park claimed that with the increase in weight for 3-year-olds, "older horses would have to carry 137 pounds" at certain times of the year in order for him to mantain an age allowance for the younger horses.
"They aren't going to be racing in California," he said. "They are going to go somewhere else and carry 124 pounds."
The proposed amendments would not alter apprentice allowances, but the allowance would reduce minimum weight by the amount of the allowance. It would also establish a 10% minimum body fat content for female riders. Jockeys licensed before Dec. 31, 2004, would be exempted from minimum body weight requirements for a period of 24 months.
Shapiro said the jockey weight changes would make California a national leader on the issue.
Craig Fravel, vice president for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, objected to the "take-it-or-leave-it" presentation by the Jockeys' Guild and asked the board to apply close scrutiny during the next 45 days. He said body weight content measurements would prove to be especially difficult to enforce.
"What we want to do is give the rest of the country a rule they will adopt rather than look at and say they can't understand it," Fravel said. "If that happens California will be out on its own with a rule it can't enforce and no one else can understand. Then we're really set back."
Broad said the industry is overreacting to changes that will be readily accepted once they are approved. He said he would give full support to a committee that could establish "detailed implementation afterward" that would provide a basis for national changes.
"We can take this on the road if it gets adopted," he said. "But if we don't get it started, we don't get anywhere."