California Trainers Pursue Merger With Owners

California Trainers Pursue Merger With Owners
Photo: Benoit Photography
John Sadler

Unable to convince the Thoroughbred Owners of California to consider unifying with its organization, trainers in the state are pursuing plans to form a new representative group.

The California Thoroughbred Trainers is currently polling members for their feelings about decertification of the TOC and forming a new umbrella organization that would include both owners and trainers.

"We have held meetings (with trainers) in both the north and the south and we are moving forward toward a new organization," said John Sadler, CTT president, when contacted Dec. 12.

Sadler said trainers who met with the CTT in the north were unanimous in their support of a new representative, while in the south, most were in agreement.

"We believe we have their support, but thought it would be better to poll the membership," he said.

Sadler said the CTT board of directors is fully committed to unifying the owners and trainers, but that its TOC counterpart has consistently refused to put the issue before its membership, which is believed to number about 9,500. As a result, the focus is on forming a new group, he explained.

The current CTT board majority was elected in part on a promise to join the trainers and owners.

TOC was incorporated in 1993 following an acrimonious split between owners and trainers. It is the legislatively recognized representative of the state's horsemen in contract negotiations with entities such as racetrack associations and advance deposit and satellite wagering companies, and before the California Horse Racing Board. Trainers who are also owners are allowed to be members and there are three positions on the 15-member TOC board restricted to the owner/trainer category. The TOC is funded through a percentage of the takeout that goes to horsemen for purses.

The CTT, which works in cooperation with the TOC, has been primarily concerned with backstretch welfare, workers' compensation, and track safety issues. California is the only racing state with such a division of horsemen, Sadler said.

Arnold Zetcher, chairman of the TOC's board, said a recent vote of its directors "was unanimous in the feeling it wasn't necessary to put the two groups together."

He said the TOC and CTT have worked well together on common issues but that board members feel "differences of opinion" would make it difficult to share the same organization. He added that he was "disappointed" in the CTT's direction.

Sadler said California racing is facing a number of serious issues, including a major revamping for the annual calendar and the futures of the Oak Tree Racing Association and Del Mar--which is potentially for sale by the state--and that horsemen need to "pool resources" to be effective.

"The point is we need to have everyone working together to push the ball up the hill," he said. "Would you rather have 20 people pushing it or 40? They (the TOC) are trying very hard, but we think a combined organization would be better for everyone.

"I'm not anti-TOC and this is not an emotional issue for me," he added.

In a Dec. 8 letter to his members asking for responses, Sadler said TOC restrictions on trainers that are owners amount to "discrimination" and must end.

"Horsemen have a right to choose a new organization that provides fair representation, rather than be forced into an organization that excludes some owners, or limits their representation, simply because they also have a trainer's license," he wrote.

In the letter, Sadler also made reference to charges by horse owner Jerry Jamgotchian that the TOC misused marketing funds refunded by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association to pursue the purchase of Santa Anita Park after track owner Magna Entertainment Corp. declared bankruptcy last year. Jamgotchian contends the TOC violated the state's business and professions code by failing to return the money, two checks totaling more than $1.1 million in 2006, to horsemen purses and instead created a separate account.

"Allegations have surfaced regarding improper administration of horsemen's funds and potential violations of CHRB regulations and California law," the letter said. "While we reserve judgment on these allegations, we are concerned about their serious nature."

Jamgotchian has demanded a CHRB investigation and plans to file a lawsuit against the TOC alleging misappropriation.

Zetcher responded to the charge, saying, "It's disappointing that CTT would even bring that up. Frankly, what we have is one individual coming up with an allegation of something that happened three or four years ago for which there is no foundation."

He said the matter has been reviewed but noted it occurred long before he became the TOC chairman a little more than four months ago. "Decisions were made at the time," he said, "but nothing wrong happened. Misappropriation of funds is a serious charge and there is no basis for making such an allegation.

"We'll see how things shake out. We want to continue to work with (the trainers) even under these circumstances," Zetcher added.

According to CHRB rules, in order for a change in horsemen representation to take place, the new organization must first file a notice of intent to decertify the TOC. Within six months of the filing, the new organization must acquire the signatures of 10% of TOC members through a petition to decertify. The CHRB would then be responsible for verifying the signatures to see they meet regulatory requirements. If so, the board would call an election to determine which organization would be the acknowledged representative.

Sadler, who believes most owners would support their trainers if given the opportunity, said about 900 valid signatures would be needed to start the process. He said he expects to have feedback from CTT members this week.

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