The California Horse Racing Board agreed Dec. 15 to extend the license of account wagering firm TwinSpires.com after receiving assurance that parent company Churchill Downs Inc. would meet with the Jockeys' Guild over an ongoing insurance dispute.
During the meeting at Hollywood Park, the board granted TwinsSpires an extension of its license until April 30, 2012, in order to monitor the progress of the discussions between CDI and the national jockeys' representative. One-year license renewals were approved for the two other legal ADW companies in the state, TVG and XpressBet.
TwinSpires will be back before the board seeking a full license extension early next year.
The CHRB delayed TwinSpires' application last month at the request of a representative from the Jockeys' Guild who protested CDI's decision to curtail--without warning or discussion--its annual $330,000 contribution to the insurance fund. The Guild receives the money in exchange for granting the tracks that participate "media rights" to use jockey images for promotion of the sport.
Alan Tse, general counsel for Churchill Downs, told board chairman Keith Brackpool the company would meet with guild representatives Dec. 19. CDI owns four racetracks that contribute to the longstanding fund, which is administered by the guild. It is designed to help jockeys with medical insurance payments due to racetrack injuries.
Tse told the board that CDI had separately spent more than $5 million in the past four years on jockey insurance coverage and expends another $1 million per year on safety measures designed to protect riders. He said the dispute over the $330,000 annual payment was not about the money but about "the Guild's transparency."
"We as a company would like to know where our money is going," Tse said. "If Mr. (Tom) Kennedy (Jockeys' Guild general counsel) will provide this information we'd be happy as clams" to discuss the issue.
Kennedy, who was present at the meeting, indicated the Guild would be willing to provide the information to CDI.
Brackpool said it was in the company's best interest to settle its dispute with the Guild over what he called a "pittance."
"You host the greatest race in our sport annually every year. Do you really want this issue hanging over you when that comes up? It makes no sense to me, this position," Brackpool said.
"I agree with you," Tse responded. "There's a history here with how this organization (the Guild) has spent money in the past."
He said that if CDI gets the assurances it wants on how the insurance money is spent, the company would be willing to further its Guild contributions.
The Jockeys' Guild, in a statement released after the meeting, said it "deeply appreciates the strong sentiments expressed this morning on behalf of jockeys and jockey insurance issues during the California Horse Racing Board’s consideration of an extension of the Twin Spires' ADW licensure by the CHRB, including those of Chairman Keith Brackpool and the individual commissioners.
"The Guild is also pleased that a meeting to discuss and resolve all of the issues between the Guild and Churchill Downs Inc. has been scheduled for next week. The Guild hopes that it can reach a fair agreement with CDI on all issues within the next 30 days."
Responding to a question from Tse, Brackpool said getting a further extension from the board for TwinSpires to operate in California is not contingent on reaching agreement. "But we will be watching to see what transpires," he added.
In other action, the board approved a resolution of a race-days dispute for 2012 between Golden Gate Fields and the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale. At stake was the right to "host" simulcast wagering in the northern half of the state during the lucrative Del Mar summer meet. Fair general manager Stuart Titus has maintained that the host fee money is vital to keep the two-week Humboldt meet from being forced out of business.
Under the agreement, Ferndale will act as host Aug. 15-16 and Aug. 22-23 while it conducts live racing without competition from Golden Gate. Golden Gate will be the designated host while conducting live racing Aug. 17-19 and Aug. 24-26. Humboldt also holds live racing during those days.
While happy the two sides were able to work out an arrangement, Brackpool urged them to come up with a permanent solution to what has become an annual race schedule headache since the demise of Bay Meadows.
George Haines, president of Santa Anita, said the track's backside and grandstand took considerable damage when hit by winds approaching 100 miles per hour Dec. 1. But he said the track would be prepared to open as scheduled Dec. 26 for its winter/spring meet.
The track was closed for training for one day, Haines said, as a precaution due to damage to the track's safety rail and other problems created by the strong gusts. Roof repairs to several barns and to the grandstand are in progress, he said. In addition, lighting atop the grandstand must be replaced.
"We have roofing companies on site," he said. "It is going to take time to repair. But the facility is safe and ready to open on the 26th."