Board OKs California Horsemen Settlement

Thoroughbred Owners of California will hold an election on proposed bylaw changes.

With no discussion, the California Horse Racing Board approved an eleventh-hour settlement between rival horsemen's groups Nov. 17 aimed at heading off a decertification vote of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

The TOC membership must first approve several organizational bylaw changes designed to expand the membership of the TOC to include owners that hold other occupational racing licenses. Those proposed changes would also affect the composition of the TOC board of directors and executive board. The TOC is the official representative of California horsemen.

During the CHRB meeting at Hollywood Park, no representatives from the rival horsemen's group, the California Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, spoke to the board, which approved the settlement by a 5-0 vote. Chairman Keith Brackpool, who helped broker the agreement, abstained.

The CTHA contends that the TOC unfairly excludes trainers that are also owners from participation in horsemen issues. Under the agreement, the CTHA will name up to 10 candidates on the election ballot.

The TOC, according to a press release, will begin disseminating ballots Nov. 23 to its current voting membership asking them to approve the bylaw changes. That voting will conclude Dec. 27.

After the meeting, TOC president Lou Raffetto Jr. credited both representatives from both sides for putting aside differences to make a deal possible.

"We will work very dilligently in the next 60 to 90 days to get this done," Raffetto said of the membership vote. "At the end of the day, California racing will be better off for this. We have so many important issues facing the sport in California, such as Internet poker and exchange wagering. We want to concentrate on those, not on infighting."

If the bylaw changes are approved, an open election for all 15 seats on the TOC board will begin Feb. 1, 2012,  with votes accepted through March 1.

But the election of a new slate of directors can only take place if the TOC membership first approves the proposed bylaw amendments, according to Robert Miller, CHRB counsel. A rejection of those bylaw changes would automatically restart the TOC decertification process, he said.

In such a case, the CHRB would begin disseminating decertification election ballots on or before Jan. 30, 2012, with decertification voting to continue through Feb. 29. The CTHA gathered enough valid signatures from TOC members to force a decertification vote, according to Miller.

The TOC also announced that popular owner Mike Pegram was unanimously approved by board of directors to take over as chairman, replacing Jack Owens. Raffetto said Owens would continue to use his legal background to assist the TOC with its legislative efforts. He said Pegram "is a natural" to take over the organization's leadership on an interim basis.

The five proposed bylaw changes fall into two categories. The first category pertains to membership in the TOC. The current bylaws contain certain restrictions on membership.

Current TOC members will be asked  to open the membership – with full voting rights – without restriction to any person licensed by the CHRB as an owner of a Thoroughbred racehorse.

The second category pertains to membership on the TOC board of directors and executive committee. One of the bylaw changes would create two classes of members.

The owner class would consist of Thoroughbred owners who are not licensed by the CHRB to train horses. The owner/trainer class would consist of Thoroughbred owners who also are licensed as trainers or who may be the spouse of a trainer.

Under proposed bylaw amendments, members in the owner/trainer class and their spouses can run for up to 40% of the seats on the TOC board (six of the 15 seats). At least one of the five directors serving on the executive committee must be in the owner/trainer group. At least one of the owner/trainer class directors must be from Northern California and at least one must be from Southern California.