New California Horsemen's Group Moving Ahead

Spokesman says TOC ignoring decertification threat over horsemen unification issue.

The Thoroughbred Owners of California isn't talking, but a spokesman for a recently formed rival horseman's group wants to make sure the state's owner representative knows "that we mean business."

Roger Licht, one of the principals in the new organization, the California Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said March 31 that he hasn't "heard a word" from anyone at the TOC since announcing the group's intent to pursue the decertification of the TOC three days earlier. He said he was surprised by the lack of reaction.

"They should know that we mean business," said Licht, a former chairman of the California Horse Racing Board. "We are well-funded and well-organized and we have the appropriate staff" to force a change in the state's horsemen representative.

The CTHA's main goal is the unification of owners and trainers into "one powerful, cohesive, transparent and pro-active unit," according to Licht.

But he said the TOC could avoid a decertification push by allowing its membership to vote on a change in organization bylaws that would increase representation for trainers who are also horse owners on the TOC board of directors.

Three of the 15-member TOC board are currently from the "owner-trainer" category.

"If they would just put that to a vote of the membership, that would be the end of it," Licht said. "I don't know how you can refuse to even consider letting their members vote. I don't know how you can operate like that. They can't just ignore this."

Neither Guy Lamothe, the TOC's chief financial officer, nor Jack Owens, the organization's interim board chairman, responded to phone or email messages seeking comments.

The CTHA contends that the TOC has failed in its leadership role, contributing to the decline of the racing industry in the state, and that the CTHA is better positioned to take control on behalf of horsemen. Among the complaints are that the TOC has disenfranchised trainers that are also owners, provided poor support for Northern California racing, and refused to open its meetings. It has also failed to respond to the horseplayers' boycott this year that resulted from TOC-led legislative action increasing the takeout rate on exotic wagers to enhance purses, the CTHA claims.

The TOC, which during its last board election reportedly mailed out 8,747 ballots to owners and another 350 to those in the owner/trainer category, 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.

Another organization, the California Thoroughbred Trainers, works separately from the TOC. It 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.

John Sadler, president of the CTT, and Gloria Haley, a CTT director, are among the list of original CTHA members, as are trainers Henry Moreno and Mike Harrington. Others listed by the group are J.F. Ernenwein, Aase Headley, George Schmitt, Cory Wellman, and David Wilson.

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 CTHA 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.

Licht said he was not prepared to say when his organization would present a petition to the CHRB. He said he did not believe it would take the CTHA six months to acquire the needed signatures.