California Trainers Elect New Board Slate

Complaints over state racing issues leads to major changes for CTT.

A slate of new board members for the California Thoroughbred Trainers is set to take over next week following a special election demanded by members who are unhappy with the state of racing and the organization's direction.

Ed Halpern, the CTT's executive director, said the new board for the trainers' organization will consist of, in alphabetical order: Bob Baffert, Jeff Bonde, Gloria Haley, Terry Knight, Doug O'Neill, John Sadler, John Shirreffs, Darrell Vienna, and Kathy Walsh. Haley and Shirreffs are the only holdovers from the prior board.

They were elected as an outgrowth from complaints that led to the formation last year of a rival faction within the CTT known as the "California Horsemen for Change." Vienna, an attorney who has been involved in trainer issues for many years, helped spearhead the push for a new election. The new board is expected to meet for the first time Jan. 27.

"Tough times bring out tough decisions and tougher people," Vienna said. "I think that a lot of horsemen that were not engaged before have gotten engaged this time because of the desperate shape we're in here in California.

"Just look at where we're at," Vienna said. "Bay Meadows is now a pile of rubble. Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields are still in bankruptcy proceedings. Hollywood Park is awaiting the wrecking ball. Racing secretaries are writing meager races and programs while more and more horses and owners leave the state. And ADW (advance deposit wagering) has emptied our grandstands and our pocketbooks simultaneously." 

Halpern, who was planning to leave the CTT at the end of 2009, is staying on to help with the transition. He said he wants to see what happens, noting that the CTT has been primarily "a service organization" previously. The CTT, he said, is responsible for working with the backstretches across the state on insurance and welfare programs, and administering a $37 million pension fund that includes 3,200 participants, 800 of which are currently receiving benefits.

"Hopefully, from my perspective, they can breathe some new life into the membership," Halpern said.

"The first meeting of the board of directors is next week," he added. "I think we'll have to wait until then to see what comes out of that first meeting."

Vienna said the CTT needs "to start opening their mouths and speaking the truth." He said the organization's tendency to follow the lead of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and racetrack associations contributed "to a lack of interest among trainers and a feeling they've been knocked off the game board."

"My goal is the reunification of horsemen in California," he added. "The TOC needs the input of the trainers. Instead of just shouting from the sidelines, we need to be in there fighting. I know a lot of people think it's too late. But myself and the new board want to get the trainers active."

Synthetic tracks, stabling costs, and ADW splits to horsemen are some of the areas that need immediate addressing, Vienna said.