California Horse Racing Board chairman Richard Shapiro, after leading the state's racing industry through a difficult period over the past four years, surprised a sparse audience during the board's Dec. 15 meeting at Santa Anita Park by announcing his resignation.
Shapiro, who recently was reappointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to a new four-year term, said it was his decision to leave the board. He said the resignation will take effect Dec. 16.
"I have been honored and grateful that the governor appointed me to this position, and reappointed me and urged me to continue for another four years," Shapiro said. "But the time has come for me to leave the board. No one asked me to do this. This was a personal decision that I have been pondering for many months. This decision was mine and mine alone."
Vice chairman John Harris, a CHRB member since 2000, will preside until the board acts on electing a new chair.
Several of those in attendance, including board members Harris, Jesse Choper and David Israel, expressed sadness at Shapiro's decision and lauded his hard work on behalf of racing in the state.
"I really hate to see him go and hope he will be a part of the future of this game that we all love," Harris said.
Choper called Shapiro's accomplishments for the industry "absolutely extraordinary."
Shapiro, whose family has long been active in California racing with both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, originally was appointed to the board by Schwarzenegger Oct. 14, 2004, replacing Harris as chairman a short time later. He was reappointed to a second four-year term in October.
Following a break during the meeting, Shapiro read a lengthy statement enumerating a number of the board's actions during his chairmanship. He said his reasons for leaving were personal and not due to outside pressure.
“The most gratifying and rewarding thing was dealing with the people in horse racing." he said. "Except for a few, there are a really lot of good people in the business. They are like a family.”
One of the most controversial moves during Shapiro’s term was mandatory installation of synthetic surfaces at the major tracks in California. Officials in California have cited statistics that show a decrease in the number of catastrophic breakdowns since the switch from dirt and an increase in field sizes.
"It has not been perfect," he said of the board's mandate to switch to artificial surfaces. "But I believe that the decision to approve synthetics will lead to safer tracks. We must continue to protect our horses and riders."
He noted with pride that California racing had "leveled the playing field" with strict accountability for the use of drugs on equine athletes and "the best drug testing program in the nation.
"We have eliminated milkshaking and the abuse of anabolic steroids," he said.
Shapiro also worked to improve advance deposit wagering for California bettors by getting tracks to share signals with the state's four licensed ADW providers.
But he also presided during a time that one major racetrack in the state, Bay Meadows, has been demolished to make way for redevelopment, with a second, Hollywood Park, likely to face the same fate in the future. During the rocky tenure of executive director Ingrid Fermin, the board's budget was frozen by a state legislative committee and he came in for severe criticism from a state senator from the Bay Area, Leland Yee, over the Bay Meadows situation and other issues.
In recent months, Shapiro said he realized that regulators such as the CHRB "are powerless" to act on the major issue confronting racing -- a broken economic model.
"We all have to realize that the business has to change," he said.
After the meeting, he told The Blood-Horse: "I'm not leaving horse racing. It's just that I want to move this industry forward and I can't do it from here. I can't do it from this podium."
He said he was not sure what avenues in racing he would pursue at this point.