Guild, Feeling Pinch, Gets Relief from CHRB

The California Horse Racing Board approved an agreement March 23 that allows the strapped Jockeys Guild to receive its health and welfare program benefits in a much quicker fashion than in the past.

The Guild is facing cash flow problems as it completes its transition from a previous administration that left it in a deep financial hole, attorney Barry Broad told the board.

The commission, through a memorandum of understanding with the Guild, agrees to provide 85% of the monthly pro rata share of the approximately $1 million paid annually for medical claims by California jockeys and their dependents. The money, which comes in large part from uncashed refunds of pari-mutuel tickets, has been set aside for jockey welfare by the state legislature and is provided for in an agreement between the Guild and the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

Previously, the Guild could wait nine to 18 months for the reimbursement for California medical expenses, according to CHRB staff. Broad said the Guild would pay benefits a year in advance of the state's reimbursement, but that has become increasingly difficult.

"This is going to help us immensely," Darrell Haire, interim national manager of the Guild, said after the meeting. "It really helps our health and welfare financing situation, not only in California."

Each month, the CHRB will distribute 85% reimbursement for estimated expenses made in the previous month based on the most recently audited year's total. The Guild agrees to provide a final annual audit of its health and welfare program by April 1 for the previous year.

Haire said the 1,000-member Guild's finances are "stabilizing" following the ouster last year of president Wayne Gertmenian. But it was often forced to look at other areas within its budget to pay medical benefits, contributing to many of the organization's financial problems. Haire said the Guild has been greatly encouraged by the support of the horseracing industry across the nation.

"All we've ever wanted was to be recognized as an equal partner in racing," Haire said.

Broad said the CHRB would have full access to the Guild's administration of the funds at any time.

"Obviously, we've just come through a very difficult time with a previous administration and we greatly appreciate (the board's action)," Broad said.

In other action, the board approved Hollywood's Park application to conduct its spring/summer meeting (April 26-July 16) although the Bay Meadows Land Company-owned track has not yet worked out an operating agreement with the TOC. The board conditioned the approval on the two sides reaching agreement and also passed a 10-day notice of meeting to take up the matter itself if the race association and horsemen can't settle on a satisfactory stakes calendar.

"We might have to cut the stakes schedule by $450,000," Jack Liebau, president of Hollywood Park, told the board. Drew Couto, president of the TOC, said Hollywood Park has lost three days of racing at the upcoming meet, including two weekend programs.

"I'm sure there are legitimate business concerns," said Couto, who added that he was optimistic that the two sides would come to an agreement.

Hollywood Park is looking forward to having a turf course again this season after the sod failed to root properly prior to the 2005 fall/winter meeting.

For the second straight month, the board pulled a dispute between the TOC and TVG over hub fee rates from the agenda. The two sides continue negotiations. There were also indications that TVG and Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of account wagering rival XpressBet, were negotiating as well. Californians continue to be forced to hold multiple wagering accounts in order to bet at different tracks because of agreements between the tracks and TVG and XpressBet.

The board also delayed for a month consideration of a proposed out-of-country simulcast agreement.