CHRB's Shapiro to Testify On Guild Dealings

California Horse Racing Board commissioner Richard Shapiro plans to testify about the Jockeys' Guild before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Nov. 17.

It is the second hearing before the subcommittee on the Jockeys' Guild management, which drew sharp criticism last month of its efforts on the behalf of rider welfare and for its financial practices.

"I've been in contact with congressional investigators," Shapiro told the CHRB at its meeting Nov. 3 in Arcadia, "and I have been asked to testify at another hearing ... about our efforts here in California to address similar concerns."

Shapiro said he had been meeting with former Guild lobbyist Barry Broad, who dropped the organization as a client following last month's testimony, on "common concerns." He said he is also working with an insurance broker, John Unick, on soliciting competitive bids for new health insurance for jockeys, replacing the self-insurance plan the Guild uses in California.

That insurance plan is funded with about $1 million a year provided through uncashed refunds from wagers that is allocated for jockey health benefits. The CHRB has arranged for the California Department of Finance to begin a full-scale audit Nov. 15 of the Guild's use of those funds.

"Hopefully, we'll get some answers to some unanswered questions from this forensic audit and from additional testimony at the congressional hearings," Shapiro said.

The commissioner also heads a CHRB committee examining weigh-in and weigh-out procedures designed to help the state head off problems such as those recently experienced in New York with misreported jockey weights. The commission wants to make sure that horses carry the correct assigned weight and that the public is informed of those weights.

"Transparency is the key," chairman John Harris said of the procedures.

Jockeys at Santa Anita Park, Golden Gate Fields and Los Alamitos Race Course have been given copies of existing rules - which govern attendance, behavior and responsibility of officials and riders in the weighing process.

Shapiro said the committee -- comprised of representatives of jockeys, horse owners, trainers, racing associations and racing officials -- has developed some proposed procedures and is continuing to work on remaining issues.

Among the changes, each jockey would weigh out for each race in full public view and wearing all clothing and equipment for the race. Video cameras would observe and record the weigh-out process for each race. A steward or designee would be present when jockeys weigh out for each race.

Each day's official racing program would state: "A jockey's riding weight includes riding clothing, saddle, undergirth, and pad. The weight listed in the program does not include the jockey's safety equipment, which consists of the helmet, goggles, safety vest, and overgirth, and may also include a pommel pad, girth channel, and/or chamois. The total weight of this excluded safety equipment shall not exceed five pounds. The saddlecloths, whip, and bridle are not included in the five-pound limitation on safety equipment. The weight of the saddlecloth, bridle, whip, and all safety equipment is additive to and not included in the program weight or announced overweight."

In other action, the commission approved a regulation prohibiting the use of toe grabs with a height greater than four millimeters. Toe grabs are traction devises that are applied to the front of the ventral surface of horseshoes. The prohibition stems from studies at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine showing that horses wearing longer toe grabs have an increased risk of musculoskeletal injury.

The board also adopted a rule protecting animal welfare against persons under CHRB's jurisdiction. It prohibits actions that "cause an animal under his control or care to suffer any form of cruelty, mistreatment, neglect, or abuse" nor "abandon, injure, maim, kill, administer a noxious or harmful substance to, or deprive an animal of necessary care, sustenance, shelter, or veterinary care."

Although the CHRB already had broad authority to deal with these matters, the new regulation makes it easier to enforce. Executive director Ingrid Fermin said stewards would be able to levy fines and suspensions for violations.