Stewards' Contracts Not Renewed by CHRB

A decision announced this week to not renew the contracts of three of California's most senior stewards is part of changes being made to improve racing in the state, according to the executive director of the California Horse Racing Board.

"The changes are everywhere," said Ingrid Fermin, the CHRB's executive director and a former Southern California steward. "And they're all positive changes. Both track management and the horsemen's groups have been extremely helpful."

She said performance was not a factor in the decision to not renew the contracts. Let go was Pete Pedersen, 84, who has served as a steward for 50 years and was honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2002; former champion jockey Merlin Volzke, 79, who serves at Los Alamitos; and harness trainer/driver Jack Williams, 75, an associate steward throughout the state. All three contracts are set to expire within the next few weeks.

Other changes Fermin pointed out are lateral transfers of investigators and racing board staff members, the hiring of bilingual employees, and the requirement that all stewards be United States Trotting Association approved.

"Not everybody's happy (with the changes)," Fermin said. "But we did put a lot of thought into all of this. A lot can and is being done to make California racing better."

"Turnover in the steward's stand is a good thing," CHRB chairman John Harris said. "We need to enable more capable people to become stewards and we have a very big pool of well-qualified individuals who have passed the steward's test and our intent is to utilize some of them."

"Stewards are independent contractors and not employees," Fermin said. "These three men have served this industry for many years and have done great jobs. Merlin is a war hero and former jockey who never got days, or maybe only got them once. Pete is an Eclipse Award winner and Jack is in the harness Hall of Fame. These achievements are not to be forgotten, the decision was a very difficult one. What they've done for this game in this state is not to be forgotten."

Pedersen will step down from the stewards' stand after 50 years in the position at the end of the current Hollywood Park meeting July 17.

Fermin noted that several changes are to take effect within the next few weeks within the state, including the transfer of responsibility of testing for TCO2 to the state and the use of the University of California at Davis as a single testing lab.

"It was very important to accomplish what we have as far as TCO2 testing now that the CHRB is set to take over the testing program in July," she said. "It's important that the infractions produce the same consequences, from the taking of the purse and additional penalties."