CHRB Wants Closer Look at Guild's Records

In the ongoing battle over Jockeys' Guild medical coverage for California riders, the state horse racing board directed its staff to begin a forensic audit of the national organization's health care records.

At issue to the CHRB is about $1 million annually that the state earmarks for jockey health coverage through the Guild's providers, money that comes from winning or refunded wagers that were not cashed. The fund started in 1997.

Unhappy with the cooperation provided by the Jockeys' Guild in an internal audit of the fund recently undertaken by the CHRB, commissioner Richard Shapiro made the recommendation for a much more in-depth examination, which was approved on a 5-0 vote during the board's March 24 meeting at Bay Meadows.

"There have been allegations that many jockeys have claims that have not been paid and bills that were sent to collection instead," Shapiro said. "Until we get satisfaction that the money is being spent correctly, we will withhold the funds."

Jockey Ron Warren, speaking from a wheelchair due to career-threatening injuries he suffered in a recent fall, asked the board to redirect the funds to a group he helped to recently incorporate, the California Jockeys Guild Inc. According to Warren, the new group has the support of the majority of the state's riders.

Afterward, Warren said he had documented 17 cases where jockeys had been turned over to collection agencies for medical bills that were supposed to be covered by the Guild.

The CJG alleges that the Guild-administered health plan is a failure and that the national organization's management has not addressed the problems, refuses to disclose payment records, and will not entertain requests for a "reasonable selection of conventional health plans."

Albert Fiss, the national Guild's vice president, said he would agree to the forensic audit, adding that he supported the California jockeys' efforts on health insurance. He insisted, however, that the Guild had not breached its contract and that any problems with nonpayment of bills had more to do with differing medical plans from state to state. The current contract with the Guild expires in June 2006.

"The time we have is just about right to get the audit done and do the things we would have to do" before making a change to the riders' health insurance overseer, said John Reagan, senior management auditor for the CHRB.

Reagan later noted that the CHRB staff has already been making inquiries to public accounting firms.

"So far, they say no thank you," he said. "They've looked at what we've given them and feel it's fraught with potential for litigation. But we'll keep at it."

In other action, the CHRB set in motion a rule change that would require owners that claim a horse be restricted from running the horse out of state for a period of 60 days after the end of the meeting in which the claim was made. The rule, which must receive a 45-day public comment period before it can be approved, is designed to help the state retain as many horses as possible.

California Thoroughbred racing has seen short fields, especially in Northern California, and officials believe part of the reason is that horsemen are claiming horses and taking them to other destinations.

"We need something like this to protect California racing," said CHRB chairman John Harris.

CHRB staff originally proposed a 90-day hold, but after checking with other states, decided that 60 days was more in line with accepted practice and less likely to attract legal challenges. Arizona, Maryland, Louisiana, and Illinois are among states with similar restrictions.

Tom Robbins, racing secretary for Del Mar, urged the board to take action.

"The problem is only going to get worse," he said. "We had a wake-up call last summer when a trainer claimed about 100 horses and took them all out of California."

Charles Dougherty, representing the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said his organization supports the action. Drew Couto, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, backs the plan as well. Both groups had opposed a similar amendment when it was proposed in February 2001.

The board approved a dates request that will create year-round harness racing in Sacramento in 2005 once its lease with Capitol Racing ends July 31. It authorized Cal Expo, where the meet is held, to run dates from the end of July to Sept. 22, including a four-week run during the California State Fair. The non-profit Sacramento Harness Association, which has a three-year lease, will assume operation beginning Sept. 23. The board rejected a proposal from Capitol Racing to operate a 60-day meeting at Fairplex this fall and winter.

Cal Expo has 12 days of Thoroughbred and mixed breed racing approved from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5 and is considering leasing those dates. Bay Meadows and Pleasanton have made requests, according to Cal Expo racing director David Elliott.

Finally, the board authorized its staff to seek an interagency agreement with the University of California at Davis to make its Ken Maddy Equine Testing Laboratory the primary drug testing facility. The Maddy Lab, which is a state-of-the-art drug-testing facility, currently does one-third of the state's testing. The decision ends a 50-year relationship with Truesdail Laboratories of Tustin, Calif.

The board felt that the Maddy Lab can do a better job because it has instrumental screening technology the commercial company Truesdail does not. It was also felt that UC Davis could more quickly react to changes in the uses of drugs and medication.

"Truesdail has done a great job for us over the years," Harris said. "We are going to go in another direction."