Insurers Will Meet With California Industry Representatives

Representatives from two private insurance companies are scheduled to meet Tuesday with California horsemen and racetrack executives on a plan to insure workers against injury liability.

It's the first good news trainers and owners have had since the workers' compensation insurance crisis hit the state's backstretches in February. That's when the last private insurer withdrew from policy-writing and forced most of California's 800 Thoroughbred trainers to seek coverage from the government-backed State Fund.

State Fund rates are much higher than private ones and in some cases made costs doube, officials said. Trainers at Hollywood Park threatened an entry boycott in June to protest the issue.

"There are two companies professing an interest in writing workers' compensation insurance policies," said Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. "Assuming all goes well, I'm confident this will roll back (insurance) prices" to pre-March levels.

Halpern said he hoped the private insurers could begin writing policies within a week.

The tracks and horsemen are banking on a "captive insurance program" to attract private interest, Halpern said. They would provide $5 million contained in pending state legislation to protect insurers against cataclysmic claims. The tracks would be required to provide a letter of credit that would enable insurers to offer policies.

The funds are from track and horsemen purse shares that were earmarked for vanning, stabling, and marketing programs. The legislation, which Halpern said is unopposed, is to be considered by the California Senate when it returns from summer recess.

Halpern declined to name the companies involved in the new insurance program until an agreement is reached. He said their interest, though, is a welcomed relief.

"I think there has been a change in the work force," said Halpern. "There are fewer workers. We've some some trainers leave or cut back in the number of horses they train. More horses have been moved to farms. There's been a squeezing of the (horse) inventory."