Workers' Comp Crisis Leads to Entry-Box Boycott

by Jack Shinar

Trainers unhappy with soaring workers' compensation insurance costs refused to enter any horses for the July 3 races at Hollywood Park following a 90-minute meeting with Southern California racing association officials June 29.

Hollywood Park racing secretary Martin Panza said the entry box would remain open June 30, but that if trainers did not respond, there would be no racing July 3. "If they don't enter tomorrow, we don't race Wednesday (July 3) and (the trainers) will have created a new problem for themselves," he said.

Hollywood Park president Rick Baedeker agreed. "If we don't race on Wednesday, (the racing associations) will no longer participate in attempting to find a solution to this problem," he said.

About 65 trainers were on hand for the meeting with representatives from Hollywood Park, Santa Anita Park, Del Mar, the Oak Tree Racing Association, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California. They demanded to hear what the tracks and the TOC are planning to do in response to the workers' compensation issue.

Some 450 trainers in the state will see their current policies with the California State Fund expire June 30, and they are facing cost increases of 25% to 50%. The new base rates for policies will be $48.69 per $100 of payroll for backstretch employees and $105.66 per jockey mount. Those rates will pay less depending on the claims history of each trainer, but the lack of any significant private insurance options puts each stable at the mercy of the state fund.

Trainer Vladimir Cerin said he would try to persuade his fellow conditioners to enter horses June 30. "We've made our point," he said. "We can stick together if we need to. A boycott of Hollywood Park isn't going to help. They didn't create the workers' compensation problem. They've offered to help."

Cerin said he knew of two trainers who have $100,000 deposits due with the state fund, and have been forced to mortgage their homes as a result. He said the trainers want assurances that state legislation that would redirect up to $5 million from purses to a workers' compensation fund will be used for that purpose.

He said they are frustrated that TOC president John Van de Kamp would not provide such a guarantee.

"We're hearing the same old rhetoric," Cerin said.

Besides the state legislation, which still requires passage by both houses, Baedeker said the tracks and TOC are willing to put up a $3 million or $4 million letter of credit to create a "captive insurance program" that would allow trainers to purchase self-insurance coverage.

"Both of these options are in the 20-to-30 day range," before they can be put into effect, Baedecker said.