Trainer-Representation Bill Clears California Committee

by Jack Shinar

Trainers in California who own horses will occupy three seats on the board of directors of the organization that represents Thoroughbred owners under an agreement hammered out shortly before a state Senate committee hearing on the issue June 25.

The California Senate Governmental Organization Committee, on a 9-0 vote, sent the measure on to the full Senate, where it is expected to gain final passage. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Tony Strickland, had passed the state Assembly on a 45-1 vote.

The measure allows about 1,000 trainer/owners and their spouses to join the Thoroughbred Owners of California, and gives them some representation--three directors on what's currently a 12-member board. The board is expected to expand to a maximum of 15 to accommodate the additional directors if the legislation is approved.

The TOC handles contract negotiations with racetracks, including purse agreements and satellite simulcasting terms. Since legislation was approved to form the TOC in 1994, trainer/owners and their spouses have been barred from joining. Following the divisive break-up of the California Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, trainers--regardless of Thoroughbred ownership--were restricted to membership in the California Thoroughbred Trainers. The CTT is primarily concerned with backstretch management and welfare issues.

After the Senate committee hearing, Strickland noted that as a small- time horse owner, he had the right to join the TOC, but stable trainers who owned hundreds of Thoroughbreds and have much more at stake, could not.

"This is a common sense issue," Strickland said. "It had to be done. It will give trainers a voice on the board, a say on financial issues, which is only right."

Because of the rancor that still exists between the owner and trainer factions that resulted in the California HBPA dissolution, Strickland said the agreement was "a long and difficult negotiation."

Ed Halpern, executive director of the CTT, said the final bill was the "best that could be done considering the circumstances." He said he hoped it would foster "a greater understanding and a better relationship" between the two sides.

"I would have been happier with more representation," said Halpern. "But I understand that you don't always get everything you want."

The TOC currently has about 3,600 members.