With Northern California-based horses being lured to other racing jurisdictions offering higher purses and increased turf racing during the summer, members of the California Horse Racing Board, meeting in Albany, Calif., on Friday, asked racing leaders to outline their efforts to stem the exodus and prevent fields from shrinking to disastrous levels.Sparked in part by an article in Saturday's Daily Racing Form that described plans by several prominent stables to relocate in other states, members of the California Horse Racing Board questioned Bay Meadows President Jack Liebau during a discussion of his track's license application for the upcoming spring meet.Liebau said he is working with the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) to restructure Northern California purses in one effort to keep stables in California. And because the various fairs do not have turf courses, Liebau said there have been discussions about briefly opening either Bay Meadows or Golden Gate Fields during the summer to offer turf racing to stables that might otherwise ship to other locations for racing opportunities. (This would require CHRB approval.)Charlie Dougherty, representing the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT), said part of the problem is the high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the exorbitant price for Workers' Compensation Insurance, which can cost as much as $61 per start.Commissioner Marie Moretti wondered if there are any richly funded programs, such as the stabling and vanning fund, from which some money could be redirected to enhance purses and make racing in California more profitable for horsemen. She asked, "Aren't there pots of money we could look at to shift to purses?"Commissioner John Harris urged racing executives to "rethink" their racing schedules and perhaps cut back in the number of days they race in order to concentrate the horse population into fewer races and thereby increase field size. He expressly questioned the need for six-day race weeks.All of the racing commissioners and many racing leaders commented on the growing horse shortage. TOC President John Van de Kamp said, "We have to make it economically viable for trainers to stay here." Hollywood Park President Rick Baedeker said he and other racing executives are discussing "fundamental changes to the way we do business...to come up with the right formula to deal with the problem."Jim Ghidella, Northern California staff director for the TOC, mentioned discussions of a plan for the industry to be self-insured for Workers' Compensation as one way to bring down the high cost of insurance.
Clearly the commissioners consider this a top priority and will continue addressing the problem at meetings of the Dates Committee and at other opportunities.
Following this discussion, the Board approved Bay Meadows' license to conduct a race meet from April 4 through June 17. In a separate application, the Board approved the Churchill Downs California Company race meet at Hollywood Park from April 20 through July 16.