California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Fred Maas to the California Horse Racing Board Sept. 21 to fill a vacancy left by previous commissioner Steve Beneto, who resigned from the board in January.
The CHRB could still be without a full seven members for its next meeting Sept. 28, however, as commissioner George Krikorian's term expired July 26. Brown could re-appoint Krikorian before the meeting, but if he does not, that seat will have to be filled.
Maas started out in politics in Washington, D.C., after he graduated cum laude from the Syracuse University College of Law. That led to a real estate consulting practice that specialized in public affairs, community relations, and crisis management. One of its clients was the PGA Tour, which in turn led Maas to another firm, which developed residential and resort communities featuring the PGA Tour. That took him to San Diego and Los Angeles, where he spreadheaded an effort to develop Bob Hope's property in the Santa Monica Mountains. In San Diego he built a 5,000-home, award-winning community known as Black Mountain Ranch, site of the Santaluz community, among others. His tenure in public service as the chairman and chief executive officer of San Diego's Centre City Development Corporation led to his work with several San Diego mayors.
Maas currently is the executive chairman of MRV Systems, a manufacturer of marine robotic vehicles that provide underwater solutions for the scientific, oceanographic, and defense communities.
"Like so many opportunities in my life, work has allowed me to practice in areas I care deeply about, and hopefully, make a difference," Maas said.
Maas says he's already on top of most of the important issues regarding the horse racing industry. He routinely reads the trade publications and online reports, along with blogs to gain more personal perspectives.
"I'm interested in what everyone has to say," he said. "I go to some of the off-track-betting locations for some of the big out-of-state races ... and when you spend a few hours there, you can't help but talk to people. I haven't done focus groups, but I pay attention.
"Racing enjoys an important audience of folks in seersucker suits and fancy hats, drinking champagne. But most racing fans are wearing flip-flops. They have the (Daily Racing Form) in one hand and a beer in the other. One of the industry's primary challenges is to continue to understand and appreciate the average bettor, and to convey to them the challenges horse racing faces nationally. Chief among the challenges is the health and safety of horses, and the education of both the fan and the disinterested about how much is actually being done to that end, especially in California."
He also said racing needs to connect with and entertain larger demographics.
"We have to reach out even more to the biggest sector of potential customers—the Millennials and Gen Xers. For them, a day at the races can be entertainment, not just a sport or place to wager intelligently," Maas said.
Maas' fascination with horse racing began when he was young. He grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and his family made regular summer outings to Finger Lakes. He kept going back.
"I've been a turf club member at Del Mar for the better part of 20 years. I've spent many weekend mornings at Del Mar drinking coffee and watching the horses train," he said. "For many years, I had a second home on Long Island in Roslyn, about 10 miles from Belmont Park. There's a steakhouse and gin mill there—Bryant and Cooper. The bartenders are all big-time horseplayers. Many of the jockeys and trainers hung there. (Mike) Smith and (Gary) Stevens, (Todd) Pletcher and (Bobby) Frankel, and Shug McGaughey. I've met too many to remember them all.
"I've lost count of the times I've been to Belmont—and I don't know how many Belmont Stakes—War Emblem, Smarty Jones , Big Brown , and, of course, California Chrome and American Pharoah . I've been to the (Bowl Championship Series), prizefights, the Super Bowl—most of the major sporting events. Nothing is more exciting than the two and a half minutes when a horse is competing for the Triple Crown—nothing. People stayed in the stands for 40 minutes after Pharoah's historic run. No one wanted to leave. It was awe inspiring."
The common thread through an otherwise circuitous business career has been the "confluence of politics, business, sports, and the environment," and Maas said the CHRB fits right into that pattern.
"I hope I can bring a horseplayer's point of view, even though I'm not a huge gambler," he said. "I'm a 10-cent superfectas guy. In races where I don't like the favorite, with nine or more horses, I'll box six horses for $36. If the top betting choices run their races, that usually means I lose money, but when they don't, the payoff can be rewarding.
"I am fascinated by handicapping races. It's 'Moneyball' for horses. For years I've been traveling to Saratoga with my D.C. pals, usually on Jim Dandy weekend. We study the Form from 9 in the morning until the last race at Del Mar. It's like a Bible study group for scoundrels. And when we win, well, imagine finishing the New York Times' crossword puzzle and getting paid for it."