The California Horse Racing Board conditionally approved racing meet applications for both Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields during its regular monthly meeting Nov. 16 at Del Mar, but the conditions are far from settled with opening day for both meets just around the corner.
In recent years the CHRB has often declined to approve meet applications that are incomplete, but due to time constraints, it approved applications for Santa Anita and Golden Gate, with the condition that all outstanding documents be submitted to the regulatory body by Dec. 1. The board also voted to give CHRB chairman Chuck Winner final say over the applications on that same day. The motion offered by Madeline Auerbach and approved by the board said Winner could "remove or amend the conditions at his discretion."
One of the outstanding items from the meet applications was the full wagering menu for each track. Planned additions of a late Pick 5 and a race-by-race rolling Super Hi-5 to the wagering menu were not included in the Nov. 16 CHRB meeting packet. A hang up regarding the new, second Pick 5 on a racing card—the single Pick 5 that is currently offered at California tracks covers the first five races on a racing card and has a 14% takeout—would feature an increased takeout rate of 23.68%.
Thoroughbred Owners of California president and CEO Greg Avioli took issue with the CHRB's conditional approval of the meet application without a signed agreement with the TOC, which is normally required for meet applications.
"The TOC does not appreciate being put in this position," Avioli said. "We have seen no urgency at all from The Stronach Group (which owns both racetracks) in completing this horsmen's agreement. We can talk about what's outstanding and what's not outstanding, and I think reasonable people will realize there's not a ton outstanding, but they're important matters. ... My point is, we do not see today any urgency to get this agreement done.
"Now why is that? I believe it's because The Stronach Group would relish the opportunity to have this board license them for this upcoming meet without a horsemen's agreement. Why would they want that? Because The Stronach Group, as they have made clear to us over and over again, likes how things are in Florida and how they are in Maryland, where they have pretty much been able to operate ... without being hamstrung by the commissions or the horsemen. ... But sometimes you have to meet power with power."
Avioli said he was not informed of the proposed new wagering options until Nov. 15, and said outside of the meeting's confines that the TOC "has not agreed to any new wagers or new takeout rates." During the meeting he also called for the CHRB to delay a decision on the meet applications until the next scheduled monthly meeting Dec. 14 at Los Alamitos Race Course.
"This is not Florida. This is not Maryland. This is California ... where we have to work together to get things done," Avioli said. "We'd rather we resolve this by negotiation. We've asked the board to move this to December to give the parties time to address this and have a signed horsemen's agreement with the racetracks, the same way we have always done."
The Stronach Group's chief operating officer, Tim Ritvo, said after the CHRB session that the takeout rate for the proposed second Pick 5 wager is 23.68% because the TOC rejected the idea to put another Pick 5 on the menu with a takeout of 14%. If Santa Anita or Golden Gate were to offer the second Pick 5 with a 14% takeout, it would have to come out of The Stronach Group's cut of handle, Ritvo said.
"It's not us," Ritvo said of the higher takeout on the new Pick 5 wager. "We've approached the TOC and they said they'd never consider the 14% unless we paid for it."
The racetrack executive said the added wagering choices would enhance horseplayers' options on any given day, but bristled at Avioli's comments about Florida and Maryland, where Ritvo has had success with The Stronach Group tracks at Gulfstream Park and Laurel Park.
"I'm frustrated to hear Greg say all the time, 'We're not Maryland. We're not Florida,'" Ritvo said. "I get it. California is completely different. But those are two jurisdictions in America that are up hundreds of millions of dollars over the last five years."
Also during the meeting Thursday, the CHRB approved a measure that will apply the same standard for whip use during racing to training hours.
The expanded regulations over whip use during training will "prohibit jockeys and exercise riders from using a riding crop during training on any part of the horse except the shoulders and hindquarters, excessively or brutally causing welts or breaks in the skin, (persisting) even though the horse is showing no response, or (striking the horse) more than three times in succession without giving the horse a chance to respond."