Calif. Fund for Retired Horses OK'd

Calif. Fund for Retired Horses OK'd
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California took a first step toward helping more horses after their racing years with the final approval of a new fund to support the state’s equine retirement facilities.

Meeting Dec. 14 in Inglewood, the California Horse Racing Board approved the creation of the California Retirement Management Account. Under a plan backed by the Thoroughbred Owners of California, 0.3% of net purses will be deducted from owners’ accounts to fund CARMA. Owners have the option to decline the deduction.

TOC chairman Marsha Naify said that the new fund could be up and running by Del Mar’s meet, which starts in late July. “We’re going to educate our owners that this change is coming while we work out all the details,” she said.

TOC president Drew Couto estimated that $200,000 could be raised through the deduction each year if half the owners participate. More than 140 TOC members signed a petition in support of CARMA.

About 2,000 Thoroughbreds each year run their final race in California, Couto said. Most go on to second careers, usually in breeding. Others find homes as pets or become sport horses.

“We’re talking about those unwanted horses or horses unsuitable for a second career,” Couto said. “This fund will help those horses.”

About 300 horses currently make their homes at retirement farms in California, including 100 at Tranquility Farm in Tehachapi.

“The CARMA program is designed to serve the working class horse that really pulls the weight of the industry,” said Priscilla Clark, Tranquility Farm’s president. “Currently, we’re funded almost entirely by private philanthropy and fund raising.

“Could we do more? Absolutely,” she added. “This creates the infrastructure that could take care of some of the problem. If we could increase the number of horses at our farm by 10 or 15 percent, we would have a very positive impact on the problem.”

CHRB commissioner John Amerman serves on the farm’s board of directors. Although $200,000 is far from enough money to support all of California’s retired Thoroughbreds, he thought CARMA could help.

“This is the right thing to do,” Amerman said. “It makes sense for the Thoroughbred industry in California.”

Added chairman Richard Shapiro, “We owe it to the horses.”

During a 45-day comment period, opponents to the plan said they would rather have an option to sign up than opt out. Some owners said trainers and jockeys should also contribute a share of the purse.

Vice chairman John Harris, who said about 4 or 5% of his horses’ purse money supports his farm’s retirees, noted that he preferred an opt-in plan at a higher rate so more money could be raised. “If owners are already supporting their horses, they shouldn’t have to pay twice,” he said. “Conceptually, I like the idea, but I’d rather it be an opt-in (plan) and more than 0.3 percent.”

Shapiro countered, “We need to start here and grow from here. I’m afraid we’ll never get started if we don’t get this off the ground.”

The proposal passed 4-2 with commissioners Harris and John Andreini dissenting.

In other business, the CHRB approved increases in basic riding fees, mandated by recent state legislation. The increase adds $10 to minimum fees on a scale based on gross purses. On a losing mount, a jockey would earn a minimum of $43 in the state’s lowest level claiming events (under $2,000). In races with purses of $100,000 or more, the new minimum fee will be $115.

Also, the board formally approved the formation of the California Jockeys Welfare Corporation, a non-profit corporation that will handle insurance for the state’s riders. Working with the TOC, the jockeys formed a non-profit corporation instead of the originally proposed trust outlined at the CHRB’s November meeting.

“It’s imperative that we get this in place so there’s no lapse in coverage,” Shapiro said. “California owes a debt of gratitude to all who worked on this, particularly (retired jockey) Ron Warren. This is a great achievement.”

The insurance corporation will be funded by uncashed pari-mutuel tickets, about $1 million a year.

“This is a great benefit to our riders,” Harris said. “In addition to workers’ compensation (coverage), this shows California is the best place for a jockey to ride.”

The CHRB bypassed a year-end tradition and declined to elect a new chairman and co-chair for 2008. Instead, Shapiro and Harris will continue to serve in their respective roles.

“There’s nothing in the rules that says we have to elect a new chairman every year,” Shapiro said, “so we’re sticking with what we’ve got for now.”

Shapiro’s term expires in July. Harris recently was reappointed to a new four-year term.

This was the final meeting for CHRB executive director Ingrid Fermin, whose resignation is effective Jan. 7. “I’m very comfortable with it,” she said of her decision to leave her position after three years.

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