Since everything else in California racing appears to be under siege, why not the organization that has represented owners since 1993?
A newly formed group, the California Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, plans to challenge the role Thoroughbred Owners of California occupies as the official representative of owners in the state. CTHA's goal — according to attorney Roger Licht, an owner and one-time chairman of the California Horse Racing Board who is one of 10 founders of the new group – is to convince the TOC to permit more owner-trainers to sit on that organization's board, a move the TOC board unanimously rejected last year. Currently, only three of the 15 TOC board members may be classified as owner-trainers.
Licht, a close associate and confidant of powerful California owner Martin Wygod, said CTHA is asking for the TOC board put the issue to a vote of its membership to determine if they support increased representation by owner-trainers.
If TOC doesn't bend, Licht said, the CTHA will seek to decertify the TOC as the representative group of owners in California. To do so, CTHA will have to petition the CHRB with verified signatures of at least 10% of all TOC members, or just over 900 signatures (in last year's TOC board election, there were 8,747 owner ballots mailed and another 350 ballots mailed to owner-trainers). If CTHA gets the required signatures, an election will be held with a simple majority of those who vote determining whether or not the TOC would be decertified.
TOC members are not the most politically active group. In the 2010 board election, just over 8% of TOC members voted.
CTHA feels TOC has not properly represented the best interests of horsemen.
In a press release, the CTHA said TOC has made a number of decisions that have led to a decline in California racing, including:
– “fail to disclose the receipt of in excess of $1 million from NTRA”;
– “refuse a unique opportunity to secure concessions from the Indians, when the Indians were seeking renew of their compacts”;
– “spend in excess of $1 million (of horsemen's money) in an effort to find a group seeking to purchase Santa Anita”;
– “hold all meetings behind closed doors”;
– “disenfranchise owner/trainers”;
– “condone and encourage wagers that result in handle declines”;
– “lack of support for Northern California racing”;
– “veto contractual opportunities with Australia”;
– “failure to respond to the horseplayers' boycott.”
Licht said the “whole thing” would just go away if TOC allowed more owner/trainers to sit on the board.
Why, as an owner, does Licht think trainers are better positioned to represent owners?
“I think they are more on top of the issues,” he said. “People like Jerry Hollendorfer and Doug O'Neill. And for TOC to exclude people in Northern California makes no sense at all.
“I'm not a subscriber to (malcontent and litigious owner Jerry) Jamgotchian's theory of criminal or unethical behavior (by TOC board members or staff),” Licht continued. “I just think there's been a series of bad decisions. I don't think anyone's profited personally.”
The other original principals of the new CTHA are: J.F. Errnenwein, Gloria Haley, Mike Harrington, Aase Headley, Henry Moreno, John Sadler, George Schmitt, Cory Wellman, and David Wilson.
Wellman ran in last year's TOC election, finishing fourth of five candidates representing Southern California. The top two in the voting were elected.
The California Thoroughbred Trainers, though not specifically mentioned in the CTHA press release, support reunification of owners and trainers in one organization with shared leadership. The TOC was formed in 1993 after a trainer-led boycott of entries at Hollywood Park because of their opposition to night racing. John Sadler is CTT president.
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