By T. D. Thornton
The California Horse Racing Board advanced several proposed rule changes Thursday that had been snagged at past meetings by semantics and wording, then spent time listening to updates and debating the merits of longer-range initiatives and potential problems facing the state’s racing industry.
Voting advanced the establishment of standards for post-mortem examination reviews, revised penalties for medication violations and made safety vests a requirement for all on-track personnel. The “yes” voting on each of these issues triggered 45-day public commentary periods that are mandatory in California before the initiatives can be adopted in full by the CHRB.
Longer-term items that were discussed, but not voted upon, included an update on the CHRB’s microchip pilot program, ongoing work to standardize dirt, turf and synthetic track maintenance protocols across the state, and ways that California could engage outside entities to help study and possibly establish optimal bet takeout rates.
At its September meeting, the board had tried to adopt a rule (1846.6) that would require a post-mortem examination review of each equine fatality on CHRB-regulated property. But there was ambiguity over whether the results of such reviews would be strictly limited to the rule’s intended “education and research purposes only,” even if the review uncovered alleged rules violations that would require commission-level discipline.
“I think we had a specific issue here, and that was to keep [post-mortem exams] as separate as possible from investigations,” commissioner Jesse Choper said, noting that the language in the proposal has since been tightened to address last month’s concerns. He then moved the item to a vote, which passed unanimously.
The CHRB also unanimously approved a proposed amendment to rule 1843.3, which covers penalties for medication violations.
The notable changes to this rule include: 1) The elimination of category D penalties for phenylbutazone violations; 2) Medication violations that occur within a specified time period will now count as either a prior offense or an aggravating factor when penalties of subsequent violations are being considered; 3) Trainers whose suspensions are for more than 30 days will be prohibited from transferring their horses to a licensee who has been their employee within the previous year (with the aim of eliminating “puppet” trainers who might still be taking orders from the suspended trainer).
A 17-minute debate over semantics ensued when the CHRB tried to revisit a safety rule it had previously passed that was rejected by the California Office of Administrative Law. Jockeys and exercise riders are already required to wear safety vets while on track, but the CHRB had earlier attempted to include “pony riders” in that group as well.
After debate over whether the new wording should also pertain to other stable personnel on horseback–and a side argument over whether anyone “leading” or “handling” a horse while on the ground might also be required to wear a vest–the board finally passed simplified language that reads: “Any person licensed by the board, mounted on a horse, on a track of a racing association, racing fair, or authorized training facility shall wear a safety vest.”
A report from the CHRB’s Pari-Mutuel, ADW, Satellite and Simulcast Committee noted that a Wednesday committee discussion about commissioning an in-depth study on optimal takeout rates has already yielded a step forward from an industry stakeholder: Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said he has already started contacting university-level business and economics educators about their participation in such analysis.
“I think if we could put together a working group, I believe that CTT would certainly make a contribution toward this,” Balch said. “And I think that we need to try to raise the necessary funding to do this properly.”
The simulcast committee discussion about takeout rates morphed into a separate agenda item reporting on the competition racing is facing from unregulated fantasy sports contests.
In this area, the emphasis of the CHRB conversation mirrored the industry’s overall “late to the party” tone about the subject, with several CHRB members postulating why racing isn’t doing more to increase print newspaper coverage that might draw new fans to the sport.
The CHRB also made one appointment Thursday: Darrel McHargue, who won the Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey in 1978 and has worked as a California steward since 1990, was assigned to the newly created position of chief steward by the CHRB. Starting Dec. 26, his primary responsibility will be the daily supervision of all CHRB stewards.