By T. D. Thornton
As the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) begins the planning process for crafting 2022 race dates on both the Southern and Northern circuits, it appears as if there is some consensus for including a one-week break with no racing, although no exact time frame for any proposed hiatus has been publicly identified.
At Wednesday's monthly meeting, CHRB vice chair Oscar Gonzales updated the full board on the two-hour dates subcommittee teleconference that took place Tuesday and included representatives from tracks and horsemen's groups.
“We obviously didn't take a vote on any ideas or measures, although I felt that the groundwork was laid for the 2022 race dates,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said to expect “mostly what we've seen over the last year or two in terms of dates layout. One of the issues that the board will be having to take up as we look to solidify that calendar will be the idea of a break, a week in which there will be no racing. That was communicated for a variety of reasons.”
Gonzales said that he wants “to make sure that any kind of a break does not happen arbitrarily, but rather with the full understanding of the impact” the time off will have on workers,” both backside and frontside.
To that end, CHRB executive director Scott Chaney said that the concept of breaks generated robust discussion among stakeholders and subcommittee members, including “whether they are effective, what they are for, and whether they should be mandated or association-determined.”
Gonzales also cautioned that the CHRB's planning for 2022 will still have to be mindful of potential COVID-19 contingencies as the global pandemic nears its 18-month mark with no definite signs of abatement.
Gonzales said it's imperative to note that “until we get the all-clear signal…we will be continuing to operate under the emergency rules and the guidelines handed down by the counties and the state.”
Sept. at Los Al Greenlighted
Race dates in California are doled out in blocks for an upcoming year, then the actual applications get approved by the CHRB as each track's race meet approaches.
Thus, the September Thoroughbred meet at Los Alamitos Race Course was approved unanimously by the CHRB at the Aug. 18 meeting.
But it was only nine months ago when debate raged within the CHRB over the course of two separate meetings about whether Los Al was a safe enough track to merit the granting of a year-round Quarter Horse license, as has been routine.
Amid concerns that Los Al wasn't doing enough to mitigate the 29 equine deaths that occurred at the track in 2020, the CHRB in December 2020 voted 5-1 to only grant the track a six-month license.
In the immediate aftermath of that controversial vote, Los Al owner Ed Allred had threatened to close his Quarter Horse track and develop the property for a purpose other than racing, which would also affect the Thoroughbred meets that Los Al hosts in June/July, September and December.
One month later, in January 2021, the CHRB took up the issue again, re-voting 4-3 to grant Los Al its customary full-year Quarter Horse license.
Even though that Quarter Horse license is separate from the Thoroughbred meet that got approved for Los Al on Wednesday, safety still percolated to the top of discussion, with Gonzales wanting to make it known that he now believes Los Al has worked diligently to make improvements.
“I have been part of the commissioners that really have raised the bar on Los Alamitos,” Gonzales said. “And I have seen what I would describe as improvement and the right commitment of leadership, resources and time on the part of Los Alamitos. If I were to ask a direct question about, 'Is Los Alamitos doing better than it has in the past?' I am very, very confident that the answer would be yes.
“Is there room for improvement? Always,” Gonzales continued. “That applies to not just California racing, but across the country. I just want to see continued improvement by the leadership of Los Alamitos. I believe that they have made all of the adjustments and honored the requests of this board. And again, I have gone on record as being among the toughest [safety critics]. But I also want to acknowledge leadership when I see it. And I have seen that effort being made.”
CHRB Chairman Gregory Ferraro, DVM, said that he would endorse what the vice chairman said.
The two commissioners haven't always been in agreement on how to handle Los Al's licensure.
Back in December 2020, Ferraro had been the lone dissenting board member in that 5-1 vote to issue only a six-month license. He said at the time that granting only a half-year license made no sense considering the CHRB has the power to halt any California track's Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred racing at any time over safety issues.
Gonzales, by contrast, had pushed hard for the six-month license and had said back in January that Los Al's safety needed to be more closely monitored.