Accord (Mostly) on 2019 California Race Dates

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By T. D. Thornton

In a pair of unanimous 5-0 votes at Thursday’s monthly meeting, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) solidified the 2019 race dates calendars for both the southern and northern circuits in the state.

Although the dates templates are not radically different from previous seasons, the most noticeable change was that the highly contentious, drawn-out annual squabbling among tracks and fairs venues in Northern California was averted because those associations came together earlier this week to present a mostly unified calendar before the CHRB had to impose its own version of compromise dates.

The allocation of Southern California dates has not been a problem in recent years because those entities are in the third year of a three-year negotiated “rollover” agreement that calls for a more-or-less static calendar to be approved on an annual basis by the board.

“This is what we ask every year,” said CHRB chairman Chuck Winner. “We ask Northern California to do something similar to Southern California in trying to work out the dates agreements and the stabling agreements amongst themselves so it doesn’t have to be done by regulators. It’s far better if the stakeholders do it themselves. I know everybody had to sacrifice–and I know everybody did–to make this come together.”

The northern tracks were not entirely unified. Jim Morgan, an attorney representing Humboldt County Fair at Ferndale, which for 2018 had been granted a non-overlapping race week without competition from Golden Gate Fields, expressed dismay that Ferndale in 2019 would have to revert to racing head-to-head against a commercial track, plus no access to revenue from having host-track status.

Morgan noted that in the absence of an overlap for one week this summer, Ferndale had more horses on its grounds, had an uptick in on-track attendance, “and our handle was through the roof,” posting a 125% overall gain.

Beyond those numbers, Morgan also said that the fairgrounds has upgraded its stables over the past year, installed a new inner rail, “and for the second year in a row we had no breakdowns on our improved track.”

Commissioner Madeline Auerbach took an opposing view in explaining why the CHRB needed to give commercial licensees precedence over the fairs tracks when it comes to dates allocations and other potential subsidies.

“When we talk about Golden Gate Fields, we’re talking about people who are in the business of racing. That is their business,” Auerbach said. “They don’t have fairs going on. One of the items that disturbed me was the notion that it was the responsibility of Golden Gate Fields to provide ongoing support to keep the fairs whole, and I’ll tell you why: because the fairs are an adjunct to racing, not vice versa.”

Auerbach continued: “Our job is to protect racing in this state, and while we love the fairs and want to see them do well…it is not our job to have a situation where we direct [a commercial track] to put money into the fairs circuit. And I just want to make it clear that the notion that, ‘Oh my gosh, look how much money Golden Gate made, and therefore you’re not treating us fairly,’ is not, in my view, a proper way” to bring about change in dates allocations.

“Golden Gate is a concern whose business is racing,” Auerbach summed up. “And the fairs, you also take racing seriously, and we appreciate and understand that. But to make determinations based first on what’s good for the fairs is not necessarily what’s good for racing.”

Morgan countered that the CHRB also has a mandate to support racing everywhere in the state, not just at commercial venues.

“If we keep that dangerous precedent, then only Golden Gate Fields, Santa Anita and Del Mar will be left,” Morgan said. “And although that may ultimately happen, I think it’s a disservice to communities such as Humboldt and the other fair communities.”

Auerbach pointed out to Morgan that last year, when the CHRB established its 2018 calendar with no overlap against Ferndale for one week, board members had underscored that such a scenario was a one-year deal that should not be considered binding for future years.

“We’re trying very hard to balance everybody’s concerns,” Auerbach said. “We know how vital it is to the fairs that Golden Gate be healthy. Because without a healthy Golden Gate, we don’t have a fairs circuit.”

Commissioner Fred Maas declared that the entire NorCal dates-awarding process was “an imperfect situation” in which all negotiating tracks “accepted three-quarters of a loaf” to align in a workable agreement. “It was a reasonably elegant solution in which everyone got as much of the loaf as could have been expected,” he said.

The 2019 SoCal schedule (in blocks of dates, not actual race days) will be as follows:

Santa Anita: Dec. 26, 2018-June 25, 2019

Los Alamitos: June 26-July 16

Del Mar: July 17-Sep. 3

Los Alamitos: Sep. 4-24

Santa Anita: Sep. 25-Nov. 5

Del Mar: Nov. 6-Dec. 3

Los Alamitos: Dec. 4-Dec. 17

The 2019 NorCal schedule will be as follows:

Golden Gate: Dec. 26, 2018-June 9, 2019

Pleasanton: June 13-July 7

Sacramento (Cal Expo): July 12-28

Santa Rosa: Aug. 1-11

GGF: Aug. 15-Sep. 29

Ferndale: Aug. 16-25

Fresno: Oct. 4-14

GGF: Oct. 17-Dec. 14

New Joint Injection and Gelding Rules Now in Effect in California

Separate rules involving intra-articular injections and the reporting of gelded horses went into effect Thursday following two unanimous votes by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) at its scheduled monthly meeting.

In a summary of the full rule as posted on the Sept. 27 agenda, an amendment to CHRB Rule 1588 (Horse Ineligible to Start in a Race) now states that “a horse that receives an intra-articular injection (glucocorticosteriod/cortisone) is ineligible to race for five (5) days (120 hours) after the treatment.”

In addition, a summary of CHRB Rule 1842.1 (Additional Report for Intra-Articular Treatments) states that “veterinarians administering medication or treatment into an articular structure of a horse located within the inclosure to provide an intra-articular treatment record to the trainer who shall maintain the records for a period of one year, and make the records available to the examining veterinarian for the purpose of assisting with pre-race veterinary examinations and other examinations as required by the Board.”

Regarding geldings, a summary of CHRB Rule 1865 (Altering of Sex of Horse) now requires that “if the public is not notified of the true of sex of the horse prior to the opening of wagering, the stewards shall declare the horse from the race.”

The CHRB has been dealing with the issue of unannounced and/or unreported geldings for several years now. The previous version of this rule, last amended in 2017, stated that any trainer who failed to report to the racing office the gelding of a horse be fined a mandatory minimum of $1,000.

However, a loophole existed whereby the trainer might report the gelding properly, but racing officials, for whatever reason, might fail to communicate this change to the public, thus depriving them of pertinent betting information.

In April, when this issue first came up for a preliminary vote, the CHRB clarified that the new version of the rule wouldn’t apply to first-time starters (because first-timers have no established statistical form that could be affected).

Although the previous $1,000 fine has been amended out of the new version, a new amendment states that “the responsible party may be sanctioned by the stewards.”

There was no discussion by the CHRB prior to voting on either issue, although both rule changes had been substantially debated at previous meetings.

The new rules, in their entirety, can be viewed here.

Final Odds Within 5 Seconds a No-go? CHRB Says ‘Figure it Out’

In an effort to quell perceptions of past-posting, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) wants final odds to be displayed on all race video feeds within five seconds after the close of betting.

But David Payton, the vice president of sales for AmTote International, testified at Thursday’s monthly CHRB meeting that even though his firm is endeavoring to slice down the amount of time so that odds aren’t changing as the horses storm into the stretch, five seconds just isn’t feasible.

In response, CHRB members–given the volume of complaints they receive about odds dropping on a winning horse just before the finish–essentially told the tote company and racetracks to find a way to do it anyway.

By a 5-0 unanimous vote, they advanced a new rule to a 45-day public comment period requiring that the technology be figured out and implemented to report final odds with five seconds.

But in discussing the matter, CHRB members also acknowledged they are willing to listen to arguments about the practical limitations of their proposal.

Because of the way California’s 45-day public-comment law usually works, it is often the case that many CHRB initiatives often take months to go from proposal to official rule. So the CHRB left open the possibility that they could amend the five-second mandate if stakeholders demonstrate they are making a good-faith effort to help cut down the delays.

Payton said over the last few months, AmTote has been trying to find the “optimum time” frames for displaying odds changes, experimenting with different cycles at New York and Maryland tracks.

Traditionally, Payton said, the AmTote system updates odds every 30-60 seconds until the final three minutes to post, when the system then switches to 20-second tote board refreshings.

Recently, AmTote has cut those final-three-minutes odds updates to once every 10 seconds, and he said the switch has made a “tremendous difference” that’s “smoothed out the changes in the increments of the odds so you don’t see as much of an impact.”

And at Santa Anita’s meet that begins Friday, Payton said the odds updates within the final three minutes of a race will experiment with refreshing every seven seconds.

But even that progress, he added, might not carry over into five-second final odds transmissions.

“We still have to wait for the final odds for all the money to come in,” Payton said. “So five seconds after the bell won’t be practical, because we have to wait for ‘double hops’ and whatnot. There’s technology out there that slows us down from actually getting the ‘final final.’ But that money has been proven to be a very, very small amount of handle. So the odds won’t change from any dramatic way that we’ve seen.”

Payton continued: “We would suggest that a 10-second number would be appropriate in intermediate cycles at three minutes to post. But I wouldn’t put a hard number on the actual final [odds]. Five seconds on the final just wouldn’t work.”

CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker countered by stating, “You can explain all the double hops in the world to the customer, but they saw what they saw,” when it comes to odds still changing on TV screens while a race is in progress.

An additional problem, Baedeker said, is that tote companies might be able to eventually deliver final odds within five seconds after a race goes off, but that time frame gets additionally delayed because a track’s TV graphics software still has to translate the data into what gets shown on the broadcast.

“So you might get that [tote] delay down as close as you can get it. But unless that [TV graphics] delay is also fixed, we’re still going to have the problem,” Baedeker said.

Elizabeth Morey, the director of racing and Northern California operations for the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said her group did not support the proposed rule “because the technology is not available to meet its target, and we believe it will have a serious [negative] impact on handle.”

But, Baedeker said, “There are ways to meet the time frame. Such as: betting stops with the first nose into the gate.”

Baedeker added that stakeholders often “panic” when proposals get floated to cut off betting earlier out of fears that odds-conscious customers won’t like it. But in all practicality, he said, players don’t respect traditional “one minute to post” warnings anyway because of blatant post-time “drag” delays that have become the norm at many tracks nationwide.

“One suggestion is to have a countdown clock–30 seconds left, or whatever–and then the big players can get their bets in on time,” Baedeker said. “In that event, there’s no doubt that all of the odds would be posted probably as the horses broke, or maybe even before they broke.”

 

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