Amid the possible conflict of interest charges circling the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), commissioner Dennis Alfieri has surrendered his owner's license, and will no longer race horses he owns in California, he told the TDN.
“I'm listening to the governor loud and clear,” said Alfieri, pointing to comments California governor Gavin Newsom made to The New York Times, that the CHRB was “pulling away from those with direct conflicts” towards what he believes is more objective oversight of the industry in the state.
“He appointed me, in the interests of full transparency. I'm feeling it's critical at this time that we don't need, or even appear to even have, actual conflicts of interest. I'm stepping right up,” Alfieri said, adding that governor Newsom didn't explicitly call for the commissioners to relinquish their licenses.
“I'm the one that initiated it. I called [CHRB executive director] Rick Baedeker, and said I was going to do it, period. We're here in a challenging time right now. It's not business as usual–we need to do all we can to ensure the welfare and safety of the horses and the riders, and [that] the well-being of horse racing continues.”
Alfieri said that on Wednesday, he sold the interest he had in Saddle Bar, a 3-year-old gelding trained by Bob Hess, back to one of the other partners. “Just yesterday, I went into the racing secretary and signed a bill of sale,” he said. The son of Tapizar won at Del Mar over the summer. Alfieri, who said that he has held his license since 1997, describes owning “just pieces” of horses over the years. His list of trainers includes Bob Baffert, Bruce and Gus Headley, and Michael Ann Ewing.
This action comes at a time when the CHRB is under tough scrutiny over potential conflict of interest charges leveled towards some of the commissioners.
A recent Times article concerning the saga surrounding Triple Crown winner Justify's scopolamine positive made note of the ownership interests that former CHRB chairman Chuck Winner had with horses trained by Bob Baffert, who conditioned Justify. The same article also mentioned how Alfieri and the board's vice chairwoman, Madeline Auerbach, similarly employ trainers and jockeys in California.
CHRB commissioners, however, are not prohibited from actively participating in the sport as owners, according to California law. Indeed, other commissioners have routinely done so, including George Krikorian, who owned horses in partnership with Los Alamitos owner Ed “Doc” Allred. Commissioner Alex Solis rode competitively while serving on the board until his retirement from the saddle in November of 2017.
When asked whether he thought there needed to be a change in the law to explicitly prohibit these working relationships between commissioners and the parties they regulate, Alfieri replied that it's a matter for the legislature, and that “common sense” should prevail.
“The intent originally was they wanted people who were knowledgeable and understood horse racing–that was the reason for it,” he said. “Over the years, there have been tremendous people on that commission that have been really involved in horse racing, to the degree of [owner] Jerry Moss, and who understand all aspects of it.”