By Daniel Ross
The June California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) meeting put to bed a problem that has been brewing for a few months in the North of California.
Due to the fallout from COVID-19, and the ongoing issues surrounding stabling and staff accommodation in the north of California, commissioners voted to switch the three-week State Fair–scheduled to run July 14 to Aug. 3 at Cal Expo–to Pleasanton to be run over a shortened window: July 14 through July 20.
Golden Gate Fields has also been allocated an additional two weeks of racing, to be run from July 21 to Aug. 3, with no residual compensation to the State Fair. Golden Gate will now remain open for training and stabling throughout the summer.
Fire plans at San Luis Rey Downs
Back in December of 2017, 46 horses died in the wildfire that engulfed the San Luis Rey Downs training facility.
In the aftermath of the fire, the Stronach Group (TSG), which owns the training center, built new barns kitted out with automatic sprinkler systems and a fire bell.
In order to issue a fire clearance, CHRB mandated TSG to retrofit the existing historic barns with similar sprinkler systems and fire alarms by July 31 of this year.
According to TSG, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a spanner in these works, the contractors responsible for the work either shut down or else short staffed, along with a shortage in necessary supplies.
According to Santa Anita Park general manager, Nate Newby, there are nine or 10 historic barns left to finish, plus additional buildings.
As such, TSG asked for an extension to the deadline, giving them until Jan. 31, 2022, to finish fitting out the historic barns, and until April 30, 2022, to complete the entire project.
Some of the commissioners voiced reservations about granting the extension without conditions attached.
“I'm a little concerned by this, as it's gone on so long,” said CHRB chair Dr. Greg Ferraro.
In the end, the board denied the extension on recommendation of revisiting the issue next month.
In the meantime, TSG must submit to the CHRB a detailed weekly work plan by the end of the month. Ferraro also mentioned that any extension would be incumbent upon TSG providing a progress report, possibly in September.
Fantasy Sports Wagering
One of the items opened a window into the future of wagering in the state. It concerns an intent by the California Association of Racing Fairs (CARF) to start offering fantasy sports wagering at licensed betting locations. At least 19 such facilities are slated to start offering the product, Golden State Fantasy Sports, this summer, barring any legal challenge in the interim.
Golden State Fantasy Sports is described as a “compliment” to the pari-mutuel industry, “and can be integrated into operators' existing infrastructure and tote system.”
Board members and CHRB staff expressed a variety of concerns surrounding these plans, however, many of which revolved around the issue of legality and regulatory oversight.
“It's unclear who would regulate this particular activity, if anyone,” said CHRB executive director, Scott Chaney.
As such, one of the issues raised revolved around the fact that CHRB-licensed pari-mutuel clerks would be the ones processing the bets. Another is that fantasy sports betting might “cannibalize” some of the wagering revenue intended for racing.
Ferraro also questioned how this development might potentially impact any pending legislation concerning legalized sports betting at licensed racetracks.
Chaney said that it's “unclear” how this might affect any such future legislation, and added that the next likely state-wide movement on sports betting would be through referendum.
All this aside, commissioners were largely in favor of the plans, adopting what is best described as a wait-and-see stance.