Moger, LaRoche, and Taboada Resign from TOC

Golden Gate Fields | Shane Micheli/Vassar Photography

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Three directors of the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) have resigned from their positions in protest of the board's co-signature on a proposal to the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) that would concretize racing operations in South California at the expense, they say, of a potential viable racing circuit in the North.

The former directors also claim the proposal was submitted without their prior knowledge.

“On January 5th a letter from the TOC and the Southern California racetrack operators was sent to the CHRB requesting the allocation of race dates for late 2024 and 2025. Of course, these race date allocations would pre-empt the opportunity for a racing circuit in the North. The key point here is that this letter was written without our knowledge and despite the fact that the entire board met two days prior,” write Lindsay LaRoche, Johnny Taboada and Ed Moger in a letter to the TOC dated Jan. 12.

“By no means are these the only times the interests of Northern California members have been ignored or subjugated by TOC leadership,” the letter adds. “It is clear to us that the current leadership is not being transparent and not working to represent the entire state of California.”

The resignations come at a fraught time for the California racing industry as it attempts to piece together a revised racing framework in the wake of Golden Gate's impending closure in June and amid declining economic benchmarks.

With the clock ticking, complicating matters is how the California Association of Racing Fairs (CARF) has yet to publicly submit a proposal as to a potential Northern racing circuit beyond its annual fair dates. This year's fair schedule is currently set to close out with a fall fair meet at Fresno from Oct. 2 through the 13.

According to TOC president and CEO, Bill Nader, the board members were indeed informed during its meeting earlier this month that the organization would be submitting a letter to the CHRB ahead of its Thursday board meeting, outlining plans for consolidated racing operations in the South as a contingency “in the event the North does not put forward a viable plan that gains CHRB approval.”

“As far as the details in the packet, I wanted that included for transparency so that everyone had a chance to look at it before the meeting commenced–it's a lot to take in on the spot,” said Nader.

In a joint submission to the CHRB, the TOC, Los Alamitos chairman and CEO Ed Allred, I/ST Racing and Gaming CEO Aidan Butler, and Del Mar president and COO Josh Rubinstein ask the regulator to allocate race dates for the last 14 weeks of 2024 and for 2025 with operations concentrated in the South–beyond the Northern fair meets–citing the tough economics of currently maintaining twin North-South racing circuits.

The submission outlines a set of proposals, including a possible legislative change to permit Los Alamitos to card night Thoroughbred races beyond 4 1/2 furlongs for $5,000 claimers and below, and $8,000 maiden claimers.

Los Alamitos vice president Jack Liebau recently told the TDN that a legislative fix to go into immediate effect–as opposed to the start of January 2025, like most bills passed this year–needs an “urgency clause” requiring a two-thirds vote by the legislature.

Nader said that no decision will be made during this Thursday's CHRB meeting about race-date allocations.

“I personally do not see this discussion on the 18th being contentious,” said Nader, about the upcoming CHRB meeting. “I think it's just stating the facts and opening eyes to where we've been in the last 20 years, where we are now, and where we're going. No decisions will be made–it's only background.”

Nader also said that at the behest of the TOC, track management at Del Mar, Santa Anita and Los Alamitos had pushed back the deadline for the allocation of race-dates–from what would have required an “emergency” CHRB meeting in February to the regular CHRB meeting in March.

“At our board meeting [earlier in January], all three tracks had the opportunity to be present and speak at the beginning of the meeting. We did speak to them and we did get them to relax their position, to say that they were willing to wait until the 21st of March, at the March CHRB meeting,” said Nader, who added that CARF executive director, Larry Swartzlander, declined an offer to attend the TOC meeting.

“So, we were being responsive and respectful to the North,” Nader said. “It's been six months, we still haven't seen a plan [from CARF]. There are people all through the state getting very anxious.”

In their resignation letter, the three former TOC directors also claim TOC leadership “does not represent the interests of Northern California owners,” highlighting the recently announced 25% cut in purses at Golden Gate Fields–a result of a $3-million deficit in the track's purse account.

“Recently, the Northern California Racing Committee unanimously voted to oppose the purse agreement proposal from 1/ST Racing for the final Golden Gate Fields race meets,” the letter states.

“The result of this vote was not deemed important enough by TOC leadership to effect the TOC's approval of the cuts or even to be presented to the TOC Board as a whole for a vote,” the letter adds.

“There are emails and board minutes that would suggest otherwise,” said Nader, when asked about these claims. He added in a follow-up text that the TOC “did discuss the GGF purse cuts” at the January Board Meeting.

“It's a struggle, North and South. It's just a difficult time,” Nader added. “I'm not being critical of anyone. It's just the environment we're in right now. Everybody's just a little teed up–it's unfortunate.”

Efforts to consolidate racing operations in the South were given a major fillip in September of last year, when California lawmakers passed legislation that means if Golden Gate Fields is not licensed to operate beyond July 1 this year, proceeds from simulcast wagering in the north are funnelled south when there is no live racing in the northern half of the state after that date.

Moger did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.

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