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CHRB grants conditional approvals for Santa Anita, Golden Gate meets

Friday, November 17th, 2017

The California Horse Racing Board on Thursday granted conditional approvals to racing applications for upcoming meets at Santa Anita Park in Southern California and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, with the approvals ostensibly contingent on the tracks reaching agreements with horsemen by the beginning of December.

The board voted unanimously to approve the applications after first attaching identical amendments to the separate motions that required the tracks to reach agreements with the state’s horsemen’s representative, the Thoroughbred Owners of California, prior to Dec. 1. However, another amendment also gave the CHRB’s chairman, Chuck Winner, the power to amend those conditions at any time, meaning that the deadline for an agreement could be extended deeper into December.

Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields both are scheduled to begin the meetings covered by the approvals on Dec. 26. Both tracks are owned by The Stronach Group, the privately held racing company founded by owner and breeder Frank Stronach.

Officials for the Stronach Group and the TOC told commissioners that there were significant issues holding up an agreement between the two. Scott Daruty, a representative of The Stronach Group, specifically mentioned the status of a purse overpayment at Santa Anita, while Greg Avioli, the president of the TOC, said that there were a variety of issues affecting the negotiations, including a proposal submitted by The Stronach Group in the past 24 hours regarding new wagers that are planned by the tracks at the upcoming meets.

“There’s not a ton outstanding,” Avioli said, “but they are important matters.”

Avioli had urged the CHRB to delay the approval of the applications until its December meeting, but Winner pointed out that the December meeting is often sparsely attended in suggesting that the commission act on Thursday, even if the approvals meant attaching conditions to the licenses.

Racetracks and horsemen’s groups across the country frequently spar over issues related to racing meets, and the agreements between the two sides are often not resolved until weeks or days prior to a meet opening. However, California’s racing constituencies often have more heated disputes, in large part due to longstanding problems that have proved difficult to resolve.

The applications included proposals to add a late pick five to the cards at both tracks, but the new pick five would have a takeout rate of 23.68 percent, Daruty said after the meeting, compared with the takeout rate of 14 percent for the early pick five. When asked why the company decided to offer two identical bets with different takeout rates on the same card, Daruty said that The Stronach Group lowered the takeout rate on the early pick five by giving up its share of the revenue on the bet, and that the track was not willing to offer the same low takeout without horsemen also taking a revenue cut on the new bet.

The CHRB also approved an account-wagering license for the company Game Play Network, which operates a mobile wagering application that allows account-holders to place wagers that pay off based on the results of horse races, even if the bettor is not aware of the horse races being used to determine the calculation of the payoff.

Company officials, which include former executives of Youbet.com, an account-wagering company that was purchased by Churchill Downs Inc. in 2009 and folded into its own account-wagering operation, said that the wagers made by its customers are placed into live pari-mutuel pools. The executives told the commission that the application was designed to appeal to “casual players” who might not be interested in learning the intricacies of handicapping horse races.

Also at the meeting, the CHRB approved a rule that will apply its current restrictions on whip use during races to training hours. Under that rule, riders must give a horse the “opportunity to respond” after using the whip three consecutive times on a horse. In addition, the CHRB assigned an additional week of live racing to Cal Expo on the state’s fair circuit, amending the circuit’s calendar after Santa Rosa gave up a week assigned to it earlier this year.

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