California leaves ARCI, cites ‘conflict’ in direction

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: June 24, 2019

The California Horse Racing Board, whose chairman said participating in the Association of Racing Commissioners International represents a “conflict,” voted June 20 to leave the regulatory umbrella organization of which it has been a member since 1994.

The quorum vote was 4-0. The only CHRB member to speak before the vote was Chairman Chuck Winner.

CHRB Executive Director Rick Baedeker went through a list of reasons he said led staff to suggest the regulatory agency discuss its $27,000-a-year membership in ARCI. They include various rule changes or proposed rule changes that came about in the wake of more than 20 catastrophic injuries in a three-month period at Santa Anita Park; an ARCI bylaws change that took away an automatic board seat for California; and ARCI’s association with Greyhound racing, which Winner said the CHRB opposes.

“It has been an effective organization in promulgating model rules,” Baedeker said of ARCI. “But things have changed a little bit—and racing in California has changed dramatically. We have moved rapidly and arguably in a different direction than the current ARCI.”

ARCI President Ed Martin, who said he heard about the planned CHRB vote from a reporter, spoke for several minutes in advance of the vote. He noted that a bylaws change—it wasn’t ideal and will be revisited, he said—now bases automatic seats on number of racing dates; West Virginia, which has two year-round dog tracks and close to 300 Thoroughbred race dates a year, took California’s spot, and Florida took New Jersey’s automatic seat.

Martin said there will be further discussion about automatic seats and the board makeup in general. ARCI’s next board meeting is scheduled for early August in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

As for the Greyhound racing issue, Martin said “there is no greater emphasis placed on (dog racing)” under the new structure. Like Standardbred racing, it has been part of ARCI for decades, and is governed by its own set of regulations that have no impact on Thoroughbred racing or harness racing.

A staff analysis in the June 20 meeting packet oddly claimed ARCI leadership “disagrees that racing has a medication problem and has consistently supported the use of Lasix. Both are increasingly in conflict with the CHRB’s recent actions and stated position on the use of the medication.”

Martin said it’s “nonsense” to claim ARCI doesn’t believe there is a mediation problem, including with overuse of legal therapeutic medications. “No one denies the problem,” he said. “If so, we wouldn’t spend so much time on it.”

As for use of race-day Lasix, Martin noted the issue came up in 2011, was re-examined after scientific study, and the ARCI board voted not to change the policy. He said California is welcome to submit a model rule proposal, as are all ARCI members.

“We view model rules as living documents,” Martin said. “We do not have a political agenda. We get it right a lot of times, but sometimes we don’t. All of us must collectively do better. There is more common ground than not. I would urge the CHRB to take a more active role in ARCI and propose things )like other jurisdictions have).”

Winner dismissed Martin’s comments and suggested the CHRB would have the option to rejoin “if ARCI catches up” with California.

Thoroughbred owner Susan Branch, the only other person to speak on the issue, questioned why leaving ARCI was even being considered.

“Why would we want to get out of an organization just because we’re not in full agreement with everything?” she asked the board, noting that numerous groups have called for uniformity and cohesion. “Can’t our role be to lead in a group? I don’t see that as a conflict.”