06/30/2002 11:00PM

Agreement averts entry-box boycott


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - An entry boycott that threatened to disrupt racing at Hollywood Park was averted on Sunday after trainers received assurances from track officials that revenue from pending legislation would be used to offset increases in workmen's compensation insurance.

On Saturday, trainers did not enter horses for Wednesday's program after expressing frustration that a morning backstretch meeting with racing officials, insurance executives, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California had not yielded any progress. A group of trainers later issued a statement urging racetracks and the TOC to use funds from the legislation to help offset workmen's compensation insurance costs.

On Sunday morning, with Wednesday's program in jeopardy because of the boycott of the entry box, Hollywood Park general manager Eual Wyatt Jr. spoke to trainers informally 90 minutes before a scheduled meeting about the issue, and told them that funds from the legislation would be used to pay for insurance costs. The formal meeting was then canceled and entries were taken for Wednesday and Thursday.

Ed Halpern, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said Hollywood Park officials had explained the track's position.

"They are committed to help and to use the funds to help," Halpern said.

Since March, trainers have faced higher workmen's compensation rates as private insurance companies have left the industry, forcing trainers to buy policies from the government-backed State Fund, which charges substantially higher rates. More than 300 trainers had purchased policies with State Fund in March, and a larger group had private policies expire on Sunday, forcing them to buy policies from State Fund.

With the fear that rising costs will drive people out of California racing, trainers and racing officials have been lobbying for legislation that would divert money from a marketing fund and the excess from the stabling and vanning fund for insurance use. They have also sought the creation of an industry-wide self-insurance policy that would cost less than the State Fund.

Legislation to remedy the problem has been introduced in Sacramento but has yet to reach the governor's desk. Racing officials said they expect no opposition.

"My goal is to get this to the governor by this month or early August," said John Van de Kamp, president of the TOC.

In recent months, racing officials have been working toward an industry-wide self-insurance policy with Peterson, McAnally, and Tabor, an insurance broker. Officials are hoping a plan can be developed in a month, which would be near the time the legislation could be signed.

"The insurance people have said we'll have something in place by then," Halpern said.

Hollywood Park president Rick Baedeker said that the legislation would give the track and horsemen up to $5 million annually that could be used to offset higher insurance costs. The stabling and vanning fund is generated by satellite betting handle and is used to pay for vanning horses between local tracks. Any excess money from the stabling and vanning fund is currently divided between the racetracks and the horsemen, who receive their share in purse money.

In the meantime, track officials said they will provide a $4 million line of credit to cover the revenue expected from the legislation. Baedeker said premiums could be reduced to pre-July 1 levels by money from the legislation and creation of the self-insurance policy, but some horsemen are hoping for a reduction to 2001 levels.

Despite Sunday's developments, many horsemen are frustrated that the issue remains unresolved.

"I know there are a lot of angry trainers, including myself," Christopher Paasch said. "I'm watching our business disintegrate."

Some trainers said they were upset that the leaders of the Thoroughbred Owners of California did not speak out in favor of aiding the trainers at Saturday's meeting, but Van de Kamp defended his organization's position. He said the TOC must see the insurance company's proposal before commitments can be made, and defended the TOC's role in the legislative developments.

"This legislation is not where it would be today if if weren't for me," Van de Kamp said. "It's moving, and it's a vehicle that gives us a lot of different possibilities to deal with this problem."