08/20/2011 5:04PM

California horsemen's group gains support in battle for recognition

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DEL M AR, Calif. - The California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, an owners and trainers group formed last spring, announced on Saturday that it has submitted signatures to the California Horse Racing Board to begin the process of forcing an election to overtake the Thoroughbred Owners of California as the state’s official representative of Thoroughbred horsemen.

According to a statement published on the organization’s website on Saturday, the CTHA has collected more than 1,100 signatures. The statement said that the TOC has 7,705 members and that the CTHA needed to submit at least 770 signatures, or 10 percent of the TOC membership, to the racing board for verification.

If those signatures are verified, the racing board would oversee an election as to which organization should represent horsemen. An election is not likely to be held until late this year.

The CTHA is seeking numerous changes, including equal representation for owners and trainers on a board of directors. The current 15-person TOC board of directors included 12 owners and three owner-trainers.

In the statement, CTHA president David Wilson said, “We have been working to reunify and revitalize Thoroughbred racing in California. Earlier this month, we reached out to the TOC to try to resolve our difference. Unfortunately, the TOC has refused even to respond to our offer.

“We welcome all Thoroughbred owners as equals and oppose any discrimination against fellow owners. We appreciate the response from our fellow horsemen and look forward to working together in the upcoming election.”

Wilson, who owns a string of car dealerships in Orange County, Calif., is a horse owner who races primarily in Southern California. Along with his wife, Holly, Wilson raced Early Pioneer, the winner of the 2000 Hollywood Gold Cup.

Saturday, TOC chairman Jack Owens told approximately 100 members of his organization at an annual meeting in the Del Mar clubhouse that it needs to remain an independent organization and not one with a fully integrated board of owners and trainers.

Of the CTHA, he said, “It wants to move more toward a joint arrangement that exists in other states. It remains up to you. A 50-50 board will diminish, and perhaps silence, the voice you have.

“There is likely to be a vote coming to you in the next six months.”

Owens said the TOC is in support of legislation that would allow trainers who hold joint licenses as owners to be members of the organization. Past legislation that allowed owner-trainer members recently ended because of a sunset clause, he said.