02/27/2003 1:00AM

Called upon, Schiffer ready to serve


Dan Schiffer did not expect to take over his family's farm, The Hat Ranch West, as soon as he had to, but when his father, Ken, took ill more than a decade ago, he rose to the challenge.

His ascension to the presidency of the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association also occurred more quickly than Schiffer expected, considering he first joined the board of directors only two years ago. But, in a way, Schiffer has spent his life being groomed for the position.

Schiffer was raised on the family's farm in Wyoming, groomed horses while in his teens for both his father and trainer Mel Stute, got a law degree in his 20's, began practicing law in his 30's, took over the family's Temecula, Calif., farm before he turned 40 and now, at age 51, has taken over as the CTBA's president, a position his father held from 1977 to 1982.

"I ran for the position more out of a feeling of responsibility, not because I was seeking notoriety," Schiffer said in an interview from his law offices in Temecula. "I had done some legal work for the CTBA. I knew the various directors. Two years ago, I was asked to run for a directorship."

He was elected a vice president then. Two weeks ago, he was elected president, replacing Wes Fitzpatrick, whose term had expired.

The CTBA has made great strides in recent years. Membership is increasing, a law was signed exempting breeding stock from state sales taxes, and there are more lucrative races than ever for California-breds, ranging from the longstanding California Cup at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting to such newer events as the Gold Rush Day at Hollywood Park and the Sunshine Millions, which was run for the first time this year and matched Cal-breds against Florida-breds.

Though Florida-breds won 7 of 8 Sunshine Millions races, Schiffer looks at the Sunshine Millions as another opportunity for Cal-breds to make serious money.

"We were disappointed the Cal-breds didn't do better, but I don't think you can judge anything by one day or one year," Schiffer said. "We're producing world-class horses here, as evidenced by Tiznow and Gourmet Girl," he said, citing two Eclipse Award winners from recent years. "We're attracting better stallions and better mares."

Schiffer and Doug Burge, the association's general manager, take the reins of an organization facing some long-standing problems - such as California's geographic isolation from the rest of the nation's leading breeders - as well as some newer ones, such as the rapid escalation of Indian casino gambling and its potential impact on California's racing and breeding industry. Schiffer also has his own goals for the organization, including making the sport more economically viable for the state's owners and breeders, and increasing the number of CTBA members, which currently numbers approximately 1,600, according to Burge.

"First, we have to get as many people involved as we can in the organization. Clout is in the numbers," Schiffer said.

"Second, we have to get people to lose less money," he said, "or, conversely, to make money. I know firsthand how tremendously difficult it is to make money in this sport."

Schiffer said he wants to revisit the rules defining a California-bred horse, with the possibility of liberalizing the requirements. Currently, a horse conceived out of state is considered a California-bred if he is foaled in California and his dam is bred back that spring to a California-based stallion.

"I'm going to talk about that subject," he said.

Schiffer has another personal agenda he wants to bring to racing's leaders at The Jockey Club. He believes that the rules forbidding artificial insemination are antiquated, the product of an era that has long passed.

"They're probably going to think I'm a heretic, but The Jockey Club is very locked in tradition, and that's not necessarily economically viable for the modern world and a modern industry," Schiffer said. He said artificial insemination is "something that should be considered, even though I understand it has little chance of gaining a foothold.

"But when you consider diseases, traveling, and expenses involved with the way we do it now, we should try to find a more economically viable way to breed," Schiffer said. "Obstacles can be overcome if people rethink the way they do things. You have to think with the times."

Schiffer's opinions are formed from a lifetime being around animals. His father, Ken, and mother, Bay, moved to Sheridan, Wyo., following World War II to operate a polo club. Ken Schiffer bought a 23,000-acre ranch in Kaycee, Wyo., in the 1950's, named it The Hat Ranch, and raised cattle and horses. The Schiffers' racing stock was sent to California to be trained by brothers Mel and Warren Stute.

"I grew up on the ranch riding, roping, and showing livestock," Schiffer said. "It was very much an agricultural life."

Ken and Bay Schiffer moved to California in 1967 and established The Hat Ranch West. Ken Schiffer specialized in breaking yearlings. He also raced several well-known runners in California, including Commissary, who won the 1970 Vanity Handicap, and Double Discount, who once owned Santa Anita's course record for 1 1/4 miles on turf.

Dan Schiffer received a bachelor of arts degree in English from UCLA, then a law degree from Whittier College. He practiced law in Los Angeles, specializing in both civil litigation and equine matters. But when his father, who died of cancer in 1990, became too ill to run the family business, Schiffer added The Hat Ranch to his portfolio. The 100-acre farm is home to approximately 25 horses. There are no stallions, merely mares, their offspring, and lay-ups.

Schiffer's 88-year-old mother, Bay, is still active in racing. She is on the board of the California Thoroughbred Foundation and gets to Santa Anita quite regularly from her home in nearby Sierra Madre, Calif.

"She's still picking her quinellas," Schiffer said.