06/27/2003 12:00AM

Frustrated trainers mull boycott


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Frustrations over escalating workers' compensation insurance rates have led trainers to schedule a meeting for Tuesday on the Hollywood Park backstretch and for some to question whether a boycott of entries would attract attention of their plight from state government.

Many trainers were informed last week that their premiums will rise by 12 percent for policies that are renewed on July 1. The base rates for trainers with policies from American Insurance Group will be $35.08 per $100 of payroll and $104.24 per start to cover jockeys. Discounts for experience will lower those figures for many trainers.

Because 17.5 percent of the annual premium is due with the first payment, racing associations have developed a program allowing trainers to take a short-term loan covering 7.5 percent of the premium. The loan is to be repaid in five months and is backed by Southern California Off-track Wagering, which conducts inter-track betting in the state.

Trainers who have policies with the government-backed State Fund will pay even higher rates, officials said. Although actual premiums have not been announced, State Fund policies are expected to charge premiums of $58.05 for payroll and $172.46 for jockeys, according to a memo released on June 24 by Ed Halpern, the executive director of California Thoroughbred Trainers.

Trainers with AIG policies learned this week that interest on the declining balances on their year-long premiums will be charged to their accounts, adding approximately 3 percent to the total cost, according to John Van de Kamp, the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California. The interest did not appear in previous policies from AIG.

"What's the lesser of two evils?" asked trainer Nick Hines. "Go with AIG, pay the interest, or stay with State Fund and hope that it doesn't go up too much? Our objective is to keep clients in the game, keep horses in California, and to make a living for ourselves."

Trainers with AIG policies have expressed disgust that they were not informed of their new rates until the final week of June, with only a matter of days to make arrangements before the first payments are due.

The increases have led some trainers to question whether it is worthwhile to stay in California, and for other to demand more assistance from state government.

"The state has got to do something" to lower costs, said Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally, who is organizing Tuesday's meeting.

McAnally said some people are considering launching an entry boycott as a way to draw attention.

"What trainers tell me, if something isn't done, that they aren't going to enter their horses," he said. "They'll give ample time - probably a week - but the people I've talked to say they won't enter.

"Every individual around here is in the same boat," McAnally said. "I don't know the answer. I'm a horse trainer, not a politician."

In the new policies, racetracks are providing letters of credit to support potential claims.

"Guys think that by putting up a letter of credit, it's not real money," said Rick Baedeker, Hollywood Park president. "Every day the credit is replaced with commissions from tracks and horsemen. For Hollywood, it amounts to $400,000.

"We can get it back if losses don't exceed a certain amount. If they do, the losses are paid by that fund. Meanwhile, I'm $400,000 short this year and that's very real to me."