04/11/2002 12:00AM

Half-percent hike in takeout on agenda

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Executives from California racetracks and horsemen's organizations met at Santa Anita on Wednesday to discuss potential legislation that would raise the parimutuel takeout to offset increased costs to owners and trainers for workmen's compensation.

The two-hour meeting did little to resolve the complicated issue, according to people who attended the meeting. Another meeting is scheduled in Sacramento on April 18.

The legislation would raise the takeout up to half of a percentage point for all bets. The legislation, which has not yet been introduced, has been criticized by some members of the California Horse Racing Board.

But John Van de Kamp, the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, compared the potential hike to a company rising prices to offset costs.

"We want to use as little of an increase as possible," he said. "But we want to beat back these rate increases, particularly the ones in March and the ones that will occur in July. We don't want workmen's compensation to make us uncompetitive with other states."

California's current rates are 15.43 percent for win, place, and show bets, and 20.18 percent for exotic wagering.

"When you have costs increase in a business, you raise prices," Van de Kamp said. "Essentially, we think this is compelled under these circumstances or we may have no product. If I were a bettor, I wouldn't like this, but I think if I understood as a bettor that I would have races to bet on and closer to full fields, I will regard this as a [minor] kind of increase."

Currently, the only carrier offering workmen's compensation insurance is the government-backed State Fund, which offers rates considerably higher than private companies have in the past. Horsemen with policies that expired in March have taken out policies with State Fund. The insurance policies pay for coverage of backstretch employees and for jockeys during races.

With previous insurance carriers no longer offering policy renewals, racing executives are currently compiling information to present to new companies. At the same time, they continue to pursue the takeout legislation.

"We may not need the funding," said Van de Kamp. "It depends on getting private insurers to compete with State Fund."

There is a feeling of urgency among racing officials to reach a remedy for the workmen's compensation issue by July 1. On that date, a large group of trainers have policies that expire.

Van de Kamp and Ed Halpern, the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said payroll records and information on insurance claims is being compiled from trainers and will be forwarded to potential insurance companies.

"They said they need a month once we get them the information," Halpern said. "I'm hoping to get something to them by May 1."

Potential insurance carriers would forward rates to the state insurance commissioner for approval before they were offered to horsemen, Van de Kamp said.

Van de Kamp said other avenues are being explored.

"We're looking at a mechanism for self-insurance, something that would be under better control to watch claims and aggressively manage the program," Van de Kamp said.

There is also a provision being discussed that would set aside some money from a takeout hike from proposed legislation to fund the California Thoroughbred Horsemen's Foundation, which provides medical care for backstretch employees.

Currently, the CTHF receives a portion of uncashed mutuel tickets, which amounts to $1.5 million. But with medical costs rising, the foundation is running short of cash, Van de Kamp said.

Different scene in Robbins barn

Six months ago, Tiznow occupied the first stall at trainer Jay Robbins's barn at Santa Anita, preparing for what would be a successful defense in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park.

Today, life is much quieter at the Robbins barn. Tiznow is retired and standing at stud in Kentucky. A maiden occupies his stall.

The success of Tiznow did not lead to major changes for Robbins. On Saturday, Robbins starts the longshot Ashbecca in the $75,000 Providencia Stakes, a restricted race over 1 1/8 miles on turf for 3-year-old fillies.

Ashbecca was Robbins's first stakes starter when she finished seventh in the La Habra Stakes on the hillside turf course on March 1. Robbins thinks she will do better at a longer distance, but stopped short of making a prediction.

"She showed some interest at the end," Robbins said. "She's not a good work horse. She hadn't run since September and needed to do something."

Owned by Rodney Orr, Ashbecca was a minor stakes winner at Emerald Downs last September, scoring by a head in the one-mile Barbara Shinpock Stakes for fillies. She followed with a fourth-place finish against males in the Joe Gottstein Futurity on Sept. 15, her final start as a 2-year-old.

With his low-key demeanor, Robbins never sought publicity during Tiznow's career, but never ducked questions concerning Tiznow's status, particularly when back problems curtailed the colt's 2001 campaign.

Even though Tiznow made history by becoming the first two-time winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic, the headlines did not spill over into added business for Robbins, 56.

Currently, Robbins has seven horses, but does not desire a significantly larger barn. Finding reliable employees can be difficult, he said.

"I'd rather have nine or 10, maybe 12," he said. "The way help is nowadays, I don't know how they do it with 60 or 70 horse barns."

Carava fined for positive

Trainer Jack Carava was fined $2,000 by track stewards on Thursday after Count Your Cards tested positive for Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory, following a second-place finish in the fifth race at Santa Anita on Feb. 27.

The 6-year-old Count Your Cards finished second in a $25,000 claimer for sprinters.

Dexamethasone is not permitted to appear in postrace tests at any level.

* Hollywood Park will offer free general admission on the opening day of its spring-summer meeting, Wednesday, April 24. The 65-day meeting runs through July 21. Post time will be 1:15 p.m. daily except on Fridays at 7:05 p.m. There will be one Friday afternoon program on May 3, the day of the Kentucky Oaks program at Churchill Downs.