06/05/2003 11:00PM

Insurance rates for trainers to rise


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Rates that California trainers pay for workers' compensation insurance are expected to rise at least 10 percent July 1, according to Ed Halpern, the executive director of California Thoroughbred Trainers.

Halpern on Friday said he is awaiting quotes from American Insurance Group on details of policy rates. AIG has provided policies for many horsemen since late 2002.

"All indication is that the policy will be approved," he said. "It just hasn't happened yet."

Some trainers who have policies with the government-backed State Fund may face even higher premium increases.

Escalating costs for mandatory workers' compensation policies have plagued California horsemen in the past 18 months, and no significant relief is in sight for the next year, Halpern said.

He said that most trainers will pay between $20 and $30 for workers' compensation insurance per $100 in payroll. The figure includes discounts for experience and a lack of claims. In addition, trainers pay insurance for jockeys for each mount.

Rising insurance costs have become a widespread problem for many California businesses, as many carriers have left the industry in recent years.

One issue that will lead to increased costs for racing stables is a restructuring of the amount that racetracks contribute to offset the problem. Since last year, a portion of money that was originally dedicated for a marketing program has been used to offset rising insurance costs.

According to Halpern, the tracks paid $1 million in 2002 to supplement premiums, helping to reduce base costs. This year, the tracks are putting more money into a guaranteed fund that ensures that claims will not exceed premiums. That decision will leave horsemen with higher premiums, he said.

In an effort to hold down costs, memos have been sent to trainers advising them to send injured workers to specific clinics that do business with AIG. "We're trying to make sure people direct their workers to the correct clinic," Halpern said. "It's pure cost savings."

Halpern said there is a chance premiums could fall in the summer of 2004, if stables don't have a large number of claims.

"AIG has said that if our experience file remains as it has been - and it has been good - that they will be able to restructure the program and bring the rates down," Halpern said. "A lot is depending on what the tracks are willing to do."

The cost of workers' compensation has been cited by some trainers as a reason for leaving California racing. Trainer Pico Perdomo became a bloodstock agent in late winter, Christopher Paasch relocated to Kentucky in March, and trainer Bobby Frankel has shipped a large number of runners to New York in recent weeks. Mike Smith disbanded his small stable last week, and other stables have reduced the number of employees on their payrolls.

Halpern trains a small stable and frequently hears complaints from fellow trainers.

"I tell them I'm sympathetic," he said. "I understand their bind. We're stuck with AIG and State Fund, and we're making the best of a bad situation."

Halpern hopes that the policy renewals will come together in coming weeks rather than the end of June. "That could be a real crisis, if AIG puts us off and we can't get a policy from State Fund," he said. "I've tried to impress them with the importance of getting back to us immediately. Right now, we don't have AIG. We don't have anything signed."

Passinetti to miss Whittingham

Passinetti, the upset winner of the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita on April 20, will miss the $350,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap on Saturday after developing heat in his right foreleg, trainer Ben Cecil said.

Passinetti returned from a three-year layoff earlier this year, an absence caused by a suspensory injury to his right foreleg. Cecil said heat was detected after a workout last weekend.

"There was no change in the size, it was just a little warm," he said. "I thought we'd better hold off. It's not sore, but we need to get it cooled out."

The Whittingham is one of three stakes on next Saturday's card, which also includes the $400,000 Californian Stakes over 1 1/8 miles and the $200,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks for 3-year-old fillies over 1 1/16 miles.

The Whittingham will have a short field led by Storming Home, who won his U.S. debut in the $400,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on May 10. Other projected starters are Cagney, Gigli, Mister Acpen, and Night Patrol.

The Californian field will not include defending champion Milwaukee Brew, who is based in New York with Frankel.

Western Pride, the winner of the San Bernardino Handicap at Santa Anita in April and the runner-up in the Pimlico Special last month, heads a Californian field expected to include Calkins Road, Fleetstreet Dancer, Gondolieri, Kudos, Lethal Instrument, Piensa Sonando, and Reba's Gold.

Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, who is on a nine-race winning streak, was nominated for the Californian but will not start, trainer Laura de Seroux said. Azeri has never faced males and is being pointed for the $250,000 Vanity Handicap against fillies and mares on June 21, she said.

Buffythecenterfold, unbeaten in two sprint stakes this year, will start in the Oaks against Santa Catarina, who was second in the Kentucky Oaks and third in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico.

Handle down from last year

Nearly halfway through the current Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, average handle figures are trailing the 2002 meeting but have improved since the early part of the meeting.

Through Wednesday, the 31st day of the 65-day meeting, average handle from all sources was $10,779,251, a drop of 1 percent from 2002. After the first two weeks of the meeting, which began on April 23, average handle was down 8.3 percent. Part of the decline was caused by a contract dispute with mid-Atlantic tracks for the first three days of the meeting.

Ontrack attendance and handle are down significantly. Average attendance was 8,493, a decline of 6.6 percent. The figure was off as much as 10 percent in early May.

Average ontrack handle is $1,874,109, a decline of 8 percent. The category was down 14 percent in early May after poor weather plagued the important Kentucky Derby weekend.

One area of growth has been telephone and Internet wagering. Through last Sunday, the most recent figures made available by track officials, the average daily handle from those sources was $492,086, a gain of 38.9 percent over 2002.

* Fairplex Park and track announcer Michael Wrona have reached an agreement whereby Wrona will fill in for Trevor Denman and announce the final program of the 17-day Los Angeles County Fair race meet on Sept. 28. The change was made because of an unusual schedule that includes racing at both Fairplex and nearby Santa Anita on the same day. Denman, who will call the first 16 days of the Fairplex meet, will call races Sept. 28 at Santa Anita, including four Breeders' Cup prep races.