12/31/2004 1:00AM

Letters to the editor


CHRB in need of changes top to bottom

A recent San Diego Union-Tribune article cites concerns that chairman John Harris and other members of the California Horse Racing Board have taken actions that some in the industry believe demonstrate a conflict of interest, given their close ties to jockeys and trainers and their ownership of racehorses.

The article concludes with former CHRB member Harvey Furgatch's astute comment that many current board members "are there to serve special interests," and that "their ability to judge is influenced by personal gains one way or another." Furgatch and others claim that the CHRB is mired in self-serving causes and that a major overhaul is necessary to fix it.

Pam Berg, a state steward in northern California, says in the article: "The board might as well be abolished. The way it's functioning or not functioning right now, it's a waste of taxpayer dollars."

In an e-mail rebuttal to the Union article, Harris says the article tries to discredit the board using "distorted information," and attacks those critical of the CHRB in the article as having "an axe to grind."

I believe our industry suffers from a lack of leadership at all levels - beginning with the CHRB. Rules are selectively enforced; penalties are inconsistent and inherently biased against smaller outfits; promises by racetrack managements are forgotten; public input is neither welcome nor valued; authority is vested in too few individuals; health and welfare issues for horses and humans are avoided; threats from other gaming interests are ignored; and long-term strategic planning for the industry is shelved. It's no wonder that the integrity of racing is at an all-time low.

I also have no doubt that complaints about the CHRB are minimized by Harris's presence and that many horsemen refuse to publicly criticize the board in fear of reprisals; those who work for board members are placed in an untenable position.

If these horsemen were able to speak without intimidation they might ask questions like these:

1) Why hasn't the CHRB released the names of all trainers and vets whose horses tested positive for drugs and milkshakes? Why does the public know less about the identities of medication violators than it does about jockey Pat Valenzuela's pubic hair?

2) Why did Mr. Harris politic so strongly - and unsuccessfully, as it turned out - for his longtime friend Dan Schiffer to become the new CHRB executive director? Why should a person who, as CTBA president, oversaw the impending demise of the 50-year-old Del Mar yearling sale be considered for a position of far greater responsibility?

3) Why hasn't the CHRB withheld racing dates for racetracks that fail to provide safe racing surfaces?

Unless Governor Schwarzenegger overhauls the CHRB post haste, horse racing will continue to look less and less attractive to its patrons.

Michael Power
Auburn, CA