11/17/2011 1:14PM

Owner-trainers gain greater representation on TOC board


After months of discussions with an upstart group of horsemen, the Thoroughbred Owners of California is expected to increase from three to six the number of owner-trainers that can be elected to its 15-person board next year.

The agreement was reached on Wednesday between the TOC and officials with the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, a group of owners and trainers who have sought greater representation on the TOC board, and was announced by the California Horse Racing Board.

Wednesday’s agreement, which requires a change in the bylaws of the TOC and must be ratified by its members, is a sign that the CTHA’s effort to decertify the TOC as the state’s official representative of Thoroughbred horsemen in the state could be coming to an end. The CTHA conducted a petition drive earlier this year to gather signatures in an effort to decertify the TOC, and agreement was announced a day before the racing’s board monthly scheduled meeting at Hollywood Park on Thursday. At that meeting, the CTHA was expected to seek ratification of its election petition. The issue was expected to be dropped from the agenda.

The agreement would essentially satisfy the principal reasons the CTHA was formed last spring and is the latest development in an issue that has been a frequent discussion point in California racing circles for most of this year.

Officials with the CTHA and TOC met as far back as April to discuss changes in the composition of the TOC’s board. The CTHA made equal representation for owners and trainers part of its initial platform following its formation.

“The CTHA’s primary goal was to end the discriminatory and exclusionary policies of the TOC and provide free and open elections, so that California Thoroughbred owners would be able to choose how they are represented,” CTHA president David Wilson said in a statement released by the racing board. “That goal has been achieved through this negotiated settlement.”

If the TOC bylaw changes are enacted, voting for a new board will be conducted in February. If the TOC bylaw changes are rejected by its members, the CTHA is expected to go forward with its decertification process.

TOC members will vote whether to ratify the changes next month, according to TOC president Lou Raffetto. At Thursday’s meeting, the racing board approved the proposed changes to the TOC’s bylaws.

“We’re asking members to support the proposal,” Raffetto said on Wednesday. “We think it’s in the best interest of everyone. We think the owners-trainers should have the right to vote and that’s what we’ll seek of that bylaw change.”

The recent meetings were conducted in conjunction with racing board officials, led by chairman Keith Brackpool. “We’re pleased that both sides have come together with a reasonable solution,” Brackpool said in the racing board’s statement.

Aside from the inclusion of owner-trainers, there are other proposed changes to the TOC’s bylaws. The TOC’s five-person executive committee must have at least one person who holds an owner-trainer license, and the 15-person board must include one owner-trainer based in Northern California and one based in Southern California.

Wednesday, the TOC elected horse owner Mike Pegram as its new chairman after Jack Owens stepped down, Raffetto said. Owens will remain vice-chairman for the Northern California region, Raffetto said, replacing Keith Pronske, who resigned the position. Pablo Suarez has been named the vice-chairman for Southern California.

They will face re-election to retain those positions under the proposed bylaw changes. The CTHA is expected to nominate 10 candidates for the new TOC board.