06/28/2006 11:00PM

Owners and trainers break off from TOC


SAN MATEO, Calif. - A group that claims to have the support of 200 northern California owners and trainers is trying to replace the Thoroughbred Owners of California as the region's legal representative in negotiations with racetracks.

Jim Ghidella, the former TOC director for northern California who has helped form the new group, said that the TOC does not adequately represent northern California horsemen's interests in purse negotiations and that there are not enough horsemen from the region on the TOC board.

State law stipulates that only one group can represent owners in California. The new group, which calls itself the Northern California Owners and Trainers, was incorporated last week and has hired a Sacramento lobbyist in an attempt to amend state law. The group has run advertisements in Daily Racing Form urging a change in the law. The amendment process could take a year.

The TOC will contest any attempt to change the law, said Drew Couto, president of the TOC.

The new group's interim board of directors comprises trainers Ellen Jackson, Jedd Josephson, Gil Matos, Steve Miyadi, and Art Sherman and owners Harry Aleo, Ronelle Heller, Howard Litt, Brent Sumja, and Larry Ullmann.

Of the 15 members of the TOC board, four - one more than the stipulated minimum - are residents of northern California. They are owners Martin Bach, Tom Bachman, and Jess Jackson, and trainer Phil Oviedo. Bachman serves as TOC vice president and Bach the treasurer. Oviedo is one of three trainers appointed to the board by the California Thoroughbred Trainers. The owners on the board are elected by a vote of the state's owners.

"I have nothing against TOC," said Sherman, a longtime northern California-based trainer who served a term on the TOC board before being replaced by Oviedo. "We need an organization, but we don't need people not in northern California. For the betterment of northern California, we need more board members."

Bachman, one of the northern California owners on the TOC board, said he thinks the region is sufficiently represented and that forming a new group is a mistake that would only diminish horsemen's power in negotiations with racetracks over purses and dates.

"Breaking up the TOC is a foolish thing to do," he said.

Supporters of the new group say that the reason northern California is not better represented on the board is because owner-trainers are not allowed to vote in board elections - even though a portion of their purse earnings is paid directly to the TOC. About 60 percent of the owners in northern California are also trainers, according to the California Thoroughbred Trainers. According to TOC bylaws, an owner who is married to a trainer is not allowed to vote either.

Couto, who admitted there are more voters in Southern California, said the TOC is open to discussing the possibility of allowing owner-trainers to vote.

"No issue is off the table," he said. "They should talk to their northern California representatives."

The new group and the TOC are divided on the right way to distribute purse money. The TOC has supported higher purses for the state's better races, while many horsemen in northern California want some of that money to go to lower-level events.

This disagreement flared when the purse for the the San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile, run April 29 at Golden Gate Fields, was boosted from $111,250 in 2005, when it was run at Bay Meadows, to $400,000. The track, with the approval of the TOC, put up $300,000, with an additional $100,000 from Breeders' Cup funds. Sherman said that money should have gone to everyday purses and overnight stakes.

"I think it would work more beneficially for people in northern California to negotiate our own purses," he said.

Couto said that Golden Gate Fields and the TOC were hoping to put the track in the national spotlight with the San Francisco Mile. Both he and Bachman called the purse expenditure a mistake.

"We'll accept the blame," said Couto, adding that plans were to cut the race's purse for next year.