12/15/2008 1:00AM

Shapiro resigns as head of CHRB


Richard Shapiro, who as chairman of the California Horse Racing Board spearheaded California's switch to synthetic racing surfaces and oversaw a more aggressive posture in dealing with medication and penalties, suddenly and unexpectedly resigned on Monday during a regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the board at Santa Anita.

Shapiro read a lengthy, prepared statement in which he said the decision is "mine and mine alone."

"No one has asked me to do this; to the contrary, I have been asked to stay," Shapiro said. "But this is a personal decision I have pondered for many months, and I have decided it's time for me to move on."

Shapiro continued to preside over the board's meeting Monday, and said he was to submit a formal resignation to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday.

Shapiro, an investment adviser, was on the board for four years, and was recently reappointed to a second four-year term by the governor. Board members are paid a small honorarium per month. It is not a full-time job in pay, but it is in time committed.

As chairman, Shapiro made the racing board far more activist than in the past. Most notably, Shapiro persuaded a majority of board members in 2006 to require California's major Thoroughbred tracks to switch to synthetic surfaces by the end of 2007.

"The most noteworthy of our actions clearly has been the conversion of engineered tracks at our major venues," Shapiro said. "I admit the results have been mixed. But I feel that they still show promise, and with more science, time, and technology, I remain hopeful that it will lead to safer racing surfaces that will protect the tens of millions of dollars invested in horses each year by horse owners and breeders."

The Shapiro board also enacted legislation to ban horses from racing on anabolic steroids, as well as the practice of milkshaking, a euphemism for when a horse is given a high dose of alkaline agents designed to fight off fatigue.

"Four years ago, California was thought to have unlevel playing fields for bettors and that our efforts were not transparent," Shapiro said. "Today, I believe, most people believe we are transparent, fair, and have the best testing nationally known to protect the integrity of the game."

Shapiro acknowledged that the board's efforts were controversial.

"Some of our good intentions have in fact proved beneficial, and in spite of our best efforts, some have not panned out as well as we would have wished," Shapiro said. "But none of our efforts were done without the sole desire of supporting the industry, the game, and trying to improve the state of racing in California."

John Harris, the leading breeder in California, is the current vice chairman of the board.

"I'm sad to hear that," Harris said when Shapiro finished with his statement. Harris called Shapiro "the best board chairman I can recall, and [he] has worked tirelessly to the benefit of the game."