02/17/2006 12:00AM

Tracks consider giving rebates

Jockey Garrett Gomez, riding Artie Schiller to win the 2005 Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 29, has hired Bob Meldahl to be his new agent.

ARCADIA, Calif. - After years of losing business to offshore bookmakers and betting services that offer rebates, California's racetracks, the California Horse Racing Board, and the account-wagering company Youbet.com discussed on Thursday the possibility of offering rebates to lure large bettors back into racetrack pools.

Several officials at Thursday's CHRB meeting said the issue was urgent, and it was referred to the board's parimutuel committee for further discussion. The issue was brought before the board as part of a discussion on ways to combat illegal offshore wagering.

"Maybe we can come up with a model to discourage illegal offshore wagering," said CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro.

Chuck Champion, the chief executive of Youbet.com, said California desperately needs to develop a better rewards program. As an example, Champion referred to the point-based programs offered by other industries, such as airlines and hotels.

"I need the help of the tracks and the industry" to fight illegal offshore betting, he said.

Champion said that Youbet has identified approximately 1,675 regular visitors to its website that download handicapping information and watch races, but do not place a bet through the system. He said he suspects that those customers are betting with offshore sites. Getting them to bet through the Youbet system is a priority, he said.

"We see large customer migration from our system to offshore, and not just to rebaters but to bookmakers," Champion said. "We have to try to get them back in the parimutuel pool, one way or another. There are large customers that need a different type of arrangement."

Shapiro said the offshore sites are reducing the tracks' revenue.

"It's threatening your business, it's threatening the track's business, and it's threatening revenue to the state of California," CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro told Champion.

The concept of launching a rebate program was generally met with approval by leading racetrack executives.

"I think it's worth looking at," said Santa Anita president Ron Charles. "I'd like to explore different ways to reach better players."

The conversations regarding rebating come a few months before the Golden State Rewards Network - California's player reward system - is scheduled to be revamped, moving away from a point-based system based on dollars wagered to a program designed to offer discounted admission based on frequency of attendance. Under the rewards network plan, bettors receive a $50 wagering voucher for every 10,000 points accumulated. Rewards are also available in the form of programs or free admission. Bettors receive a minimum of one point for every dollar wagered.

"The tracks have to do a better job in customer service," said Jack Liebau, the president of Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park. "It's still the lifeblood of the business."

Fast and Furious gets U.S. victory

Fast and Furious arrived from France in the summer of 2004 as a 3-year-old with the promise of becoming a major stakes winner in this country.

Thursday, nearly two years after his arrival, Fast and Furious finally won his first race in the U.S., an optional claimer over 1 1/8 miles on turf. The style of the victory, a last-to-first move in the final quarter-mile, has given trainer Ron McAnally the optimism that Fast and Furious is over the foot problems that have plagued his American career.

"He finally came through for us," McAnally said.

Owned by Arnold Zetcher, Fast and Furious, 5, was second in the 2004 Hollywood Derby and third in the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile last May.

Thursday's win was his second start following a six-month layoff. Ridden by Alex Solis, Fast and Furious finished 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:45.66, winning by a half-length over One Off.

"I think he beat a nice field," McAnally said. "It's been foot problems and quarter cracks. He's training on the training track and it's made a big difference."

Gomez switches agents

Jockey Garrett Gomez has severed ties with agent Jim Pegram and hired Bob Meldahl, effective with the Santa Anita condition book that begins Feb. 23. Gomez entered Friday with 36 wins at Santa Anita, second behind Pat Valenzuela's meet-high 45.

Gomez has tailed off since late January, and Pegram said Gomez told him that he was "losing business and wanted to make a change." Coming off a career-best season in 2005, when his mounts won more than $14.2 million and two Breeders' Cup races (Artie Schiller and Stevie Wonderboy), Gomez began Santa Anita by winning 28 races from his first 126 mounts. But over the past month, 79 mounts have produced just 8 wins and 18 seconds.

Meldahl also represents Corey Nakatani, who is contemplating a move this spring to Kentucky or New York. Pegram currently is without a rider. Pegram was instrumental in restarting Gomez's career after he was off the track from late 2002 until summer 2004 battling substance abuse problems.

- additional reporting by Brad Free