06/13/2001 11:00PM

Trainers meet on labor issues


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Frustrated at not having their opinions heard by state officials over ongoing backstretch labor issues, Southern California Thoroughbred trainers were urged at meetings this week to reach out to legislators this summer.

The California Thoroughbred Trainers held meetings on Wednesday at Hollywood Park and Thursday at Santa Anita to discuss continuing investigations from the state labor department into trainers' payroll practices and the status of a pending bill that would establish a system to unionize backstretch workers.

One union bill has passed the state assembly, while a Senate version would combine the unionization with telephone betting. A similar measure was vetoed last September by Gov. Gray Davis, who said he was opposed to an expansion of gambling but supported the unions.

Ed Halpern, the executive director of the CTT, urged trainers on Wednesday to donate to a fund that would enable trainers to lobby legislators.

Halpern said racing officials have meetings scheduled in Sacramento next week with union leaders and legislators to work on language of the bills. Trainers are attempting to change language that permits a union if 51 percent of the employees sign a card authorizing the union. The racing industry wants the procedure to be done in a more formal election process.

More recently, trainers have been dealing with labor investigations of backstretch working conditions.

Trainers say they have been given conflicting instructions from investigators. The issues range from whether employees should sign time cards to when breaks should occur.

Many trainers say grooms and hotwalkers take breaks when works slow down, a time that can vary daily. Labor investigators have told trainers that breaks must be at the same time daily.

Trainer Richard Mandella said he is frustrated by Gov. Davis's efforts to aid unions and casino gambling at Native American reservations while ignoring horse racing. "I think he's indebted to the unions and the Indians and I think that's the perception we're getting from him," Mandella said. "The unions were very generous in getting him elected."

La Feminn breaks bone, retires

La Feminn, who won six races and was never worse than second in eight starts, has been retired after fracturing a sesamoid in a recent workout at Hollywood Park.

The 5-year-old La Feminn was preparing for the A Gleam Handicap on July 1 when the injury occurred.

Owned by Gerald Ford's Diamond A Racing and trained by Richard Mandella, La Feminn earned $366,430 in her three-year career. In her final start, she finished second to Dream Supreme in the Grade 2 Humana Distaff Handicap at Churchill Downs on May 5.

A California-bred by Memo, La Feminn won three stakes, all for state-breds. Her only win in three starts this year was in the Irish O'Brien Stakes over Go Go at Santa Anita.

Congaree heading for Swaps

Congaree, the Wood Memorial winner who was third in the Kentucky Derby, is being pointed for the $500,000 Swaps Stakes on July 15, trainer Bob Baffert said.

Congaree has not started since finishing third in the Preakness Stakes and is a week away from a breeze.

Baffert said short-term plans for Point Given are not as firm. "I'll let the horse tell me," Baffert said.

Cecil succeeds again

Figlio Mio, the 4-year-old who won a $54,600 allowance race on Wednesday, is the latest California-bred success story for trainer Ben Cecil. Last year, Cecil won the California Cup Matron with Queenie Belle, who is nearing a comeback and may defend her title this fall.

"I went from being a European trainer to a Cal-bred trainer," he said.

Cecil trains 13 horses at Santa Anita, and still has one promising European export in Eurolink Raindance, who is expected to start in an allowance race on Sunday. Figlio Mio's win on Wednesday was the barn's third victory of the year.

"Every win feels good," Cecil said.

Figlio Mio ran a gritty race Wednesday for his third win in four starts. Ridden by Tyler Baze, Figlio Mio was in tight on the backstretch, but recovered to close ground along the inside and win the seven-furlong race by a neck in 1:21.57. Owned by Bull Market Stable, he could be in stakes company by the end of the summer - although Cecil has less ambitious short-term plans.

"I hope we can keep him in the allowance ranks," he said.

Godolphin unveils Sleeping Weapon

Godolphin Racing has its second 2-year-old starter of the meeting on Saturday when Sleeping Weapon starts in the sixth race, a five-furlong dash for maidens.

By Gulch, Sleeping Weapon is trained by Eoin Harty, who heads 54 2-year-olds based at Arlington Park, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita.

Sleeping Weapon faces nine others, including the highly-regarded Distinction, a Seattle Slew colt trained by D. Wayne Lukas.

"He's fast," Harty said of Sleeping Weapon. "He worked at Hollywood the other day and he'll run well, but if Lukas is right about his horse, no one will beat him."