04/05/2002 1:00AM

Worker's comp tops the agenda


ARCADIA, Calif. - "Our most immediate problem, and it is a huge one, has to do with workmen's compensation insurance," Jack Liebau, president and general manager of Santa Anita Park, was saying. "The entire industry has come together to deal with this matter, which must be resolved by July 1. On that date, insurance coverage for two-thirds of the trainers in California comes due, and it is expected that the cost of renewal will increase 30 to 50 percent."

Liebau comments that increased insurance fees will drive up training costs, and this, in turn, will lead many owners to leave the sport. With fewer owners, there will be fewer horses to race, affecting all phases of racing. Prospective new owners will be driven away by rising costs, and many who patronized racing for years will retire their colors.

Among the proposals under consideration, Liebau said during an interview Thursday, is a captive insurance venture better able to manage claims than is currently the case. Another suggestion is to increase the takeout on wagering by one-quarter of 1 percent. Liebau recognizes the opposition that would arise from any increase but points out that California has one of the lowest takeouts in the country. He feels that a modest increase would do much to solve the workmen's compensation increase.

User-friendly upgrades

Aided by exceptional good weather and a large number of carryovers, wagering is up slightly at Santa Anita this season while attendance is down some 5 percent.

"We are trying to increase our fan base," Liebau said. "This season we've made greater use of direct mail advertising than in the past, and we like the results. We have also shifted our emphasis from broadcast television to cable television. We are also pushing group sales and feel this is important because there are a great many people who will attend the races only when part of a group. Hopefully, they will have a good time at the track and decide to come back on their own. That's why it is so important to upgrade all of our facilities and make them user friendly."

Liebau cites the construction of the Front Runner, the track's gourmet restaurant, as a case in point. He said the facility attracts a younger, livlier crowd. He also feels that Santa Anita can do a better job of attracting the large Hispanic and Asian communities of greater Los Angeles.

Santa Anita officials are continuing discussions with the city of Arcadia on proposals to rebuild the stable area and to construct new dormitories for backstretch personnel. Plans are being made to build a sattellite facility atop the present saddling area. In line with the theme of the Magna tracks as centers of entertainment, the satellite area would house a sports bar, hoping to attract those people now interested in other sports and exposing them to racing.