Months of contentious jockeying over whether Ferndale (Humboldt County Fair) should run its second of two weeks of racing at the end of August un-overlapped with its Northern California compatriot, Golden Gate Fields (GGF), ended in defeat for the small rural track.
In a 5-1 vote during Thursday’s California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) meeting, the board decided that during the week running Aug. 23 to Aug. 29, Humboldt and GGF would field simultaneous race meets.
Ferndale will run the first of two scheduled weeks of racing this year, from Aug. 16 through Aug. 22, un-overlapped.
In what has been framed as a David versus Goliath fight, proponents of Ferndale had advocated for un-overlapped race dates as a financial lifeline for a small fair track that plays both a vital role in the local economy and provides a unique draw for new players into the sport.
GGF has had in its corner the likes of the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) and the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT), who argued in support of the San Francisco facility’s position as an important economic driver for the state’s horse racing industry as a whole.
Given how this same debate has become something of an annual slugfest, CHRB vice chairman Oscar Gonzalez–the sole commissioner to vote in Ferndale’s favor after a recent scouting trip to the town–proposed a compromise during the vote tally to help assuage ongoing uncertainty.
“What if we went to a rotation where one year is overlapped the second week, and the other year it goes un-overlapped,” said Gonzalez. “So, essentially, 2023 we would allow for two-weeks of un-overlap. 2024, we go back to the second week being overlapped.”
That proposal, however, garnered no traction–at least for now.
ADW Monies for 2023 HISA Payment
The CHRB voted to use in-state Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW) monies otherwise earmarked for purses and commissions to cover California’s 2023 fee assessment for the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA), which amounts to roughly $1.6 million.
The assessment was originally supposed to be around $6.7 million for the year. But because California has agreed to continue performing many of the duties inherent in the law’s drug control program–like the collection and testing of samples–HISA has offered California roughly $5.1 million in credits.
As it currently stands, the HISA law covers only Thoroughbreds and not Quarter Horses. CHRB executive director Scott Chaney confirmed when asked that mixed races at Los Alamitos Racetrack between Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses will not fall under HISA’s jurisdiction.
Inclement Weather Policy
The agenda item with arguably the most salience for the horsemen concerned the inclement weather policy the CHRB adopted a couple of years ago in the aftermath of the 2019 Santa Anita welfare crisis, when a rash of fatal breakdowns were attributed to an exceptionally rainy winter, necessitating the track to be frequently sealed.
In short, there remains a perception that horses that work or race immediately after a track is unsealed are at a higher risk of injury–a possible correlation currently being studied by researchers at U.C. Davis.
Right now, once a sealed surface has been opened up, the current policy permits no high-speed workouts for 24 hours, though does allow for everything up to a gallop.
During this winter’s volley of storms that have lashed California, the CHRB’s inclement weather policy has led to a highly disrupted training and racing schedule for trainers.
“I think it’s fair to say that we’ve received an inordinate amount of rain this year, and so I think it has, shall we say, strained the limits of the inclement weather policy,” admitted Chaney.
According to CHRB equine medical director Jeff Blea, Thursday’s meeting provided an opportunity to discuss possible modifications to the policy, with the idea of proposing more concrete rule changes in the future.
Blea outlined a bifurcated proposal whereby for the first 24 hours after a track has been opened up, horses are permitted to jog only.
“The reason for that is, we feel the track is safe for training, but we feel as a matter of safety to reduce the amount of concussion and bone remodeling events that would occur during galloping to limit it to jogging,” said Blea.
According to Blea, for the subsequent 24 hours of the 48-hour period following the opening of a sealed racetrack, horses could be permitted to gallop or breeze as per the discretion of the track superintendent, CTT representation and Blea himself.
“For the second 24 hour of the 48-hour period, we discussed leaving that to jogging only,” said Blea. “But we landed on the conclusion that the determination would be made at the recommendation of the track superintendent in conjunction with myself and the CTT to determine whether the second day after the opening of the seal, we allow jogging or whether we allow them to gallop or even possibly breeze.”
“The decision would depend upon how much water has accumulated in the previous rainstorm, correct?” asked CHRB chairman Greg Ferraro.
“That decision would depend upon how much water occurred during that event, when they were able to get the track sealed, what the track looks like when it’s open, how deep they can cut it to ensure there’s a safe and consistent base to it,” replied Blea.
Blea confirmed that this policy would apply to both the main track and the training track at Santa Anita. The proposed changes pertain only to training, with no possible modifications to the inclement weather policy proposed at this time for racing.