Workmen’s comp issue tough as Middle East

July 09, 2002 5:09 AM
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Peace in the Middle East or settlement of the workmen’s compensation crisis for California horsemen: which will come first?

Don’t hold your breath on either issue.

Despite appeasement from Hollywood Park management and the Thoroughbred Owners of California on June 30 that averted a one-day trainers’ boycott of Hollywood Park entries for the Wednesday, July 3 card, optimism is not rampant among horsemen.

When asked whether he thought approval of pending legislation in Sacramento that would alleviate prohibitive rates trainers in California must pay for workmen’s comp would soon become law, trainer John Sadler had a one-word answer.

"No," said the Long Beach native, who will be 46 on July 30. "I don’t think anything’s going to get done. I’ll believe it when I see it. I prefer to take a wait-and-see attitude."

On July 1, premiums for about 200 of California’s 300 trainers were due to California State Fund of Sacramento, the state-supported insurance provider of workmen’s comp. For every $100 on a trainer’s payroll, he or she must pay a percentage of that $100 to workmen’s comp. In some cases, the percentage is nearly 50 percent. The pending legislation that would provide a reported $5 million intended for other track sources would defray insurance costs. But the legislation has yet to reach the desk of Gov. Gray Davis and it could take at least another 30 days before he deals with it.

Sadler, one of California’s most successful trainers and currently second in the Hollywood standings with 13 wins, was firm in his pessimism that a resolution is not around the corner.

"I guess the boycott did some good," Sadler said. "It’s hard to say. They have legislation, but who knows (what’s going to happen). In the meantime, fewer and fewer people can afford to race in California. I think we’ll have to go further down the road before it’s fixed. Unfortunately, usually something isn’t done until there’s a real train wreck, until the train goes off the track.

"I mean, it’s sad, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much willingness on the part of the TOC or the tracks to get something done, although they’ll deny it. They say they’re doing everything they can, but rhetoric is one thing, and actually getting something done is another."

Money would seem to be the least concern for Bob Baffert, whose horses currently rank second in earnings after leading the nation the last three years.

The three-time Eclipse Award winner was more distressed over money trainers must pay to cover jockeys’ insurance premiums than those for stable workers. In some cases, jockeys’ fees are as high as $90 per mount, where it used to be $20.

"Our biggest problem is trying to get the tracks to pick up the jockeys’ insurance," Baffert said. "The jockeys are the main thing. That’s what makes our rates so high. If the tracks could pick up (premiums for) jockeys and exercise riders, it would make a big difference. Every state is doing it but us. I don’t know what the problem is. Probably the main concern is these (insurance) agents don’t want to go out of business.

"The insurance companies in California sort of run the show. I don’t know what the answer is, unless the tracks help. What’s wrong with our industry is there’s not a go-to person. Nobody wants to step up to the plate. They get on these committees but the only time they talk is when the meeting’s over. Then everybody’s got a solution."

Baffert felt the one-day boycott was ill-advised and ill-timed.

"You’ve got to boycott an important day, not a Wednesday at Hollywood Park," said the world’s most recognizable trainer. "I don’t think boycotting is the answer. I don’t want to see that. But I think we’ve got to bring it to somebody’s attention"

THE HOMESTRETCH: Although Monmouth Park has stated that War Emblem will make his next start in the $1 million Haskell Invitational on August 4, Baffert says it’s pure speculation. "I have no idea yet," Baffert said when asked where the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will run next. "Everybody is just guessing." Baffert said the talented stakes winner Officer, turned out since he was injured after winning the Zany Tactics at Santa Anita on April 8, "is still at the farm" and not yet back at Baffert’s Arcadia headquarters . . . Milwaukee Brew will seek to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1979 to win the Santa Anita Handicap and the Hollywood Gold Cup in the same year when the Bobby Frankel trainee faces a small field in Sunday’s Grade I Gold Cup at 11/4 miles . . . Cynical "I-told-you-so’s" uttered by fans and media alike were presumptuous after it was announced that Hollywood Park’s leading rider, Pat Valenzuela, had taken off his mounts on July 3. The 39-year-old jockey, whose career has been marred by suspensions for substance abuse, had a sad but legitimate excuse. His father, A.C. Valenzuela, was hospitalized with a critical kidney ailment and reportedly at death’s door. It was Pat’s first absence since returning from a 22-month suspension last Âí­December.

 

GOLDEN PICKS

DUBLINO ”” Daughter of Lear Fan unlucky when DQd from first in inaugural American Oaks in U.S. debut, compliments Laura De Seroux’s already-potent distaff stakes arsenal of Astra and Azeri.

OUTTA HERE ”” Son of champion Dehere flew late in debut from No. one hole to miss by a half-length at 5½ furlongs. Added distance, better post will land him in winners’ circle, but don’t expect 35-1 next time.

SURYA ”” Another monster from Frankel’s loaded stakes barn, this daughter of Unbridled is unbeaten in three U.S. starts on the turf and could remain that way all the way to Breeders’ Cup day at Arlington on Oct. 26.