A Testy Meeting for Horse Racing Board

Times Staff Writer

The former chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, saying that the state's racing "is going downhill fast," blamed the situation on the present chairman in a verbal attack that lasted about 45 minutes Friday.

Ray Seeley, who was replaced by Ben Felton as chairman of the seven-member board last April, accused Felton of "not doing a good job" and "doing things behind people's backs."

The outburst occurred at the start of a regular meeting of the racing board at the Arcadia City Hall and shocked an audience of about 200 people, who included top executives from most of the state's race tracks.

Seeley, sitting in a chair next to Felton, only a few feet away, was unrelenting with his criticism and didn't stop until the rest of the board voted to continue with the agenda.

Seeley, a former state assemblyman from Blythe and an owner and breeder of quarter horses who was recently reappointed to the board by Gov. George Deukmejian, preceded his attack with an attempt to postpone the election of a board chairman. With one seat on the board vacant and board member William M. Lansdale absent, only five members were present, and Seeley wanted to wait until the full board could vote.

The election continued, however, and after Seeley nominated Leslie Liscom, Felton was re-elected, getting the votes of Liscom, Paul Deats and Henry Chavez, with only Seeley voting against him. Felton, an attorney from Woodland Hills who owns and breeds thoroughbreds, has been a member of the board since 1983.

Felton remained silent as Seeley said: "He doesn't have any respect for me, and I don't respect him, either. . . . I don't think we should have a chairman who was an appointee of a lame-duck governor (Jerry Brown). . . . I have difficulty looking at somebody this close to me and not using profanity. . . . When he (recently) congratulated me (for being reappointed), it turned my stomach."

Felton didn't acknowledge Seeley's remarks until later in the meeting, when he turned to him and said: "You don't like attorneys, do you?"

To which Seeley replied: "I like good ones. Ones who do things out in the open."

Seeley objected to being excluded Thursday from the board's reorganization of the medication committee, which was attended by Felton, Deats and Chavez. Felton said that if a fourth board member attends a committee meeting, that constitutes a quorum of the entire board and is a violation of the state's open-meeting laws.

Seeley was also upset because of recent published criticism of the board's relicensing of Danny Sorenson, a Northern California jockey who had received a five-year suspension in 1984 for using and supplying cocaine and possessing a battery for prodding horses.

"We get criticized all over the country because we're soft on crime," Seeley said. "I'm not soft on crime. I'd sure like him (Sorenson) to ride one of my horses, doped up with cocaine. Due process is all right, but let's not lean over backwards."

At that point, Felton said: "I voted against (relicensing Sorenson). And so did you. So what's the problem?"

Seeley: "The problem is the other board members who voted for it (the relicensing)."

Seeley also charged that his removal as board chairman last year was a violation of rules.

"I told the governor that I would stay on the board to keep it honest," Seeley said. "And I'll do that, even though it might embarrass you."

After the meeting, Felton said that he was going to send the minutes of the meeting to Deukmejian for the governor's review.

"I don't quite know how to respond to Mr. Seeley's remarks," Felton said. "I think I could stand on my head and it wouldn't please him. I think my record with the board is a good one, one that was supported today by three votes from Deukmejian appointees even though I was appointed by Gov. Brown."

Horse Racing Notes Trainer Wayne Lukas said Friday that Ketoh's racing career is over and now veterinarians are trying to save the 3-year-old colt for stud duty. Ketoh, one of the early favorites for this year's Kentucky Derby, suffered a colitis attack at Hollywood Park last week and has since had a serious hoof inflammation. Lukas said that Ketoh's ownership is divided into 10 shares of $300,000 apiece, giving the horse a book value of $3 million. According to Lukas, only the share owned by him and his son Jeff is fully insured for $300,000. . . . Robert Baker, the veterinarian who is supervising Ketoh at the Chino Valley Equine Hospital, said that the colt's condition is as serious as was that of Eillo, the winner of the $1-million Breeders' Cup Sprint Stakes in 1984 who died soon after the race following stomach surgery. There is no plan to operate on Ketoh.

David Cross, who trained Sunny's Halo to win the 1983 Kentucky Derby, has received a 10-month suspension by the Illinois Racing Board because the colt tested positive for a decongestant after finishing fourth in the Arlington Classic five weeks after the Derby. Cross originally served a five-day suspension, but the case was reopened by the racing board. The suspension will keep Cross from participating in racing at all tracks. "If the horse hadn't been a Kentucky Derby winner, nothing would have been made of this," Cross said Friday at Santa Anita. "In California, trainers have positives and all they get is $500 fines. This was the first violation I've ever had in 30 years. It's cost me $25,000 in legal fees to fight it, and I can't afford to fight it anymore." Cross reportedly spent about $100,000 on medical expenses for his wife, Patty, who died of cancer last year. "It's a good thing I had some money to begin with," Cross said. "Otherwise this could have wiped me out."

Six horses are entered for Sunday's $150,000 Santa Anita Oaks--Family Style, Laz's Joy, An Empress, Hidden Light, Trim Colony and Twilight Ridge. Family Style and Twilight Ridge, both owned by Gene Klein, will be coupled in the betting. Laz's Joy and An Empress, are both trained by Laz Barrera but have different ownership and will run separately for betting purposes.

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