It is not the intent, surely, of the California Horse Racing Board to open itself to ridicule, but it often works out that way. It certainly did Wednesday.
What other state body, for example, can put together a succession of gaffes such as these:
--The CHRB called an emergency meeting for 1:30 p.m. in Burbank but booked a meeting room that was available only until 3.
--When 3 p.m. arrived and only two people had spoken, the meeting was recessed for an hour and moved. Not to a different room, but to a different city , Pasadena.
--Only four members of the seven-member board were present Wednesday, the other three having been ruled in conflict of interest by a state Superior Court judge.
--The four members who were present voted on the matter under consideration even though one of them had been warned that he, too, might be in conflict of interest.
--The board spent almost three hours listening to an often acrimonious argument between the interests of thoroughbred racing, harness racing and quarter horse racing, then took an action that may be made moot by today.
--If the fourth board member in question is found to have a conflict of interest, the CHRB no longer will have a quorum to vote at all.
What Wednesday’s comedy of errors was all about was the matter of racing dates at Los Alamitos, specifically Hollywood Park’s application to run a 17-week harness meeting at that track.
Originally, the CHRB awarded Hollywood Park the dates for the meeting from Nov. 25 to March 25. Two rival organizations wanted a 22-week meeting but were rebuffed. Later, they filed suit in Superior Court, charging that board members Rosemary Ferraro, Leslie Liscom and Raymond Seeley had conflicts of interest involving Hollywood Park and should not have been allowed to vote.
Superior Court Judge Allen P. Fields agreed, tossed out the vote and ordered the CHRB to begin again, hence Wednesday’s gathering, at which:
--Hollywood Park attorney Bob Forgnone asked the board to reaffirm the 17 weeks awarded earlier and said harness horsemen do not need the extra five weeks. He said Hollywood Park lost $2.2 million in operating the previous harness meeting and has a projected loss of $1.2 million this year.
“If it weren’t for off-track (betting), it would be an absolute financial disaster to try to make ends meet from this (harness) meeting,” Forgnone said.
--Responding for the Western Standardbred Assn., Rod Blonien said: “Harness (racing) may well be losing money at Los Alamitos, but I don’t think it’s the fault of harness. I think it’s the fault of the operator. . . . The average daily attendance (for thoroughbred racing) has declined by 10,000 at Hollywood Park. It’s the operator.
“Take a look at the harness meet this year at Los Alamitos. How many special promotions? Zero. How many special nights? Zero. How many giveaways? Zero. They don’t want the meet to succeed. What they want to do is have harness die. They want to drive harness out by making it appear not to be successful.”
--Lloyd Arnold, one of the applicants for a 22-week meeting, increased his offer of leasing Los Alamitos for the five extra weeks from $250,000 to $300,000, only to see it rejected by Hollywood Park, which wants to see quarter horse racing given that time instead.
--The CHRB voted, 4-0, to give Hollywood Park the 17-week meeting at Los Alamitos, ending Saturday, but said the remaining five weeks would still be “allocated” to harness racing whether used for that or not.
--Attorney Tiffany Franchetti said she would challenge the vote of board member William Lansdale, saying that she felt he, too, has a conflict of interest involving Hollywood Park. She said the matter would be taken up in Superior Court at 9 a.m. today.
--Lansdale said: “I deeply resent the attorneys trying this case in the newspapers and other forums besides the courtroom. If they have something to say about me, I wish they’d say it in a courtroom and let a Superior Court judge rule on it. I think that was pretty low, also the threats that go along with that. I deeply resent the threats that the Standardbred attorneys have used. I want to tell you you don’t intimidate me one inch. I will still vote on this thing . . .”
And so he did. And so it goes to court again today. Oh, yes, and one other thing. The CHRB might meet again on Friday.
Assuming it has a quorum.