The California Horse Racing Board, under attack for perceived conflicts of interest, got a little cleaner this week when Commissioner Dennis Alfieri turned in his owner’s license and will no longer race horses in California.
The state regulatory agency was criticized recently by Gov. Gavin Newsom with the hopes of “pulling away from those with direct conflicts and pulling out a more objective oversight capacity.” He made those remarks to a group of New York Times reporters when in New York.
“I’m hearing the governor loud and clear,” Alfieri said. “He’s concerned about potential conflicts of interest. It’s at a very important time, a critical time. I’m on for four years and I want to make the most of it. I want to be very much involved in the future of the sport and to help save it in the state and in the country.”
Alfieri had only one horse in California and still has a couple that run in Kentucky. He has held a license in California since 1997.
“We need to be the gold standard coming out of California,” Alfieri said. “It’s not business as usual. Those times are way gone. If a horse shouldn’t be racing, a horse shouldn’t be racing.”
The CHRB has found itself in the spotlight largely because of the 30 horse deaths at Santa Anita earlier this year. The board, along with the urging of Newsom, has tried to scrutinize every aspect of horse racing in the state. Track operators, in conjunction with the CHRB, have instituted many veterinary and safety reforms in the state. Southern California did not have a racing fatality since June 9 until Saturday when a horse broke both front legs and was euthanized at Santa Anita.
Vice-chairman Madeline Auerbach, a horse owner and breeder, was recently involved in a conflict when the Los Angeles Times reported that she owned a horse with Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, which runs Santa Anita and is a company the CHRB regulates. CHRB attorneys said there was no conflict of interest. Ritvo sold his interest in the horse.
The next meeting of the CHRB is Oct. 24 at Santa Anita, where a new chairman is expected to be voted on by the board. Auerbach was expected to named chairman, but given the attention to conflicts, her chances may be in jeopardy. Commissioner Fred Maas is being talked about as a possible alternative. Previous chairman Chuck Winner’s term expired last month and he told the governor’s office he did not want to be reappointed.