Madeline Auerbach, vice chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, resigned from the board Monday amid calls from Gov. Gavin Newsom to eliminate conflicts of interest from the panel.
Auerbach, a prominent California thoroughbred owner and breeder, was appointed to the CHRB in 2014 by Gov. Jerry Brown. Her resignation was announced Wednesday.
She was expected to be the new chairman until Newsom said he was pulling away from appointing members with “direct conflicts” to the board in favor of a “more objective oversight capacity.” He made those remarks to New York Times reporters last month.
The Los Angeles Times reported in August that Auerbach had a business relationship with Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of Stronach Group (TSG), which owns two race tracks in California. They were co-owners of a horse named Fravel, named after the Breeders’ Cup chief executive officer who is now CEO of TSG.
After the L.A. Times report, Ritvo sold his share of the horse and TSG released a statement saying conflicts of interest would not be allowed among its executives.
Auerbach has been a strong advocate for the welfare of horses and founded a charity to help care for thoroughbreds after they leave racing.
“During the decades I have been involved in the horse-racing industry, my work has centered on doing what is best for these amazing animals,” Auerbach said in a news release announcing her resignation from the board. “I want to thank Gov. Jerry Brown for appointing me to the Board and allowing me to do so.”
Auerbach’s exit leaves two vacancies on the board that Newsom will have to fill after Fred Maas told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he has asked that he not be reappointed when his term ends Jan. 1.
Newsom appointed Gregory Ferraro, a respected veterinarian, to the board late last year and added Oscar Gonzales and Wendy Mitchell this year. Ferraro and Gonzales are expected to be elected the new chair and vice chair, respectively, when the group meets on Nov. 21 in Del Mar.
This would leave Dennis Alfieri, who just turned in his California owners license, and Alex Solis, a former jockey who is now an assistant trainer, as the only remaining Brown appointees to the seven-member board.
In addition, CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker has announced his retirement, to happen sometime before the spring, and assistant executive director Jacqueline Wagner’s last day was Friday. Neither position is filled by appointment. The front-runner to replace Baedeker is Phil Laird, a former staff counsel for the board and currently deputy general counsel of the California Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency, which oversees the CHRB.
The CHRB has been under scrutiny from state politicians and animal rights advocates after 37 horses died at Santa Anita Park this racing season. Newsom and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have been critical of the CHRB and have called for reform in California racing.