Chuck Winner, former CHRB chairman who oversaw horse racing reforms, dies at 81
Chuck Winner, former chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, who set the stage for reforms in the state after the Santa Anita fatality crisis in 2019, died Thursday of natural causes. He was 81.
Winner was known to more than the horse racing community. He was active in state politics dating to his days at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, where he was a member of the Young Democrats. He navigated his way through politics starting with the 1958 gubernatorial run of Gov. Pat Brown, according to the YouGov website.
He also worked on local and national campaigns before co-founding Winner, Wagner & Associates, a public relations firm. The firm expanded and he set up a specialty of working on ballot initiatives. When horse racing came under attack in 2019, he told The Times that he had a plan if a ballot initiative were to be brought to eliminate horse racing in the state. No such measure has gained enough support.
There was a spike in horse fatalities during races at the track, more than 20 dead in about three and a half months.
Through it all, he mixed his love of politics and horse racing and became an owner, even if on a fractional basis.
He was asked to join the CHRB in 2012 and spent his last five years as chairman until voluntarily leaving the Board in 2019.
“From the time he went to work as an assistant to Gov. Pat Brown, carrying his bag and coat on the campaign trail, Chuck Winner dedicated his life to make the world a better place,” said David Israel, who Winner succeeded as chair of the CHRB.
“He loved his family, his state and his horses passionately. He also loved the Clippers. But no man is perfect.”
Winner guided the CHRB through the fatality crisis at Santa Anita in 2019. At one point, near the end of the meeting, he asked Santa Anita to stop racing. The track refused, leading to legislation that now gives the CHRB that power. It also signaled the start of a major horse racing safety reform in California, although Winner was not still in office to guide it through the formative stages.
“It’s been a challenging yet fulfilling seven years,” Winner said at the end of his term. “My colleagues and I have faced some challenging and critical issues. I hope that we have made a positive difference.”
L.A. County district attorney’s investigation of horse deaths at Santa Anita results in many safety recommendations but finds no criminal wrongdoing.
Winner was also the subject of controversy in the Board’s handling of a drug positive of Triple Crown winner Justify after he won the Santa Anita Derby. Winner had used Bob Baffert as one of his trainers and cries of conflict of interest were levied against Winner when the Board did not sanction Baffert, even though the positive was because of feed contamination. Justify went on to win the Triple Crown.
“He was a dear friend who had more integrity than anyone I ever worked with,” said Rick Baedeker, who was the executive director of the CHRB during Winner’s tenure. “And he did more for racing than anyone I have ever known.
“No one will ever appreciate the role he played in the way we are now [as the safest racing state in the country]. Without him we would have never gotten to this point.”
Winner had some health issues lately, having a stroke last year and also contracting the coronavirus. But friends who visited him said he appeared to be his former self after the setbacks.
Winner is survived by his wife, Annie, and four children, Justyn, Ethan, Nicole, and Zach.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
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