Fair manager votes to give Sacramento agency more control of local horse racing meet and dates

From the March 3, 2016 print edition

Based on a vote taken Tuesday in Sacramento, The Humboldt County Fair Association (HCFA) may turn over control of its horse racing program in 2017 to a Sacramento-based joint powers authority that historically has not supported the HCFA’s attempts to negotiate profitable race dates.

At a meeting of the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF), HCFA General Manager Richard Conway seconded a motion for a CARF “combined race meet” that CARF would control and which would include summer fair racing dates from late June to early October, possibly allocated by the state in one block.

Historically, individual racing fairs have submitted their own applications for racing dates to the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).

CARF has not supported the HCFA when it has attempted to obtain exclusive race dates from the state in hopes of increasing revenue. In fact, even though CARF recently voted for a proposed 2017 calendar that would provide two weeks of exclusive and profitable racing dates (albeit pushing Ferndale into Labor Day weekend of 2017), the CARF executive director offered little hope Tuesday for the calendar to become reality.

“There are elements of that calendar that this group has decided to go forward with that will be controversial,” said CARF Executive Director Chris Korby. “It’s reasonable to say that chances of success are not great.”

Negotiations before the CHRB for 2017 racing dates are set to begin this spring. The process usually drags on for months and is thick with political complications as the racing industry in the state continues to contract.

Tuesday, that contraction squeezed another racing fair out of business. It was announced that the historic San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton will not race this summer.  The Alameda County Fair will request Stockton’s September dates from the CHRB.

CARF’s Live Racing Committee members have now been whittled down to four fairs, from eight, including the HCFA. The other three at the table are the California State Fair, the Alameda County Fair and the Fresno fair.

In 2013, CARF also took a vote that supposedly supported two weeks of exclusive racing dates for Ferndale. The HCFA fair board issued a press release touting what it thought was a victory, only to be left by the road side when CARF abandoned the HCFA in front of the state horse racing board.

CARF was also disgruntled when in 2010, the HCFA’s former general manager Stuart Titus obtained lucrative exclusive race dates from the CHRB, going toe-to-toe against CARF’s executive director. Titus also managed to obtain legislation that continues to provide the HCFA with badly-needed subsidies from within the racing industry — an effort that also was criticized by Korby.

In 2009, Titus also agreed to the same concept of a “combined race meet,” but later pulled out of the agreement when CARF scheduled its own race meet at Golden Gate Fields at the same time of the Ferndale race meet.

The fair board’s more recent representatives have pleaded with CARF and the CHRB for better racing dates, stating that without them the local racing meet is not sustainable. When three out of four of the racing fair representatives were asked if they supported the “combined race meet” concept run by CARF, they said they were. Korby then turned to Conway.

“I don’t think we have an issue with it,” said Conway.

As for the 2016 summer racing season, Korby explained that fairs will seek their racing licenses individually this spring from the CHRB but under an “umbrella” of CARF. 2016 racing dates were decided last year with Ferndale’s scheduled fair running August 18-28.

In other fair related news, it was explained at the CARF meeting that recent state general fund monies allocated to fairs — including the HCFA, for deferred maintenance projects — will be administered by the state’s Department of General Services and that fairs will have to front project money before being reimbursed. Projects may also take “two-to-three” years to be approved, stated CARF’s lobbyist Louie Brown. The HCFA was awarded $500,000 to replace water lines and remove asbestos tiles from the floor of Belotti Hall. The money allocated for the floor removal did not include funds for a replacement floor. At Monday’s night’s HCFA board meeting, Conway stated the fair may have to do a fundraiser to pay for a new floor.

(Disclosure: The Enterprise editor is married to the HCFA former general manager.)

Comments are closed.