‘They Are Not Our Friends’: California Officials Say Animal Rights Extremists Used COVID-19 To Halt Racing

For animal rights extremists who have been lobbying to halt California horse racing for the last several years, the coronavirus pandemic provided an opportunity too good to resist. That’s the theory shared by several in California racing, including Thoroughbred Owners of California president and CEO Greg Avioli.

In a call hosted by TOC Friday, Avioli and Craig Fravel, chief executive officer for racing operations for The Stronach Group, indicated they thought interest from the Los Angeles County Health Department stemmed from complaints from animal rights extremist groups. Fravel mentioned that several public information act requests are pending to try to confirm.

“We have seen multiple social media posts urging members to weigh in with Alameda County, LA County, Orange County, to use this as an opportunity to shut down racing,” said Avioli.

Social media posts and activity on a recent California Horse Racing Board teleconference have appeared to suggest that people who previously sent letters and comments to local officials about their ethical objections to racing were now reframing their complaints to focus on the potential of COVID-19 spread in the barn area.

“I’m very passionate about the subject,” Avioli said. “It’s one thing to support animal welfare, but the extremists who want to end horse racing. We cannot work with them. They are not our friends. They’ve largely lied and they’ve been given a free run on the lead. The TOC are working with a number of people throughout the state and we are preparing a very strong response both to them directly and to the legislature and members of the administration office.

“Having said that, animal welfare groups are important to the legislature in California and we actually work quite well with animal welfare groups. But animal extremists who want to end horse racing, want to end the ownership of dogs and cats, these are not our friends. We have been too passive in the past and you can expect a much stronger response.”

Santa Anita officials revealed they were expecting a meeting with the Los Angeles County Health Department on April 18 to reassess the timeframe for no-spectator racing. Until that point, they have been told the department is not willing to make exceptions to any of its mandates as the coronavirus crisis rages on.

Also on Friday’s call, Avioli reported Los Alamitos was not considering picking up dates from Santa Anita, which would require permission from the track and the racing commission. Leadership at Los Alamitos has expressed concern that a request to begin live Thoroughbred racing early may attract attention from Orange County health officials that would endanger its Quarter Horse season or even training operations there.

In the meantime, The Stronach Group’s chief strategy officer Aidan Butler said the company is making contingency plans for the best way to restart no-spectator racing while maintaining social distancing guidelines. Butler expressed interest in the system Major League Baseball is considering, which includes sequestering players and coaches in housing near the stadiums hosting their games to minimize the exposure of the team to others. Such a system could be considered for jockeys when racing resumes.

Additionally, Avioli announced the TOC has been working on agreements with other industry groups to resolve a $2 million shortfall with Post Time Self Insurance Group, the group California trainers use for worker’s compensation. Trainers will likely not have to foot that bill themselves, although Avioli did not immediately provide details on where that money was coming from. An announcement with more information is expected early next week.

The TOC and others have fielded questions from owners in recent days about whether trainers who are laying off workers or applying for Small Business Administration loans to maintain payroll should be required to lower their day rates while racing is shut down. One owner on the call questioned whether this could constitute “double dipping” as part of a day rate is supposed to be the cost of labor. TOC Chairman of Racing Affairs Gary Fenton said that in discussing the issue, both owners nor trainers had expressed dissatisfaction with the idea of having fee structures mandated during this time.

“Owners paying the day rate and keeping horses in training is vital to the owner’s business and vital to the circuit’s business,” said Fenton, who cited one trainer who had voluntarily reduced day rates to help owners keep their horses in California. “I’ve had numerous discussions with other owners and other trainers and it’s really a personal thing between each owner and each trainer. We’ve advised everybody to reach out and discuss the issue with your particular trainer.”

Earlier this week, Ontario Racing announced that horsemen would be permitted to apply to get a cut of the money in the group’s purse account that would be undistributed due to the cancellation of racing. The TOC indicated California purse accounts are in good shape and all parties were considering starting a similar program there — particularly if the shutdown continues long-term.

The post ‘They Are Not Our Friends’: California Officials Say Animal Rights Extremists Used COVID-19 To Halt Racing appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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