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Exclusive Preview-of the August issue
of the California Thoroughbred magazine-
"John Harris speaks out on key issues impacting
California racing."
For what it’s worth, here is what I think about some of the current issues facing California’s Thoroughbred Industry:
  • License fee relief may finally be a reality for California! This gross receipt tax has taken millions each year from the various parts of the horse industry. We have been working on getting an equitable tax for years. Due to California’s overall healthy economic condition, the state has a budget surplus this year and we have finally gotten to the point where opportunity met preparation. If things go as planned, the racing industry will see license fees rolled back almost 40 million dollars. It’s not over until it’s over and things could change by the time you read this, but let’s hope it makes it. This will mean purse increases of about 12% and healthy increases in the important Cal Bred incentive program. CTBA was a key player in the process and was proud to be of help. Sen. Ken Maddy deserves much credit for getting this critical legislation passed. Ken is now in his last year as a State Senator and has been a godsend to the horse industry. This is a fitting victory lap.
  • Racing dates are a hot area of controversy this year. I feel that some in the industry, in particular TOC, are off base in their recommendations. They suggest that 4 day weeks be mandated and there not be concurrent racing in the North and the South on certain days. I agree that sometimes there have been too many days of consecutive racing and field sizes have suffered. But let’s trim, not use a meat ax approach. We should drop the 6 day weeks, except where there are obviously enough horses to fill the races. Maybe some 4 day weeks will evolve if full card simulcasting ever becomes legal, but let’s walk before we run on such a major change.

I think a 2 or 3 day gap between meetings may be a good idea, but am opposed to the 2 or 3 week gaps that TOC has suggested. When someone has a horse ready to run, it could be very damaging to have to wait a few weeks to even have a racing day available.

  • Racing desperately needs better promotion if we are to regain our stature as a major American sport. Thus I am a firm supporter of the NTRA. That said, I do have concerns about the current advertising program. I just don’t think the current ads work. I would like to see some good research done by an independent agency to really assess if the approach is right. I have also heard a lot of complaints that we are preaching to the choir in the ad placements by focusing on racing shows rather than the general market. Apparently some of this is due to the need to buy the time for the racing shows and the inability of the shows to sell to anyone but racing interests. The ads NTRA is using on the racing shows definitely don’t fit that target market of hard core fans. Racing shows are watched by folks that are pretty unimpressed by a girl who appears to be on serious medications zipping around the grandstand muttering "go baby go."

Even though this horse may have stumbled at the start, let’s hope it can get itself running again quickly. We need to be spending even more money than we are, but let’s spend it smarter.

  • California’s initiative process has brought both good and bad things over the years. There are 2 initiatives on the ballot that I feel should be defeated. One is the Indian Gaming Initiative now Proposition 5. This would open up Indian Reservations and land that they acquire to unregulated, untaxed, unlimited casino-style gambling. I feel American Natives do deserve to be able to conduct any form of gambling that is legal in California, but should not be able to spread this advantage to games that California does not permit. Horse racing will be severely damaged by the expansion of full casino gambling. We have a clean sport that employs thousands of people both at the tracks and in the agricultural sector, and contributes to the preservation of open space. Let’s not let Californians legalize something that could ruin the horse racing industry.
  • Another measure on the ballot, Proposition 6, could do more to hurt horses than help them. This measure makes it a felony to sell a horse that could end up going to a processing plant. I personally am currently spending thousands each year to take care of my retired horses. Unfortunately, many people can not afford this expense and there needs to be some humane way to dispose of unwanted horses. No one is fond of slaughtering horses, but it is a much kinder act than seeing them neglected and mistreated to die from malnutrition and neglect. If there is not some economic outlet for horses, then I am concerned that people will simply abandon them. There are good laws on the books dealing with humane transport and slaughter. These laws are enforced and provide a much better way to deal with animal welfare than Prop. 6.              JCH


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