Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rule Suspension Leaves Tracks Scrambling

A settlement has apparently been reached over a federal lawsuit involving a controversial California claiming rule, but racetracks in the state are scrambling to deal with the fall-out left from the suspension of the regulation.

Owner Jerry Jamgotchian claims he has reached a settlement in his federal lawsuit against the California Horse Racing Board, which recently fully suspended a “jail-time” restriction challenged in the legal action.

A subsection of the rule, which restricted the racing of certain California-claimed horses out of the state until 60 days elapsed from the end of the meet in which it was claimed, was recently suspended by the CHRB. Jamgotchian’s lawsuit claimed the jail-time subsection, which was adopted in 2005 in an effort to fend off “raiding” by out-of-state owners, violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In asking to confirm the settlement, the CHRB said in an e-mail to The Blood-Horse that “until a notice of dismissal is filed with the court, a lawsuit is not settled, and until that time, the California Horse Racing Board will not comment on the status of the lawsuit."

The settlement is believed to include a payment to Jamgotchian of $9,500 for reimbursement of legal fees and costs.

The CHRB has authorized a 45-day public notice for a revision to the rule that would change the out-of-state restriction language to “60 days after the date of the race” instead of “after the close of the meeting.” Horses running in out-of-state stakes races are exempt from the rule. There will be a public hearing on the proposal at the May 19 board meeting.

The board also has requested an opinion from the California Office of the Attorney General on this provision. According to documents included in Jamgotchian’s lawsuit, the Attorney General advised the board in 2003 that such a claiming restriction would violate the U.S. Constitution.

In the meantime, California racetracks are left with trying to figure out how to deal without the regulation’s protection. Santa Anita Park president Ron Charles and Del Mar vice president of racing Tom Robbins both told The Blood-Horse California tracks and owners are collectively trying to come up with a solution to the problem that will work within the confines of constitutional issues raised in Jamgotchian’s lawsuit.

“There are some options that we have that we are looking at to protect our racing inventory,” Charles said without elaborating on the specifics of any plans. “I think it is fair to say that the tracks and the (Thoroughbred Owners of California) are trying to get their heads together to see what we can do. We don’t always look at things in the same way, but in this case, we’re on the same team.”