DEL MAR — Trainers decided Thursday to boycott racing at the Del Mar Race Track, a move that is expected to cancel racing this weekend and threatens the remainder of the meet.
The horsemen said that there is a shortage of skilled workers to care for the horses. They said hundreds of undocumented aliens who work as stable hands, exercise riders and hot-walkers have left the track this week because of the threat of a raid by immigration authorities.
Joseph Harper, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club general manager, said Thursday that only 10 entries have been received for Saturday races.
Harper said the entry deadline for Saturday races was extended to 9 a.m. today to attempt to fill the lucrative weekend racing card that have brought in daily betting of $5 million during this season's meet. On a typical weekend day the track draws more than 25,000 people.
Horse trainers, members of the California Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Assn., voted Thursday morning not to enter their horses in weekend racing. Horse owners and the news media were excluded from the session, but Bob Frankel, president of the HBPA, said there was a consensus among members to withhold entries from the Del Mar card.
Harper told members of a California Race Track Leasing Commission subcommittee that the remainder of the thoroughbred season racing schedule at Del Mar is in jeopardy. A spokesman for the trainers said there would still be a shortage of workers Monday, and the trainers won't enter the horses without workers to care for them.
Each canceled day of racing means a loss of about $220,000 to the state and $11,000 to the City of Del Mar.
If the purpose of the boycott was in part to bring pressure on immigration authorities, there was no evidence Thursday that the tactic would succeed.
John Belluardo, spokesman for the regional director of the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service, said that the horse trainers' threatened boycott did not change plans for a major raid on illegal aliens at the race track. INS officials obtained a search order for the track Tuesday, which they plan to execute in the next week.
An estimated one-third to one-half of the 3,000 workers on Del Mar's backstretch are illegal aliens, the largest concentration of undocumented workers in San Diego County, immigration authorities say.
They said they began pressing the trainers two years ago, suggesting that trainers might apply for special permission to hire illegal aliens.
Harper said that a full card of horses had been entered in today's races, ensuring that there would be at least one more day of racing in the 42-day 1985 season. The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, a nonprofit group that runs the Del Mar Race Track season, also receives about $220,000 a day for each day of operation.
Attendance and betting have been running about 11% above last year, but Harper said that if the remainder of the season is canceled because of a standoff between the horsemen and the INS, "everyone will lose." If the racing season ends with today's schedule, Del Mar Race Track will lose 16 days of racing--38% of its season. The meet ends Sept. 11.
Trainers say that nearly 800 of the estimated 1,200 to 1,500 undocumented workers have left the track. The horsemen claim that they cannot find trained replacements for the workers.
Harper said he had learned only recently that the trainers had been warned by the INS more than two years ago to "clean up their act" and secure grooms, hot-walkers and other stable help who were U.S. citizens or aliens with work permits.
In talking to horsemen, Harper said, he learned that "they are a mixed group" with a wide difference of opinions about whether they can operate with temporary help.
Some trainers think that they "cannot operate with untrained temporary help" while others "don't seem to be affected" by the exodus of skilled, undocumented track workers, he said.
"Many (of the horsemen) feel that by not entering their horses they can change things," Harper said.
If the races are canceled, it will be the first time a California track has been shut down for reasons other than weather or labor disputes, according to Leonard Foote, secretary of the California Horse Racing Board.
But, Foote said, the state regulatory agency which serves as a watchdog over racing operations is powerless to do anything to influence the situation at Del Mar.
INS and racing officials broke off a four-hour meeting Wednesday without solving the problem. Both sides said the other refused to bend enough.
John Fulton, a spokesman for the horsemen's association, said many trainers have been unable to train their horses without the needed work force, "and you can't run them if they are not in proper shape."
Fulton said that the situation "has been going on for several days, and we can get away with it for a few days, but now we have to admit that we can't handle the job without our workers."