MARCH 8, 2001
LOS ANGELES, CA – Like all commissioners, Roger Licht serves on the California Horse Racing Board essentially for free – receiving only $100 or $200 a month for attending meetings, plus expenses. The special thing about Licht is that serving on the Board actually costs him money.

The 47-year-old Los Angeles attorney has been representing jockeys, trainers, and other licensees in disputes with the CHRB for 15 years, but all of that has changed since Governor Gray Davis appointed him a racing commissioner last month.

"I won’t be representing licensees in front of the Board while I’m a commissioner," explained Licht. "I am giving up a significant part of my business."

Licht is making this financial sacrifice because he is passionate about horse racing, and serving on the Board is a dream come true.

"When I was 9 years old my parents took me to the track for the first time on Memorial Day at Hollywood Park, just looking for something to do as a family," he recalled. "After the ninth race, I still didn’t want to leave, and I’ve felt that way ever since. In a sense, I never did leave the racetrack. The romance of the game got into my blood."

It’s a passion he shares with his wife, Mary Lou, who he met during the races at Hollywood Park, and their 7-year-old daughter, Jackie, noting that "with us, racing is a family affair."

Licht started claiming horses about five years ago, and has had an occasional runner with trainers Ron Ellis, Patricia Sterling, and Rene Amescua, but he hasn’t started a horse since early last year. However, a 3-year-old maiden is coming along nicely for him under the tutelage of Marty Jones, and Licht plans to claim a few more horses soon.

Between his racetrack clients, owning horses, and spending free mornings in the backstretch and afternoons at the races, Licht is a recognizable face to racetrack regulars. Passing through Clockers’ Corner on the morning of the Santa Anita Handicap draw, Licht stopped to chat with jockey agents, trainers, horse owners, turf writers, racetrack executives, and one or two fans, who all knew him on a first-name basis.

"One of the things I stressed in my interviews for this appointment (to the CHRB) was that I’m from the trenches as far as being at the track and dealing with people on the backside," said Licht. "And through my work, I’ve also developed a very good relationship with the CHRB investigators and the stewards. I have a great deal of respect for them all.

"The stewards come under criticism because that goes with the job. Whether you’re talking about referees, umpires, stewards, or whoever, that’s the nature of sporting events. Then when you add gambling to the mix, the criticism multiplies geometrically. But I know from dealing with them firsthand, the stewards are very good at their job."

In addition to matters pertaining to the stewards, Licht said he looks forward to dealing with medication issues in horse racing.

"I know a great deal about medication issues because I’ve represented various licensees at medication hearings with the stewards – trainers who had positives, things like that. I know the issues," he explained. "I’m at least interested in exploring alternatives for our drug-testing program. Certainly the idea of threshold levels interests me. That’s probably the number one issue in terms of need.

"We also need to reassure the owners, trainers, and fans about the integrity of the game. I know owners who have dropped out of racing because of abominable treatment by sales agents or trainers. We need to strictly enforce the rules and protect all racing participants.

Like all true racing fans, Licht wants the sport to regain some of its lost popularity. He would like to see a more positive focus on horse racing, perhaps by better publicizing what the industry is doing to improve the lives of its workers.

"I’ll do everything I can to help improve the game, because I’m as enthusiastic a fan as probably exists in the world," he said. "I guarantee I’ll be very open, very hands-on. I’m at the races all the time. I really love the game."

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