Some trainers active in the claiming box at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort are protesting a paddock rule they claim is being misinterpreted by officials and hindering their ability to conduct business.
According to the West Virginia Thoroughbred Rules of Racing: “Each racing association shall exclude from the paddock in the interest of public safety all persons who have no immediate business with the horses contained in the paddock.” Track stewards, in a note to horsemen, said the rule would be enforced “with no exceptions.”
Officials began enforcing the rule in late June. The action stemmed from complaints by trainers that other horsemen were sizing up stock before races to the point of being intrusive, according to reports from horsemen.
Trainer Loren Cox, vice president of the Mountaineer Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said July 10 he believes the rule is being misinterpreted. He said trainers out to claim horses should have access to the paddock.
“I think I have a business interest in that horse if I’m going to pay $20,000 for it,” said Cox, who noted people normally don’t buy houses without an inspection. “I don’t think this rule was meant to keep out people who are claiming horses. I’ve raced at 36 tracks and never encountered this.”
Trainers are permitted in a small area provided to the public for paddock viewing, but they must remain behind a fence. Mountaineer has an outdoor paddock that connects to an indoor paddock and the tunnel that leads to the racetrack.
Cox said trainers resorted to watching horses as they walked from the barn area to the paddock on a path along the Ohio River, but were “written up” by security and told to leave the area.
“We were a hundred yards from the paddock--almost in the river--and they ran us out,” Cox said.
Stewards couldn’t be immediately reached for comment July 11, a dark day at the track. Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer, noted stewards are enforcing a West Virginia Racing Commission rule.
“We have to enforce whatever the racing commission tells us to,” Williams said. “We’ll enforce the rule until they tell us not to enforce it.”
An influx of horses racing for purses boosted by gaming revenue has led to an increase in claiming activity at Mountaineer as well as Charles Town Races & Slots, also in West Virginia.