Drafts of two rules aimed at increasing field sizes – one affecting claimed horses and the other limiting scratches -- were approved Monday by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority.
Representatives of the state’s Thoroughbred tracks supported both rule changes while a representative of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association voiced his opposition. Neither proposal will have an immediate effect, however, since the regulatory process could take up to six months before final approval is given.
The KHRA’s action on claiming races would preclude horses from running at tracks outside Kentucky for either 60 days after being claimed or 30 days following the meet at which the horse was claimed, whichever comes first.
Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton cited the number of horses claimed at the Keeneland spring meet and the current Churchill meet that ran back at tracks outside Kentucky as examples of how the present claiming game restricts field sizes in the Bluegrass state. He noted that other states have enacted similar rules, precluding those horses from participating in Kentucky racing.
"It's hard for us to watch other states pass rules … where they are guarding the horses in their state so people don't go and claim them and run them other places. … We've got to do something about it to assist the field sizes," he said.
KHBPA executive director Marty Maline said the rules would be too restrictive for some owners. He cited the case in which a horse claimed at a certain level at one Kentucky track would not be eligible for any races at the Kentucky track that follows the meet from which he or she were claimed. The result would be a lengthy wait until the horse could race again if they were not permitted to race in other states, Maline said.
"While we recognize there has been a problem here with horses being claimed here and taken out of state, the problem is that we have several different classes of racetracks," Maline said.
Maline also cited similar concerns for his group’s opposition to changes in the current rules under which a horse can race after having previously been scratched due to medical reasons.
Presently, such a scratched horse can run again within six days. Under the draft approved Monday, the scratched horse could be entered after six days, meaning they would be running eight to nine days (depending upon the entry schedule for the track) after the scratch.
A change in the rule is necessary to help curb abuses of the so-called “vet scratch” procedures, according to KHRA member Doug Hendrickson. He said medical reasons are being used to scratch horses who have no medical problem because the horses are eligible to run back within six days.
Once entries have been drawn for a race, horses can be scratched without cause until the field is reduced to eight starters. At that point, a veterinary certificate citing a medical reason is needed for the horse to be scratched.
Chief steward John Veitch said extending the eligible period for which the “vet’s list” horses could be re-entered might stem some of the questionable veterinary scratches.
Some authority members opposed changing the rules as the solution to the problem, noting that the ultimate solution would be for the KHRA to have adequate financial resources to hire additional veterinarians to confirm the medical problems cited on the veterinary scratch sheets.
Maline said the additional time for which vet’s list horses could race again was too restrictive for some horses, such as those who are initially scratched for a reason such as being given medication while being shipped.
"We feel it's not fair to the owner to penalize those horses because of some instances where perhaps someone feels a veterinarian is not being totally honest in allowing a vet scratch," he said.
The proposal was approved 6-3. Authority member Tom Ludt, who voted against the change, said he preferred that the state’s General Assembly solve the problem by increasing the KHRA’s funding.
Both the proposed claiming and vet’s list rules will be sent to the Legislative Research Commission for study to make sure they are in compliance with the state Constitution and other rules. From that point, public hearings will be held and legislative approval is needed before either becomes officially part of the state’s racing rules and regulations.
In other action, the KHRA renewed its drug testing contract with Iowa State University for one year. Earlier this year, state auditor Crit Luallen recommended consideration of an in-state lab for the services.
KHRA executive director Lisa Underwood said any decision on changing the lab used for drug testing should wait until the authority fills the newly created position of equine medical director. KHRA chairman Bill Street said the Iowa State contract renewal included a 4% increase in cost of the service, but added that there had been no fee increase during the previous year.