The rare rule change on claiming races was first proposed by the Thoroughbred Owners of California last October. After some delay while legal counsel wrestled with the definition of a claiming event, it was approved as an addition to existing regulations by the CHRB, 5-0, for a 45-day public comment period. Assuming it passes muster with the legislative analyst's office, the rule could be back before the board for final approval in late May.
Under the amended rule, a horse that returns from a layoff of six months or more and is entered back at its prior claiming level or higher can be declared ineligible to be bought for the claiming price others in the race are subject to. The exemption applies to only the first race back.
Tom Bachman, TOC's vice chairman for the northern half of the state, told the board that "owners would like to have the ability to rest a horse ... and take advantage of the time without having to worry about the horse being claimed the first time back."
Bachman argued that a horse's career can be lengthened with proper rest. But he said that an owner in that position who loses the horse to a claim has no chance of recouping what it cost to rehabilitate the animal. That's especially true in Northern California, he noted, where claiming races are mostly contested at the lowest levels.
Chairman Richard Shapiro said the rule change "is a grand thing and benefits the horse, so I support going forward with this."
Vice chairman John Harris said he backed the new rule because he feels racing stock will benefit somewhat, but added, "I don't think it will have that great an effect."
During a 5 1/2-hour meeting at Bay Meadows, the CHRB mostly dealt with lingering issues such as the claiming rule. The board took action on a proposed penalty for failing to properly declare first-time geldings, banning the veterinarian practice of "heel nerving" and uncoupling entries in certain instances.
It also learned that the satellite wagering facility being constructed to replace the one at the closing Bay Meadows Race Course is on target and should be ready to open in late August. The new facility, at the San Mateo County Event Center, is next door to the racetrack grounds. A development project is expected to shutter Bay Meadows and its satellite facility, the largest in Northern California, later this year.
For several months, the board has argued over what to do with the problem of a first-time gelding who, for whatever reason, isn't reported in time to make the official program. The issue, which board members noted is mostly ignored by other racing jurisdictions, is important in California because of the popularity of multi-race wagers, especially the Pick Six.
Commissioners, trainers and owners remain split on whether the answer is to increase the fine to trainers to $1,000 (from an average of $300) for failure to report the "ultimate equipment change" in a timely manner, or to simply scratch the horse when the information fails to get to the public in advance of a race. In the end, the board okayed a 45-day public comment period with both solutions as options and will take up the issue once more after hearing from interested parties.
Commissioner Jesse Choper said "the problem is the information system" that fails to get the change reported and the solution needs to correct that.
The "heel nerving" issue, or posterior digital neurectomy as the procedure is known, has been argued for months as well. Dr. Rick Arthur, the CHRB's equine medical director, told the board once again that banning the practice is "unnecessary, unwarranted and unsupported" by veterinary evidence that it is harmful to horses.
However, many believe the procedure, in which the posterior digital nerves of a horse's hoof are transacted in order to desensitize an injured part of the foot, could be fatal to a horse that re-injures the foot and is unaware of it.
The board voted to end the practice by banning any additions to the list of nerved horses on June 1. Arthur said there are nine horses in Southern California on the list, but he didn't know about Northern California. Any horses on the list at the deadline would be allowed to continue racing since, commissioners reasoned, no rules had been broken.
Arthur said that it will be difficult to enforce the ban since there is often no observable physical sign that the procedure has been performed. The rule change would make it illegal to race, sell or offer for sale on a California racetrack any horse that has been nerved.
The board has been toying with a change in coupling rules on shared ownership of horses in the same race for some time, even allowing complete uncoupling during trial periods. However, commissioner Jerry Moss, who chairs the CHRB's pari-mutuel committee, reports that the public is resistant to changes in rules on entries because of fear that races could be "manipulated."
Shapiro agreed that the public has "a perception issue" with uncoupling horses.
Under the rule change approved for a 45-day public comment period, the board would allow an owner with partial interest in more than one horse with different partners to run uncoupled if the horses involved have separate trainers.
Moss and commissioner John Amerman suggested that the compromise could be a first step toward the eventual end to coupling rules.
The new San Mateo satellite wagering facility is a joint collaboration of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the San Mateo County Event Center, representatives told the board. The development team has put together a financing package of $4.6 million, they said. The renovated facility would hold more than 1,000 patrons with the potential for more capacity in an adjacent hall in the case of overflow.