By John Scheinman
Seeking to address a rash of fatal breakdowns during the Laurel Park winter meet, the Maryland Racing Commission March 20 revised new claiming rules passed in February.
A three-member commission Safety and Welfare/Medication Committee was unable to pin down the cause of the breakdowns–10 horses in a span of 23 racing days, six of them at the bottom $5,000 claiming level–in a recent report, but MRC chairman Bruce Quade expressed a determination to act at the public meeting.
"The MRC is committed to chase this down and involve anybody who can help," Quade said. "There is no push-button solution."
The new rules, passed unanimously on an emergency basis, require horses to run at a 25% higher level for the first 30 days after they are claimed. Also, trainers who claim horses that are subsequently laid off for 180 days will have the option of returning the horse to the races without it being exposed to a claim for its initial outing, as long as it runs at the same price or higher.
In February the MRC approved a rule that a claimed horse could not be brought back to race at a price lower than the price for which it was claimed for 30 days. The 25% raise rule replaces that.
The new claiming rules will take approximately four weeks to implement and are subject to the approval of the state legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review. The racing commission expressed hope the rules would be in place by the time the second condition book is released for the upcoming Pimlico Race Course spring meet.
The new rules were among several proposed by the safety committee, and the others will be explored at upcoming meetings with stakeholders. They include voiding claims if horses break down on the track, keeping purses at a level no more than 2.5 times larger than the claiming price, and designating a single state veterinarian to administer furosemide, also called Salix or Lasix, on race days.
The MRC also discussed putting greater emphasis on state vet inspections of horses in the morning, during warm-ups before races, and how they cross the finish line.
"The commission vets have to be more diligent in the morning and in the afternoon," commission member David Hayden said.
"If I had my way–(Maryland Jockey Club president Tom) Chuckas and (racing secretary) Georganne (Hale) would have a fit–I'd scratch half the horses out there because I don't like the way they look," racing commission member John Franzone said. "When the marshal pays attention, that's when the bad guys leave town."
Chuckas said he supports the 25% raise rule as did several horsemen at the meeting. Trainer John Robb, however, said the condition book would need revision.
"If you look at the $15,000 (non-winners of) lifetime (conditions), the next step is $25,000, and then $30,000," Robb said. "That's a 100% jump, so the book has to be adjusted. It will stop all the claiming, and the claiming people will leave the state."