A claim made on a horse running in California will be voided by stewards if the animal is placed on the official veterinarian's list as lame or unsound following the race, under a rule adopted by the state's horse racing board Feb. 21.
On a unanimous 6-0 vote, the California Horse Racing Board, meeting at Santa Anita Park, gave final approval to the proposed rule change on claiming races. The rule has already undergone a 45-day public comment period after initial passage in September and will take effect later this year pending approval by the state office of administrative law.
Since 2011, the board has been trying to find a way to prevent trainers that could be seeking to dump unwanted or unsound horses on unsuspecting buyers in lower level claiming races. Trying to protect horses in such circumstances as well as their jockeys, the board initially passed a rule that voided a claim if an injured horse died during a race or before being removed from the track.
Two incidents in which horses were vanned off in dire condition after suffering injuries and later euthanized in the barn area, one at Del Mar and one at Betfair Hollywood Park, demonstrated the inadequacy of the rule. This latest amendment replaces that change.
"This is the rule that the stewards are comfortable with, the one veterinarians are comfortable with," said commissioner Bo Derek, who chairs the CHRB's medication and track safety committee. "I think it's essential to the future of racing. The claim will be voided if a horse is put on the vet's list after the race."
"The objective is to try to protect the integrity of racing and protect the jockeys," added commissioner Chuck Winner, a member of the committee. "No rule is going to be perfect. I do believe we have gone around and around on this and there are always going to be problems, it's never going to be perfect no matter what we do. But this is the best solution we can come up with."
Barry Broad, an attorney representing the Jockeys' Guild, said the organization is strongly in favor of the rule change.
Dr. Rick Arthur, the board's equine medical director, said that a horse that is claimed will be taken to the receiving barn after the race, where it would receive an inspection from the racing vet or state vet. A horse would be placed on the vet's list only if found to be lame or unsound. The rule would not apply to a horse that is vanned off the track for other reasons, such as heat exhaustion or bleeding from the lungs, Arthur said.
"We (official vets) make this same decision about whether a horse goes on the vet's list every day," said Arthur, who supported the rule change. "It's their job."
Arthur told the board that since the beginning of 2009, 96 Thoroughbreds that were claimed in California wound up on the vet's list. Thirteen were euthanized as a result of severe injuries and most of the others either never returned to racing or were out of action for an extended period of time.
Elsewhere, the board approved Betfair Hollywood Park for its 75th annual spring/summer meet, which runs this year from April 22 to July 16. Perhaps the most surprising announcement during the board's consideration of the license application was that Hollywood would be dropping its Friday night schedule, including its concert series. This year's meet will be conducted entirely during the day while regularly racing Thursday through Sunday.
"We've had a lot of experience with Friday nights, but they are not profitable," said Dyan Grealish, Hollywood's vice president for sales and marketing. She said the concert series attracted good crowds over the years, but the younger audience didn't do much wagering and proved unlikely to return to the track for racing.
Added track president Jack Liebau: "One indication of that is on Friday nights we tried to give away PPs (past performance records), short programs, and they did not get picked up."
Liebau said the Friday night cards were not only difficult to fill, but they also had a negative effect on Saturday attendance.
Hollywood and the Thoroughbred Owners of California have not come to an agreement extending the 14% takeout rate on the popular Pick 5 wager, either. Unless horsemen agree, the Pick 5 first instituted by Hollywood last year would only be offered at the standard 23% takeout rate on exotic wagers in California, Liebau said.
"You have to realize that the Pick 5 is somewhat controversial, to say the least," Liebau said. "There are those in the industry that think it's good for the industry and those that think it's bad.
"We're in discussions and I think we'll work it out and go on," he added.
David Israel was voted chairman of the CHRB for the coming year. The former vice chair replaces Keith Brackpool, who resigned from the board last month to become part of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields in California. Winner is the new vice chairman.
Israel, 61, has been on the board since 2008, when he was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The New York native is a film producer and writer and a former syndicated columnist and sports reporter.
The board also approved Rancho Paseana Training Center in Santa Fe as an authorized training facility. Clifford Sise, farm manager for owner Jenny Craig, said the facility near Del Mar trains between 100 and 120 horses per day, many of them sent there by the leading trainers in Southern California. He requested that the CHRB approve an official clocker for workouts to be held each Saturday.
Sise said that Rancho Paseana has a six-furlong dirt track and provides ambulance service and other required staff to conduct full training.
Kirk Breed, CHRB executive director, said the private farms are going to become more prominent as training centers in the future.
"I see this as a very positive move for racing and I recommend the board approve it," he said.