Board Backtracks on Calif. Claim Rule Change

California Horse Racing Board tables amendment that would have voided some claims.

Backtracking on a rule amendment that one observer said "would fundamentally change the claiming game," the California Horse Racing Board tabled a proposal that would have voided a claim if the horse that was bought, due to injury or distress, was unable to return to the designated unsaddling area after the finish of the race.

The board approved the change for a 45-day public comment Oct. 15, but reconsidered its action Nov. 17 at Golden Gate Fields. On the suggestion of John Harris, the board's chairman, it was tabled. After originally finding the rule change had merit, Harris said he questioned whether it would do what it was intended for.

The rule amendment was intended to protect a buyer from unwittingly claiming an unsound horse from a trainer or owner trying to rid themselves of the animal, as well as to protect the horse from being placed in jeopardy. Proposed by Dr. Rick Arthur, the CHRB's equine medical director, it would have required track stewards to void the claim in the event the horse was unable to return for unsaddling with the rest of the field. Arthur did not attend the Nov. 17 meeting.

Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said he encountered "a very strong reaction (from trainers) to changing the claiming rule." A CTT representative had voiced support for the rule change at the Oct. 15 meeting, but Halpern said the organization's position had been misinterpreted.

"It has always been a part of the game," Halpern said of the uncertainty when claiming a horse.

Halpern later said, "Everyone that commented on the rule change was not happy about it." He added that it "doesn't accomplish what it was supposed to with regard to horse safety."

Ron Charles, president of Santa Anita Park, said the wording of the rule amendment needs additional work before there is any further consideration. He earlier warned the board that the proposal invited opportunity for "shenanigans" by a trainer hoping to avoid having a horse claimed away.

Arthur originally reported that the CHRB rule amendament was patterned after one the Association of Racing Commissioners International was considering as a model rule on voiding claims in certain instances. It is to be addressed at the ARCI meeting next month in Tucson, Ariz., Arthur said.

Subsequent to the original approval, Arthur reported to the CHRB staff that a similar change to claiming rules in New York was rejected after receiving considerable opposition. He also reported that a committee of industry representatives several years ago was unable to come up with a satisfactory claim protection rule, the committee finally determining that such a change would be "unworkable."

Commissioner David Israel, who was not present for the October meeting, said the rule change "falls into the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' category. That's my position."

Commissioner Keith Brackpool agreed, comparing it to redesigning a building in order to fix a stuck door.