Drama Surrounds CHRB Rule Suspension

CHRB suspends "jail-time" rule.

The suspension of a California Horse Racing Board rule governing statutory “jail-time” in claiming a Thoroughbred racehorse is just the latest development in a bizarre drama surrounding the controversial regulation.

The CHRB on March 16 announced the suspension of Rule 1663, which, in part, prevents a horse claimed in a California race from running in a non-stakes race in another state until 60 days have passed from the close of the meeting in which it was claimed.

But here’s the catch: The rule was allegedly waived during a CHRB meeting held in June 2006, and could be viewed as unenforceable since that time. That temporary suspension and subsequent non-reinstatement of the rule, if true, has apparently gone unnoticed by regulatory authorities, as several fines have been leveled against horsemen going forward.

The CHRB in its one-paragraph announcement acknowledged the rule was “suspended in its entirety” until further notice, based on enforceability issues stemming from the 2006 decision, and said it would address the matter at its upcoming March 19 board meeting.

But the CHRB declined to further discuss the subject when contacted by The Blood-Horse March 17. “It would be premature for the CHRB to comment on this before the racing commissioners discuss the entire matter Thursday at the board meeting,” an e-mail response said in part.

The CHRB as recently as its Feb. 26 board meeting approached the rule as an active and enforceable one, debating whether to change the term limits of the “jail time,” or the period in which a horse is restricted from racing outside of the state.

The rule, which was adopted in 2005, has been lauded by some as a way to prevent the “raiding” of horses running at California tracks. At the time such a rule was being debated, there was a belief that some horsemen were excessively claiming horses from California and taking them out of the state, and thus reducing the available racing population to dangerous levels.

But the rule has been criticized by others including activist owner Jerry Jamgotchian in a lawsuit filed in California federal court March 10 as being overly restrictive, and in violation of the United States Constitution’s commerce governance.

According to documents included in Jamgotchian’s lawsuit, the California Attorney General’s office in 2003 advised the CHRB that such a rule would be “unconstitutional, as a violation of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.”

At least six horsemen have been fined a total of $8,600 since the rule was allegedly waived in 2006, including a $6,000 fine against Edgar Roy Clarke levied in July 2007, according to a document viewed by The Blood-Horse. Clarke, who additionally received a 60-day suspension of his license, was penalized for racing two California-claimed harness horses at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania in May 2007.

Jamgotchian also claims the rule improperly prevented him from running a horse claimed in California at an out-of-state track. His lawsuit contends former CHRB executive director Ingrid Fermin in October 2006 ordered stewards to scratch a filly that Jamgotchian had entered to race at Turf Paradise in Arizona. Jamgotchian, who was never penalized for the alleged rule violation, had claimed the filly, named Look Closely, at Del Mar in September 2006.

“I'm pleased that the CHRB suspended its unconstitutional claiming rule which they actually suspended in June 2006, but I am angered by the fact that both former CHRB executive director Ingrid Fermin and former CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro allowed stewards and other CHRB officials to continue enforcement of the suspended claiming rule against me and other California owners,” Jamgotchian said in an e-mail statement to The Blood-Horse March 17.

Jamgotchian said he intends to file a lawsuit against both Fermin and Sharpiro. “We'll then find out in a deposition why they both elected to enforce a suspended rule,” he said.

Reaction from either Fermin or Shapiro wasn’t immediately available.

Jamgotchian also said he will dismiss his previously-filed lawsuit against the CHRB if court costs and legal fees are reimbursed to him.