California Considers Stiffer Claiming Rules

Santa Anita Park racing secretary Mike Harlow has noticed a trend for several years, and it doesn't bode well for California's Thoroughbred industry. Harlow said California horses are being claimed by out-of-state trainers who have them shipped elsewhere when a meet concludes. Some horsemen believe the practice is depleting the claiming ranks and contributing to small field sizes in California.

As a solution to the problem, Harlow and other racing secretaries have asked the California Horse Racing Board to amend a rule so that any claimed horse must remain in the state for an additional 60 days after a meet. The board was scheduled to consider the rule change at a meeting Feb. 23 at Golden Gate Fields.

"We're trying to protect our resources," Harlow said. "With the new rule, hopefully we will be able to keep the horses a little bit longer, and maybe retain some of them."

If the rule change were approved, the only exception would be for a claiming horse entered in a stakes out of state.

Harlow estimates that between 30 and 40 horses have been shipped out of state after the last three Southern California meets. The amount may seem insignificant, but the horses are those that frequently show up in the entry box.

Trainers can find quality horses in Southern California, and the stock does well on other circuits such as West Virginia, where gaming revenue has made for lucrative purses.

"The purse sizes at tracks across the nation are getting more competitive, and the quality of those fields are probably weaker than ours," said Ed Halpern, director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers Association. "It makes the most sense to go on the path of least resistance."

The problem is compounded because many out-of-state trainers aren't willing to bring their horses to California. They have more opportunities to race in the Midwest and on the East Coast. The success of the California-bred program has caught the attention of trainers, but many of the horses claimed and exported aren't state-breds. That could be a blessing in disguise.

"They don't think we make a good horse out here," longtime Southern California trainer Mel Stute said. "A lot of people are playing horses like the stock market. If there is quick money to be made, that's where they are going to go."