With concerns regarding field size on the forefront in both regions of California, the California Horse Racing Board during its monthly session July 20 at Del Mar discussed a potential rule change that would restrict horses claimed in the state from running outside the state.
Although house rules already restrict claimed horses from running out of state for a certain period of time at most of the main tracks in the state, the CHRB and several industry stakeholders expressed a desire Thursday to expand on those measures through regulation.
The proposal—which was sent for review to the CHRB's Legislative, Legal, and Regulations Committee—would not allow a horse claimed "to race in any state other than California until 60 days after the close of the meeting from where it was claimed, except (for) a stakes race."
"There's been considerable discussion over the last many months about short fields and about the fact that one of the contributing factors is the claiming and removal of horses from California (to) many locations east, where purses are enhanced with subsidies from gaming," said CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker. "There are house rules in place at Del Mar and Santa Anita—where any horse claimed at the meet stays at the meet—(but) a horse could be claimed in the last couple of weeks and show up a day after a meet closes at one of those locations in the East."
Baedeker went on to say there was reason to believe legal restrictions that previously prevented "jail-time" efforts in California were no longer impediments and that aspect was supported by CHRB chief counsel John McDonough.
"In 2003 we had an attorney general that thought instituting this rule would be in violation of the Interstate Commerce (Act)," McDonough said. "Since that period of time, some 27 of 38 states that allow wagering on (horse racing) have instituted rules similar to this and there's been a dramatic change—in regards to Supreme Court decisions in the last few years—narrowing the scope of Interstate Commerce.
"Based on analysis done by the entire legal (team), we should ask for another opinion from the Attorney General, because we believe the board, if it chooses to, could institute this particular regulation and it could be defended."
California Thoroughbred Trainers executive director Alan Balch supported the spirit of the proposal, but took slight issue with the "one-size-fits-all" aspect of the regulation for the entire state, which features varying types of race meets.
"There are a lot of (things) that lead us to question whether the number should be 60 days," Balch said. "I'm not saying it shouldn't necessarily, but there are issues that should be addressed. ... We endorse this in concept. We do believe we need to protect our horses in California and we do believe it's legal."
Executives representing Golden Gate Fields, Santa Anita Park, and Del Mar supported the proposed measure, but echoed Balch's sentiment that the regulation should be discussed further and finalized before it is voted on by the CHRB.
Del Mar has a house rule (45-day wait period or the end of the meet), and Santa Anita racing secretary Rick Hammerle said the Arcadia track will work to install a similar house rule for its fall meet to keep the circuit's rules consistent.
CHRB member George Krikorian asked whether the regulation was necessary if house rules were in place and got an answer from board spokesman Mike Marten.
"A house rule can take action (with) stabling privileges when they come around again, but ... there is much greater authority in a (CHRB) rule than a house rule," Marten said. "It has a longer reach than a house rule."
The board also discussed a rule change Thursday that would address a recent controversy surrounding a race June 10 at Santa Anita, in which Fly to Mars was not reported as a gelding until about 20 minutes before post time.
The proposed rule modification would require that stewards scratch a horse from a race "in which it is entered if the true sex of the horse is not reported to the racing office prior to the opening of wagering on the race."
Fly to Mars won the waiver maiden claiming race as the 4-1 second choice, but the circumstances surrounding the victory were extraordinary. In the final race of the day, Fly to Mars triggered a nearly $900,000 payout in the single-ticket Pick 6 jackpot wager.
The CHRB polled members of the Horseplayers Association of North America and the results were overwhelmingly in favor of scratching a horse if a gelding is unreported. Balch took issue with scratching a horse for the reasons stated in the proposal and called the proposed regulation "hitting a fly with a sledgehammer" for an issue that has diminished in recent years.
"We have to remember that it's not just the 'Pick' bets," Balch said. "In this incident, so to speak, that caused this action to be proposed, the horse that won (did not show) any type of form reversal. ... In this case the horse was second favorite. ... Think of what the reaction would have been if that horse had been scratched. It is true that the horse won and triggered a (large) payoff, but if he'd been scratched (critics) would have gone crazy to say Santa Anita did this to create a carryover.
"We can't win if we're going to talk always about what the great, broad reaction is. I would appeal to this board to think about what is fair to all the connections, which certainly includes the horseplayers."
CHRB member Madeline Auerbach expressed a concern over public trust, and offered an alternative to have the horse run for purse money only, without factoring into the wagering pools.
"It creates the idea that somebody did something nefarious," Auerbach said. "You've got to get as far away from nefarious activities—or perceived nefarious activities—as you can. We have to have the gamblers really trust what we're doing out there."
Hammerle countered with a perspective from gamblers who had multi-race tickets alive to Fly to Mars. If he was scratched, that would have triggered consolation payouts in some wagers and alternate horses (most often the post-time favorite) in others. In the jackpot Pick 6, it would have entirely eliminated the "jackpot" provision of the wager, which often builds a large carryover pot for a single-ticket winner like the one June 10.
If Fly to Mars was scratched, the bettor with the single Pick 6 ticket alive would have been out hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"I think about this guy that's sitting there with the horse he picked—he doesn't care if he's a gelding," Hammerle said. "All the sudden, he's looking at a nice payout and 'What do you mean you scratched my horse?' Now he's got the favorite that he doesn't even like and you're changing the bettors' whole deal. ... A lot of people want to bet the horse. The gelding thing might have come into it. It might not have.
"I just think we need to think about that a little more strongly than just to assume the guy would or wouldn't have bet the horse had he known ahead of time he was a gelding."
CHRB equine medical director Rick Arthur posited that the issue could be avoided with proper attentiveness.
"This is a real simple issue to solve," Arthur said. "What we're trying to do is get the trainers to look behind the horses legs and see if they're geldings or not before they enter the horse. It's not that much to ask."
The CHRB unanimously approved the proposal for a 45-day public comment period.