The California Horse Racing Board, looking to improve upon a rule it approved last year, is considering a change that would void the claim of a horse that is later placed on the official veterinary list for being unsound or lame.
The board, meeting at a hotel conference center next to Fairplex Park in Pomona Sept. 20, approved the latest change for a 45-day comment period by a 6-1 vote. It could be given final approval by the board later this fall and enacted next year.
In July 2011 the board adopted a modified version of its claiming rule allowing a claim to be voided by stewards if the horse suffers a fatality during the running of the race or before it returns for unsaddling. Stewards have interpreted the rule to mean the horse must have died or been euthanized before leaving the track.
Prior to that rule change, the claimant was on the hook for the horse no matter what occurred during the running of the race or subsequently. It was known as "Caveat Emptor" or "Buyer Beware."
In two instances recently, one at Betfair Hollywood Park and the other at Del Mar, the new rule came under fire when horses that were claimed and severely injured during the race were taken off the track and immediately euthanized. Stewards ruled in both cases that the claims stood.
Under the proposed rule, stewards shall void the claim not only if the horse suffers a fatality on the racetrack, but also if the animal is placed on the official veterinarian list for lameness or unsoundness following a post-race examination. In that case, the horse would not be turned over to the claimant and instead would be returned to the original owner.
Commissioner Richard Rosenberg, the lone dissenter on the board, said he was "totally opposed to the language of this rule. We'd be better off going back to the old rule." He said that if a horse was lame before the race, he would be scratched. If not, he wondered, how can anyone tell if the animal "was damaged goods."
The proposed rule was supported by board members Bo Derek, who chairs the CHRB's Medication and Track Safety Committee, and Chuck Winner, who is on the committee.
"We don't believe it's flawed," Winner said. "We believe, and the veterinarians believe, that while it's complicated, it is the right approach. Bottom line, in my opinion, is what we are trying to do is protect the integrity of the sport and protect the horses and riders."
In other action, the board approved the application of Betfair Hollywood Park to conduct its 24-day fall race meeting, two days fewer than in 2011. The live meet will run Thursdays through Sundays from Nov. 8 to Dec. 16. First post is 12:30 p.m. PST daily except for Thanksgiving day, Nov. 22, when first post is 11 a.m.
The earlier closing date (Hollywood will remain open for national simulcasting) means there will be no live racing in Southern California for 10 days until Santa Anita Park opens its winter meeting the day after Christmas.
The board also approved race dates for Northern California in 2013 while leaving open how to handle the overlapping schedule of the Humboldt County Fair and Golden Gate Fields from Aug. 14-25. At issue is which of the two sites will act as simulcast host for Northern California during the lucrative Del Mar season. Last year, the two tracks split the two weeks, but Golden Gate, which has the support of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, feels the arrangement was unsatisfactory.
"We've been having quite a discussion in the north about the racing model. We know it is broken," said Joe Morris, vice president and interim general manager of Golden Gate. "We're trying to work through this. The deal didn't work well for Golden Gate. We just had the worst month we've had since I've been up there."
Here's the schedule: Golden Gate Fields winter/spring meeting, Dec. 26, 2012 to June 18, 2013; Alameda County Fair at Pleasanton, June 19-July 9; Cal Expo at Sacramento, July 10-23; Sonoma County Fair at Santa Rosa, July 24-Aug. 13; Humboldt County Fair at Ferndale, Aug. 14-25; Golden Gate Fields summer meet, Aug. 14-Sept. 17; San Joaquin County Fair at Stockton, Sept. 18-Oct. 1; Fresno County Fair at Fresno, Oct. 2-15; and Golden Gate Fields fall meet, Oct. 16-Dec. 25.