California racing’s Catch-22
To best demonstrate the California Horse Racing Board's new rule voiding the claim of any horse that is catastrophically injured and euthanized on the racetrack, I'd like to borrow some dialogue from the 1970 movie “Catch-22,” based on Joseph Heller's ground-breaking novel of the same name.
The conversation takes place between the reluctant commander, Maj. Major Major Major, and his pesky assistant, First Sgt. Towser.
Major Major: Sergeant, from now on, I don't want anyone to come in and see me while I'm in my office. Is that clear?
Towser: Yes, sir. What do I say to people who want to come in and see you while you're gone?
Major Major: Tell them I'm in and ask them to wait.
Towser: For how long?
Major Major: Until I've left.
Towser: And then what do I do with them?
Major Major: I don't care.
Towser: May I send people in to see you after you've left?
Major Major: Yes.
Towser: You won't be here then, will you?
Major Major: No.
Towser: I see, sir. Will that be all?
Major Major: Also, Sergeant, I don't want you coming in while I'm in my office asking me if there's anything you can do for me. Is that clear?
Towser: Yes, sir. When should I come in your office and ask if there's anything I can do for you?
Major Major: When I'm not there.
Towser: What do I do then?
Major Major: Whatever has to be done.
Towser: Yes, sir.
That, in a nutshell, is the new claiming rule, as explained in a Catch-22-like press release distributed the other day by the California Horse Racing Board.
A claim may be voided if a horse suffers a catastrophic injury on the track and is euthanized. However, it is recommended that horses not be euthanized on the track and be brought back to the stable area instead and euthanized there. In that case, the claim will not be voided.
Only Joseph Heller could have written such a screwy rule, however well intentioned it might have been when it was first introduced.
It reminds me of another piece of dialogue from “Catch-22,” when the lead character, bombardier Capt. John Yossarian, tries to avoid the horrors of bombing the enemy because it is driving him crazy.
“Let me see if I've got this straight: in order to be grounded, I've got to be crazy and I must be crazy to keep flying. But if I ask to be grounded, that means I'm not crazy any more and I have to keep flying.”
California's rule is being challenged after an incident involving Elivette, a daughter of Van Nistelrooy who ran for a $12,500 claiming tag at Del Mar on Aug. 3. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by Pinnacle Racing, Elivette broke down in the stretch and was vanned off after that race, then euthanized in the stable area upon the recommendation of a veterinarian.
Elivette was claimed by trainer Doug O'Neill on behalf of Fortuna Ranch Racing. Because she did not die on the track but was euthanized in the stable area, the claim was not voided, per California Horse Racing Board Rule 1658, which reads in part: “The stewards shall void the claim if the horse suffers a fatality during the running of the race or before the horse is returned to be unsaddled.”
The rule is now being challenged by O'Neill and Fortuna Ranch Racing.
Following is the press release distributed by the CHRB:
The recent incident at Del Mar involving the injury and claim of Elivette involves two separate issues that warrant clarification. The first is whether Elivette should have been euthanized on the track.
Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, said, “The answer is clearly no. Euthanasia is an irreversible decision. For that reason the American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends that when it can be done safely and humanely, all horses should be taken off the track, so they can be properly evaluated by the attending veterinarian (s). All major racetracks in California have followed that approach for many years. Horses survive injuries today and lead productive lives, some even returning to racing. On-track euthanasia is warranted only when there is no reasonable alternative, and these situations do happen, but in the case of Elivette, Del Mar's track veterinarian, Dr. Dana Stead, determined Elivette could be safely transported off the track. This allowed her veterinarians to evaluate the extent of her injuries and make the appropriate decision after consulting with the owners and trainer. A Kimsey brace-an injury stabilization device developed at southern California tracks was placed on her injured leg and Elivette was transported the short distance to the trainer's barn. Her veterinarians were notified she was on her way before she was off the track, so they could attend to her quickly.”
The second issue is changes to the claiming rule, which allows claims to be voided. Dr. Arthur explained, “The first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit in 2006 made over 30 recommendations to make racing safer for horses and riders. One of the recommendations sought to protect claiming horses by allowing for the voiding of claims of horses that are injured or do not finish. No change is easy in racing and the question of voiding claims on injured horses has been debated for years. After considerable discussion and input from the industry, the CHRB adopted a revised version that limited the conditions under which a claim would be voided. The limitations of the rule were thoroughly discussed and officially described in public documents. Whether to purchase claiming insurance or not, as with all insurance, is a business decision based on risks and vulnerabilities. Only a handful of claims under unusual circumstances have been voided under this rule. Regardless, the effort to void claims was never a claim insurance issue. It is a horse welfare issue.”
The voiding of claims for severely injured horses has been scheduled for some time to be addressed either at the August 23 meeting of the CHRB or the August 24 meeting of the CHRB Medication and Track Safety Committee.
Those meetings in August are something that even Major Major Major Major might want to attend. This is a Catch-22, defined as “a situation in which a desired outcome or solution is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions.”
It needs fixing.