New York Claiming Rule Still Needs Revision

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Sacred Success suffered a non-displaced condylar fracture in a race at Belmont Park 5/8/13 Sacred Success suffered a non-displaced condylar fracture in a race at Belmont Park 5/8/13

After months of delay it’s good to see New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is finally appointing members to the New York State Gaming Commission created last year to replace the now dissolved State Racing and Wagering Board.  I hope one of the issues the new regulators tackle once they have their first meeting is the rule addressing when the claim of an injured horse may be voided.

California has a new rule going into effect this week, and it is superior to a rule that went into effect in New York last year allowing a claim to be voided if a horse is vanned off the track after a race or is euthanized as the result of an injury sustained in a race. The rule adopted by the California Horse Racing Board goes one step further. If a horse is placed on the vet’s list immediately after a race because it is lame or unsound, that claim may be rescinded. It does not rescind claims of horses put on the vet’s list because of heat stroke or exercise-inducted pulmonary hemorrhage.


The current New York rule is better than the old “you claimed it, you own it once the gates open” tradition that has been part of the claiming game for many years. Tradition, at least in the case of claiming races where horses are traded like a commodity, oftentimes has not been kind to the animal. Claiming races are the meat and potatoes of American racing but too often they supply the gristle that makes this sport difficult for many people to swallow.

Here is an example of why California’s rule is superior.

Last Wednesday in a six-furlong race at Belmont Park, a 4-year-old New York-bred filly by Officer named Sacred Success was running for a claiming tag for the first time in her 11-race career. Owned by Dennis Narlinger, she was running for trainer Kelly Breen for the first time, having switched from Rick Dutrow following his license revocation to Rudy Rodriguez to Rudy’s brother Gustavo when Rudy was serving a suspension. There was a $57,000 purse and Sacred Success, who had won $140,000 for her owner, was carrying a claiming price of $14,000.

Sacred Success ran second under Joel Rosario, beaten 5 3/4 lengths by the favorite, La Verdad. She jogged back to be unsaddled and then was sent to the test barn.

In the meantime, Treadway Racing Stable and trainer Leah Gyarmati won a four-way shake to claim the filly.

As she was cooling out in the test barn, Sacred Success started favoring her right foreleg. Before long she was lame and had to be transported by ambulance to her barn. X-rays detected a non-displaced condylar fracture. Her new owner elected to have the fracture surgically repaired, having screws added to the bone at a cost of about $3,300. The prospects for her to return to the races are good, but she won’t be able to go back in training for at least 60 days.

X-ray of Sacred Success post-surgery

X-ray of Sacred Success post-surgery

“Obviously the horse did this in the race,” said Dr. Anthony Verderosa, the New York Racing Association’s chief examining veterinarian, who put Sacred Success on the vet’s list immediately after seeing she was “extremely lame” in the test barn.

Verderosa is among those who believes California’s new rule is superior.

“If there is a fatality, that’s cut and dried,” Verderosa said, “but the way it’s written (in New York) after that, the onus is on us if a horse should be vanned off the track. This horse did not come back lame but got very lame at the test barn.

“If the onus is going to be on us, I would prefer it be like the California rule.”

A decision on whether to put a horse on the horse ambulance seconds after it pulls up from a race, full of adrenaline, has to be made on the spot. Giving a veterinarian extra time as the horse cools out from the race ensures a more informed and accurate decision on the animal’s true condition.

There has been a great deal of progress, in New York and elsewhere, on protecting the interests of the horses involved in claiming races, not to mention the owners who invest in them. Making this one additional change will make the game even safer.

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  • FourCats

    All of these issues go away if you eliminate claiming races entirely.
    Claiming races have the following negatives. 1) They encourage unethical owners/trainers into dropping a sore or sick horse in price to get it sold. 2) Conversely, owners who don’t really want to sell their horse end up having no choice but to risk losing that horse if the horse is not fast enough to compete in the higher-end, non-claiming races. Only rarely is a claimed horse viewed positively by both the buyer and the seller. Someone goes away unhappy. 3) The public is negatively affected because they are left to guess at the motivation of why a horse was entered (and perhaps dropped in price). 4) The horse can also be negatively affected because they are constantly changing barns. 5) And the industry also suffers because of the bad publicity when a dropped horse is injured.
    And what actual purposes or goals do claiming races really serve now?
    Allowing people to purchase horses? That can just as easily be accomplished (with practically no changes) by having the track maintain a database where people who actually want to sell their horse can put it up for sale and buyers can “claim” it off of the database. The major difference being that no race is involved. Such a method also allows a prospective buyer to examine the horse before the sale. It would change what is now an adversarial process into one where you have a willing buyer and a willing seller and one where the sale is viewed positively by all.
    Equalizing the abilities of the horses in a race? That can easily be accomplished with well-written race conditions. In fact, I would argue that claiming prices do not accomplish this goal as there are many (particularly the mega-stables) who are so little deterred by the possibility of having a horse claimed that they will drop horses dramatically just to get the win. And on the other side, there are some who are so afraid of having their horse claimed that they continually enter that horse over its head.

    • Figless

      Don’t believe you need to eliminate claiming races, just regulate them more. I have written before than any horse being dropped more than one level would need Stewards approval and would require placement of x-rays in a repository, similar to the auction sales. The horse is for sale, no difference.
      Or leave the claiming races as is but have the claim dropped 30 minutes AFTER the race, allowing for inspection post cool out.
      In a perfect world would like to see elimination of claiming races, for sure, but any track taking that step unilaterally would be committing suicide. It would need to be done nationwide and be replaced by a conditional format. But it will never happen.

      • FourCats

        The issue is not whether you need to eliminate claiming races but rather if their positives outweigh their negatives. The only positive that I am aware of is that it’s the way it’s always been done (ie. owners, trainers, fans, etc. are used to it). Yet there are many negatives; some of which I gave above. Sure, the rules could mandate x-rays as you suggest (which would increase the cost of ownership by the way). Or the rules can be continually changed, as in the article. But why? Isn’t fixing the problem better than trying to patch it?
        It’s obvious to anyone looking at horse racing over the past few decades that the industry is in a rapid decline. Change is always difficult, but those in charge need to be making major changes or racing will be gone. Unfortunately, what I see by those in charge of racing is complete inertia (either because of apathy or denial or even, in the case of some casino companies, the desire that racing end).

        • Figless

          Very idealistic solution, but the major problem racing has, and will probably always have, is the lack of centralized authority to mandate these changes. I agree with the concept, but believe it is impossible to implement in a fragmented industry. Like banning Salix, any state that dares to make this change unilaterally will lose horses to the other states.
          My suggestion, while imperfect, is more feasible. The cost of the x-rays is insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and it can be avoided simply by dropping your horse one level at a time.
          For the record I am suggesting this from the horse welfare perspective, under no grand illusions that banning or changing claiming races will solve the industries woes. Those are much easier to identify than to fix.

          • ROISIN

            One more glaring reason for a national commission !! Eventually situations like we have currently become so fragmented and convoluted they implode.

    • betterthannothing

      Well said FourCats!

    • Janet delcastillo

      Many of the recent letters to the Thoroughbred Times lament the claiming program as practiced here in the United States. As David Lengel stated in his letter of 12/24/11, “it would make sense to give horse time if needed, instead of medicating through all the problems, if we knew when we came back off a layoff we could race at some level without having our rehab project “claimed.” His comment “Race, jam, inject, medicate every last ounce of profit out of the claiming horse, and do not be the last man stuck with the horse when the horse is broken down and can no longer compete,” is a very sad and sometimes realistic result of the claiming game.

      One of the reasons people come into racing is because they love the horse and love the idea of having a race horse. Most are told by the trainers not to fall in love with the horse as this is a business. It is okay to fall in love with horses and racing and still be a part of the business. The tough part is having to put the horse “where he belongs” when he can’t win at allowance levels.

      For an owner, and many are business men, it makes no sense to spend $40,000.00 or $50,000.00 getting the horse to the races to be told he must run for $5,000.00 in order to win. If he does well in that “cheap” race, there is a good chance he will be claimed. This is a difficult concept for many to grasp.

      While in Buenas Aires last year, I was surprised and fascinated to see races with conditions like “Horses that have not been fifth or better in their last five starts”. The purses are less for these horses but they still can earn money and the handicappers can find it just as challenging to pick a winner in a group like this…evenly matched.

      Changing anything in racing is a massive undertaking…how many reading this would like to see changes like this one…maybe certain tracks could start writing this kind of race..and see how it goes! My goal for the last 30 years has been to bring more caring owners into racing…I suspect they would stay in longer if they felt their horses could run at any level with out being claimed!

      By the way, Mr Antonio Bullrich, the head of the Jockey Club in Argentina, stated that they will be banning Lasix (Salix) for racing next year. He is a fifth generation breeder and feels that the use of Lasix and other medications has weakened the breed. He is very passionate about his horses and is a leader in the industry.

      Perhaps we could learn something from our Colleagues in the South!

    • http://www.theracehorseexperiment.com/ Maureen Tierney

      I agree. I would love it if claiming races were done away with. There are many owners and even trainers who love the horses and do not want to lose them. They are unnecessary and basically allow people to “take what they want”. If you run a horse where it belongs you are open to losing your horse – that is unfair.

    • Glen Road Racing

      As a small-time owner I would definitely prefer an alternative to claiming races, but have not yet seen an alternative structure that would equalize the competition. You say, “That can easily be accomplished with well-written race conditions.” What would those conditions be? Often it is difficult to fill a claiming race with no conditions. It seems there might always be a far superior horse which hasn’t won in a long time or
      hasn’t run in a long time or not run at all or whatever that will meet whatever
      conditions are proposed for a particular race. Let’s find an alternative structure that would work and propose it to owners, trainers and racing secretaries. I think everyone would welcome it.

      • http://www.theracehorseexperiment.com/ Maureen Tierney

        No one is suggesting races with no conditions. And there is always (now or if claiming races are done away with) the chance that a horse will come in off a layoff. That is racing. Conditions can well be written to preclude a horse sitting at a level (other than allowance or stakes) where it can just win all the time. Horses would/should be forced to move up to a higher level of competition at x number of wins. I don’t see any difficulty in making the condition book effective without claiming races.

      • FourCats

        Here are a few possibilities for race conditions as opposed to claiming prices. (However, I disagree with you that everyone would welcome such a change; I actually did propose something similar to my local track, and they had no interest in even looking at it to see if it was feasible.) 1) Limit entry to horses who have won a certain amount of money in their last so many races (eg. the condition might say “for horses 4 and older that have not won $10,000 in their last 5 races”). Harness racing has used these kind of conditions successfully for a long time. The amount specified could be set so that horses that won (or perhaps placed multiple times) at this level within those 5 races would be ineligible for this level and would have to move up. Such a condition would not allow a vastly superior horse to enter off of a long layoff unless that horse had failed to win that amount whenever that horse did run. Horses in form would have to continue to move up as long as they kept winning. Horses not in form would be able to move down until they started winning. Purses would of course be lower for the lowel levels. 2) Assign horses class levels. I read where something of this nature is done in Europe though I am not familiar with the details. Horses could only enter races at their class level or higher. Improving horses would be reassigned to a higher class level. Horses doing poorly would be reassigned to a lower class level.

    • Moto

      You may have forgotten that the state makes money off of the sales tax on the sale of each horse claimed in a claiming race. This is another reason they might not want to give it up.

      I agree though, there has got to be a better way to “handicap” than using claiming races.

      • http://www.theracehorseexperiment.com/ Maureen Tierney

        That’s an interesting point.

    • Roisin

      I agree 100% !! Claiming needs to go. It will meet with a lot of resistance from those who view ” claimers” as disposable commodities.

  • Bubba

    Claiming is a big part of American Racing. If you can’t afford to take the risk then DON’T horses. The push should be to the protection of the soundness of horses, I agree. But the protection should not be of those who CHOOSE to play that part of the game. Sh## Happens! If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

    • No Malarky

      What about the horses?

      This is a good time to have the discussion, about how the old school claiming game allows horses that have dropped in class (injury etc) to be run into the ground at cheap tracks.

      These horses – if they survive – cost much more to rehab after the track.
      than a properly campaigned horse.

      A post-race exam – if allowed by new claiming rules – might expose trainers using blocks and other ruses; good for everyone in the long run. Except those trainers, of course.

    • betterthannothing

      The claiming “game” is bloated, dark, dirty and dangerous. While you discount training and racing injuries and tragedies as “sh##t Happens!”, bodies continue to be unnecessarily wrecked and lives lost.

      Purses should match claiming tags, that’s it. Racinos that offer purses three, four and five times bigger than claiming tags are irresponsible and wasteful. Racetracks and racinos in particular, should invest in serious abuse and injury prevention and ethical horsemen who carefully and openlymanage the health and career of their horses should be offered substantial financial incentives in order to build and improve safety, longevity and quality.

      • Bubba

        Don’t play the claiming “game” then. Nobody is putting a gun to anyone’s head to force them to drop a claim slip. Dumb discussion. Just don’t claim the horses. Or are you too tempted by the racino purses that you feel that it is easy money and need to be a part of it. Keep your money in your pocket if you can’t afford to loose it. Horse safety is being confused with claiming. Over all horse safety is the issue, NOT the claiming…

        • GPtom

          Bubba,
          This is about the safety of the horses more than being about the claiming game. Trainers will think twice before running a sore horse in a claiming race with the hopes of unloading it. The horse can be further injured.

        • betterthannothing

          My post was about my concerns re. the welfare and safety of claiming horses, especially high earners, stakes horses including multiple graded stakes winners who are being raced into the ground especially at racinos.

        • Roisin

          You missed part of the issue for me ,anyway, and that is ,why should I be forced to risk losing my horse in order to race her at the level she can compete. Even more optional claiming would help.

          • Maureen Tierney

            That is exactly my problem with claiming races. Also, why should trainers do all the work, owners pay all the money, to get horses ready to win, then someone can claim the horse and HE/SHE benefits from the efforts of others.

    • vertex

      This is stupid.

  • LongTimeEconomist

    When I last raced horses in Britain, the way it worked there was that claims were put in after the race, not before. That would eliminate a lot of the problems being discussed here.

    Another possibility is the selling race, where the winner is auctioned off after the race, starting the bidding at a pre-specified minimum.

    • Figless

      These solutions are logical and easy to implement.

  • jack

    “Obviously the horse did this in the race,” said Dr. Anthony Verderosa

    But dropping the filly in for 14k makes me think connections knew the filly was going bad

    • Figless

      What he means is “Obviously I have to cover my arse by stating it happened in the race since I failed to notice any issue before hand”.

      • Sue M. Chapman

        Sorry, Figless. What it means is that the horse was not lame or sore during the raceday NYRA examining Vet’s inspection, both inside and outside the stall. They don’t have x-ray vision.

        • betterthannothing

          No X-Ray vision, no X-Rays, no painkiller records. State vets are examining horses without crucial information after horses have been medicated to race. Mary Scollay, DVM believes that the average pre-race exam lasts 45 seconds.

  • http://twitter.com/HoopsandHorses Hoops and Horses

    This is what I wrote about the claiming rules in New York last year after the report on the breakdowns at Aqueduct from the winter 2012 season happened: http://www.toosmarttofail.com/forums/showthread.php/29511

    The main notes regarding this are to make it where open claiming races could only offer a winner’s share as high as the claiming price going a distance and 80% of the price in a sprint, with the total purse no higher than 40% above the price in sprints and 60% of the price in route races. For the $7,500 claimers that raced at Aqueduct at the time of the breakdowns, this would have restricted such races to a $10,500 purse going short (as opposed to the $29,000 they were going for then) and $12,500 going long (as opposed to the $30,000 they were running for at the time). For restricted claimers, those purse limits drop considerably.

    That was part of a much longer response to the task force report from last fall.

  • Val

    why not just eliminate all the legal drugs, that way horses would not pass the state vet and will be forced to get a time off

  • http://twitter.com/MaryAnnMyers MaryAnn Myers

    Great article!! Kudos, Ray Paulick! This is a subject that every state needs to address. Claiming has, in my opinion, outlived its usefulness It has instead, become a way of playing games, where the horse most always, loses in the end. I cover the age-old, time-worn practice of claiming races in the Third Book of the Winning Odds Series. http://www.amazon.com/Barn-14-Meadows-Winning-ebook/dp/B00CO9N4U8/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1368530851&sr=1-1&keywords=BArn+14+-+Meg%27s+Meadows

  • Margaret Cowan

    I totally agree with Four Cats. It is time to do away with claiming races. They are nothing more than dumping grounds for sore, tired, abused, and used up race horses. This has been true for years. Lets make some real changes in the sport.

    • Sue M. Chapman

      SAGINAW.

      • Cathy

        Sue, I agree. Horses like Brutally Frank, Mabou, Buy The Firm and Ever A Friend were claimed and went on to be Grade 1 stakes winners. Another example of an excellent horse which was claimed is Caixa Eletronica who became a multiple graded stakes winner.

  • Miss the magic

    How about more optional condition Claiming. If you start a horse for maiden 25 he runs a big second, you would have the choice of running the second time for the tag or not. I have seen more condition optional, how about some maiden optional. I also agree the winners share of the purse should not be more than the price of the horse.

  • brussellky

    With the exception of Bubba, all these comments are pure idealism and completely lack pragmatism. It reminds me of the green energy debate where people think we should move to solar and wind but are not willing to pay triple for their electricity when that consequence is pointed out to them. If we went to a conditions or handicap system, an off form horse would have to run badly 4 or 5 times, at least, before it would descend to a level at which it could win. This is how it works in the UK now and the only reason it works there is because the VAST majority of the owners don’t care about money. If they did, they would not be in racing there to start with as their purses are anemic and there is no way to come close to breaking even unless you have a Group level horse or sell an unexposed prospect for a profit. The reality in the US is that, conversely, the vast majority of the owners do care about money and having to pay 5 months training bills, with no return, just for an off form horse to be eligible for a race they could compete in, would drive 80% of the owners out of the game. To all of you who want to eliminate claiming races, you might as well just eliminate flat racing in the US as that is what it will lead to. There will still be a few races between the wealthy owners who don’t care about money but that will be it. Flat racing will end up having as many racing days here as steeplechase racing does now.

    • http://www.theracehorseexperiment.com/ Maureen Tierney

      And who says we have to use the British system? Since when do we follow Europe?

      • brussellky

        OK, pick your poison. If a horse can become eligible for a much easier race after only 1 or 2 bad efforts, people will “stiff” horses all the time. I realize that reality might conflict with your idealism but it is a reality.

        • http://www.theracehorseexperiment.com/ Maureen Tierney

          You are right, that is the real problem with doing away with claiming. However, I believe there are brilliant people who could find a way to deal with that issue.

          • brussellky

            You really are an idealist!

          • http://www.theracehorseexperiment.com/ Maureen Tierney

            Yeah, guilty as charged. And you’d think I’d be smarter at 62. But if there were no idealists what would the world be like?

    • betterthannothing

      “The reality in the US is that, conversely, the vast majority of the owners do care about money”

      Racing horses over magnificent grass courses for the joy of it, the sport, beauty, excitement, pageantry, with pride and respect is the way it should always be as it is racing at is best and safest. Caring about money is fine until owners cross the line and racing horses becomes all about money. When horses and money collide, horses always lose and the claiming game is about money.

      • brussellky

        “Racing horses over magnificent grass courses for the joy of it, the sport, beauty, excitement, pageantry, with pride and respect is the way it should always be as it is racing at is best and safest.”

        Fair enough but this eliminates everyone but aristocrats from participating. As I said in my original post, US flat racing would resemble US steeplechase racing in racing dates if it followed your advice.

        • http://www.theracehorseexperiment.com/ Maureen Tierney

          How do you figure that? There is absolutely no reason for that to be the case. On the contrary. There are many people who would like to be in racing, but not the way it is. A person can keep their own horse quite inexpensively, and train it themselves at home. Betting and trainers have ruined the sport in this country. Betting because of cheating. And trainers because they have somehow gotten themselves appointed as kings. – rulers over everything having to do with the horse – while makig owners pay through the nose for everything. And they lie as well. A person I know purchased a horse and placed it with the trainer who ADVISED her to buy it. When the owner, not a horse expert, commented on the horse’s leg after a work or a race (it would be swollen), the trainer told her the horse was fine. At a subsequent race the horse was scratched at the post by the vet. Long story short – horse had chip in ankle and fractured sesamoid.

          And before everyone starts yelling that that is a “rare” occurrence. Please, do not look like idiots. Horses would not be dropped into claiming races and breaking down if it were not fairly common. Trainers want horses – the cheap trainers want day money, they are not counting on winnings.

          • janet delcastillo

            You’re right Maureen! Many have horses and may have race horses if the industry were more “user friendly” . I know we could give racing a shot in the arm if the Industry would market to the pleasure horse industry and mentor these people into the business…More owners with solid horsemanship and disposable income who care about their animal and want to be hands on would change this business for the better!

          • brussellky

            If that is true, why is the steeplechase industry so small in this country?

          • http://www.theracehorseexperiment.com/ Maureen Tierney

            It’s the jumping. I personally would have become an amateur jockey and ridden my own horses if we had amateur flat racing. But I am not looking to race over jumps. Regular jockeys are crazy enough, but the number who want to risk riding over jumps is no doubt much smaller. Plus there is obviously more training involved, and you need to find horses who not only can jump but will.

          • brussellky

            No reason for that not to be the case? You have gone from idealism to pure fiction. You really think there are enough people willing to lose money while training their horses at home to replace owners with 20-150 horse stables? As I replied to Janet below, if that were the case the steeplechase industry would be huge in the US, not tiny. With respect to the trainers, sure there are bad apples but you are wrong about them not relying on winnings. I know many, many trainers and the day rate simply allows them to pay their bills and live check to check.

          • http://www.theracehorseexperiment.com/ Maureen Tierney

            See, this is where racing is out of touch with the rest of the horse industry. Owners and riders in other disciplines PAY (often hundred of dollars) for the privilege of competing on their horses – for no money. For fun, for trophies, for ribbons, and things like blankets, trailers, etc. At the very highest levels, there is money to be won, but only by the elite of the elite. So yes, I sure do. I would.

    • Janet delcastillo

      Consider how it is done in Argentina…it appears to work and gamblers still have to handicap…see my comments about how it is done there in comments a few days ago! ;)

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