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 If a horse is placed on the vet's list immediately after a race because it is lame or unsound, that claim may be rescinded.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.
“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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