The first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit was held at Keeneland racetrack in October 2006 and brought together a respected group of owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys veterinarians, racetrack officials and regulators. The summit was arranged months after Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro sustained a severe injury in the Preakness that eventually took his life.
Summit participants were put into working groups that each made recommendations designed to make racing safer for horses and riders.
Several of those groups recommended rules affecting claiming races that would void the claim of a horse that was injured during a race. At the time, when a trainer put in a claim for a horse, that horse belonged to its new connections as soon as the gates opened (though any purse money won went to the owner at time of entry).
Let me repeat that.
Voided claim regulations were recommended at the first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit in October 2006.
Fast forward to November 2019 when Keeneland hosted another event announcing the creation of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, whose founding members are the Breeders' Cup, Churchill Downs Inc., Del Mar, Keeneland, the New York Racing Association and The Stronach Group. The coalition was created in the wake of growing media coverage of equine deaths and subsequent criticism of the industry by elected officials. The Stronach Group-owned Santa Anita was the first track to be put under the microscope after highly publicized fatalities last year, but the scrutiny of the sport has expanded across the country.
On the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition website, the top operational reform listed is adoption of rules that would void the claim of a horse injured during a race.
Let me repeat that.
Voided claim regulations are among the top recommendations of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, formed 13 years after voided claim regulations were recommended at the first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit.
Why is this so difficult?
J Rob, a 2017 foal by Mineshaft, made his racing debut in a maiden special weight race at Keeneland last October, finishing 11th of 12 runners. Two months and two races later, Joe Sharp claimed J Rob for $15,000 when the colt finished third at Fair Grounds.
Making his second start for Sharp at the New Orleans track on Jan. 9, J Rob earned his maiden diploma carrying a $15,000 claiming tag.
Trainer Tom Amoss put in a claim for J Rob on behalf of Nine Thirty Racing LLC. The colt was brought back to the winner's circle by jockey Adam Beschizza then showed obvious signs of lameness. He was vanned off, diagnosed with a displaced condylar fracture and euthanized.
Sharp, as owner and trainer of J Rob, got the $9,000 winner's share of the purse and the $15,000 for the claim.
Amoss and Nine Thirty Racing got the dead horse.
There is no state regulation voiding claims at Louisiana tracks and Fair Grounds owner Churchill Downs Inc., a founding member of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, does not have a house rule in effect that voids claims of injured horses.
“It's time they catch up with the rest of the nation and get on board,” Amoss said.
The veteran trainer said he was originally opposed to voided claim rules when they were first recommended more than a decade ago. “It was buyer beware and you had to do your homework,” said Amoss, who stable has excelled in the claiming game over the years. However, since the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission adopted a voided claim rule in 2018, he has seen the benefits of it and believes the rule, along with stricter pre-race veterinary exams and medication guidelines, will serve as a “deterrent” to trainers who take chances on running a horse that may be at risk of injury.
Amoss said the type of injury J Rob sustained would have been difficult to diagnose in advance and that his opinion on voided claim rules had changed well before he put in a claim on that horse. He believes it is past time for Louisiana regulators and the owner of Fair Grounds to get on board.
“I don't want to hear from Churchill that it's a state rule and they can't do anything about it,” he added. “They have tremendous influence on the racing commission in Louisiana. And they could make it a house rule if they wanted to.”
Amoss said it comes down to a very simple guideline that everyone must embrace: “The horse comes first.”
If the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition is going to have any influence on making the sport safer, it goes without saying that all of its founding members have to practice what they preach. It's really not that complicated.
That's my view from the eighth pole.
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