Hovdey: ‘The Claiming Game Is Under Attack’

by | 06.23.2013 | 2:08pm
Parents Honor wins on Claiming Crown Day

Writing for the Daily Racing Form, Jay Hovdey said last week that the recent changes to the claiming rules in several states across the country are the equivalent of a war of attrition on the claiming game. While proponents of the changes argue that they will discourage trainers from running horses with injuries, Hovdey questions whether horses at the center of voided claims should have been racing at all.

After all, he wrote, what are the chances that all 13 horses whose claims were voided in the last month in California all picked up their flaws in the course of one race?

Instead, those 13 reveal fundamental problems with the mentality of the whole system.

Today's claiming game is designed to move inventory, and even the most revered of horsemen have found themselves relieved to have gotten rid of a problem horse. In 2003, trainer Bobby Frankel told Hovdey that the huge purses available in claiming races discourage trainers from improving their horses and moving them up.

“There's less horsemanship, the way claiming is now,” Frankel had said. “But it depends on who you are, and how much you care about the animal. With a lot of guys, it's a quick fix. You get one, you start injecting, you call the vet. Now you've got clenbuterol, and everything else you can stick into these horses . . . keep him for a few weeks, do everything you can to him, and you can drop him in half and still be running for a good purse. The horse is just a commodity now, like Nascar.”

Instead, Hovdey ventures, it would be nice if American racing could reorganize into the same format as other countries—allowing claiming level horses to find a spot where they can be competitive, without the opportunity to make short-term use of them.

“For all the changes being made in the rules,” he said, “the devil is not in the details. It's in the culture.”

Read more at the Daily Racing Form 


  • LongTimeEconomist

    The easiest part to correct is the inflated purse structure for claimers at some tracks.

    • Don Reed

      How far does it have to go before it’s a corrupt jobs program?”

  • Don Reed

    You claim him, he’s yours for the next six months, entered to race, or not. Good/bad idea?
    Also, 13 voided claims, as opposed to how many there were not?

  • Richard C

    The problem is caused by those who play games to stuff cash in their pockets — with zero regard for other owners, trainers or equine athletes. When greed and outright cheating becomes the norm, then a sport is destroyed from within.

  • jttf

    should have a new rule. when claiming horse wins, he/she must go up in class for the next two races.

    • Fast Filly

      The reason he was in a claiming race is because he can’t run fast enough to go up in class…if someone does claim one and he goes up in class and dose good, everyone says the new trainer is cheating and using something illegal…

      • Roisin

        I never heard that said about Chamberlin Bridge when he went from claiming to winning the Breeder’s Cup. Now that is going up in class !!

        • Fast Filly

          There are lots of the same examples..some can be improved, but claiming races put a price on the horse..when you enter one for $20.000 claim, that is what you think he is worth..if you are lucky enough to claim one and then go and make a stakes horse out of him..that’s wonderful..but not all horses are stakes material..they have to run for a tag…and the horse might be lucky enough to be claimed by a better trainer and then his true form will shine…

        • Kim Howell

          Lava Man…

  • Figless

    I would prefer the elimination of claiming races altogether, or a drastic overhaul to the system but considering the difficulty this industry has in making the most innocuous changes I would, for now, 1) change the rule to mandate claimed horse must run at 125% of its claimed price for 2 months up from 1 one month and 2) prohibit any horse from being dropped more than one claiming level and 3) mandate that any dropped horse run at that new level three times before dropping the next level. A first time claimer must run at the highest level and progress, slowly down the ranks, except for maidens.

    • Fast Filly

      I am afraid that doing away with claiming races would send them to the slaughter houses must quicker…not all horses end up being stakes or allowance horses and the claiming races are the only place for them…should you pay $200,000 for a horse and he can’t run fast enough to be in stakes, what else is there to do with him…

      • FourCats

        Eliminating claiming races does not require that claiming itself be eliminated. Just separate the two activities. There is no good reason why the buying/selling of a horse has to be connected to a race and many reasons for it not to be connected.

        Devise lower level restrictive condition (ie. non-claiming) races for those horses unable to compete at higher levels and a separate claiming database for buying/selling horses. Horse inspections could even be included.

        However, I agree with Figless that it seems to be beyond the ability of those in charge of racing to think in innovative ways for the benefit of the industry.

        • Fast Filly

          If you have a better way of doing it, go to the racing commisions and tell them…they need new ideas…just commenting on these forums dose not help..get involved and speak up..you can never tell who might be listening…

  • oldbay

    Wrong solution. First and foremost, all tracks need to step up on the prerace exams. Hire knowledgeable vets. Not vets who couldn’t make it in private practice. Pay them a top salary to attract the best. Then leave the claiming game alone. If you don’t like the risk, then don’t play the game. What they are doing now is giving free insurance to the people that claim. That is going to create some claiming monsters who will take everything they can because the new “insurance” policy. could you imagine what someone like Mike Gill would have done with this policy?

    • jon

      yeah, all gills cripples would have stayed in his barn!

      • oldbay

        maybe, but someone like him could just go on a claiming binge with their risk being very little. The claiming game is there to keep people honest on the value of the horses running. The risk of getting a horse that is not 100% sound is keeping the honesty and value there also. Face it as long as there is horse racing there is going to be horse injuries (claiming, allowance or stakes). Don’t like it, then don’t participate in it. Don’t wager on it. Wrong solution to change the rules.

  • Gene

    Only in California !!!!

  • Ohio Bred Girl

    “For all the changes being made in the rules,” he said, “the devil is not in the details. It’s in the culture.” Amen, Jay. Amen.

    • Roisin

      Ohio Bred Girl, Glad I read your post first because that is exactly what I was going to say ! That statement really jumped off the “paper” for me.

  • Tanzzee

    Of course, the amount of sales tax collected by the staes couldn’t have anything to do with the perpetuation of claiming races could it?

  • Tanzzee

    How about implementing proper handicaps, as seen all over Europe and
    most of the TB racing world? Take a look at many of these handicaps and
    there is a weight span of 20+ lb (taking today’s card at Chepstow as an
    example). Also, races and tracks in the UK are graded – another way of
    providing a level playing field for horses.

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