The Red Mile has announced the cessation of the third heat race-off for the Kentucky Futurity starting in 2013. Another piece of tradition has now been consigned to the history books with the only race presently having a third heat race off is the Little Brown Jug, of which I expect it won't be too long until that is gone as there has been talk about eliminating it in the past.
Truth be told, as much as I am a traditionalist, I have no problem with the axing of third-heat race-offs. While I don't see a problem with horses going an occasional second heat, a third heat is definitely pushing things. When you consider most times the rail horse wins the race-off and typically the rail is usually assigned to the winner of the second heat, racing the third heat really serves no benefit.
It will be interesting to see if trainers like Ray Schnittker who has previously said he will never again race a horse in a second heat changes his mind knowing his charges will not have to return for heat three.
Bill Finley, in an op-ed piece in the Thoroughbred Daily News advocates changing the claiming game. Instead of claiming a horse before the race with title passing as soon as the starter says go (with a few exceptions), Finley suggests claimers not be accepted until after the race, the first ten minutes after the race is official with title passing at that time.
It is an interesting proposal and while I agree with the concept, I would do it slightly different. A potential claimant should still be required to make their intentions known before the race with claims still being taken before the race but title not passing until after the race, assuming the horse crosses the finish line on their own and the state veterinarian having cleared the horse as being 'fit' for its class after the race (assuming the horse tests clean). This way, an unfit horse would likely stay in the barn instead of being raced as it would be much harder to unload a lame horse on a new owner and if tragically a horse breaks down requiring euthanizing, the old owner is the one that suffers, not the new owner.
Another advantage of changing the way claims are handled would be to improve the competitive nature of races as the days of a horse plunging way down in class to steal a race would be reduced as there would be more of a chance of such horses being claimed. Hence, claiming races should be more rewarding betting-wise.