First of all, especially at the smaller tracks harness racing is a tight-knit family. As such, here are some rules regarding horses racing in claimers.
- Thou shalt not claim a horse which is basically a pet.
- You don't claim a horse from someone who is in financial difficulty.
- You never claim the last horse a trainer has.
- While not as hard set in the rules, you give the person you are claiming from the courtesy of letting them know you are thinking of claiming their horse if it remains in for the same price. This gives the original owner the opportunity to move the horse up if they want to keep it.
It is admirable that harness racing is tight-knot and while some of the comments regarding the two Sydneys were over the top, it was nice to see social media light up over this. Let's face it, it is a rare day where horse racing people get so passionate about something. That being said, one has to wonder if these are the 'unspoken' rules of claiming races, why do we even bother with claiming races?
For example, these rules provide an unfair advantage to those who qualify for special treatment. A trainer is supposed to place a horse at a proper level where the horse may be competitive. Well, if you know no one is going to claim your horse off of you, a horse can dominate a class for a while without worrying about being claimed whereas someone who falls outside of these unspoken rules need to adjust the claiming price of the horse to keep it which means they may not be cashing a check for a few weeks. The result is the horse player may be dealing with more odds-on favorites than they should have to.
So what is the answer to these type of situations which would be fair to all involved. Get rid of claiming races and replace them with classified races. I know many horsemen don't care for classified racing; preferring conditioned racing. Well, they can have it both ways. You could have conditioned races for your younger horses but for horses six and up who would typically be forced into claiming races, classified races could be introduced.
The advantage of classified racing, would be those horses which would have raced in claiming races would be classified according to their current form. With the racing secretary deciding the class each horse will race in, no trainer would have an unfair advantage over another.
So how would these classified conditions work?. First of all horses, which still can compete against younger horses, would continue to race in the existing classified or condition structure. Those who don't fit the bill would be in races restricted to 6 year olds and up. As with classifying horses, you would use a similar grading system but classify those horses relative to other horses 6 year olds and over (meaning a regular C-2 class race is not the same as an Aged C-2). You would differentiate them in the program by specifying the race is for aged horses versus younger (i.e., Aged C-2).
Yes, having Aged Classes puts the power of placing horses in their proper class on the race secretary. If done right, the races become more competitive and make them worth wagering on. Those who argue grouping older horses in classified racing would cheapen the product, we are seeing it is competitive full fields gamblers want, not races with odds-on favorites. Perhaps more importantly,you won't see someones family favorite going to a new home.