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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Abusing the Claiming Game

The thoroughbred world is talking about the breakdown and death of Burna Dette at Los Alamitos on Saturday night. Burna Dette, who raced a couple weeks ago at Del Mar for a claiming tag of $16,000, was entered into a thoroughbred race at Los Alamitos with a claiming tag of $2,000. The horse broke down around the turn and ended up being humanely destroyed, but not before being claimed out of the race.

Much of the speculation is centered on the possibility that the connections of the ill-fated horse knew they had a walking time bomb on their hands and merely were looking to dump the horse on someone else instead of giving the horse time to recover from its injuries. For those who are unfamiliar with California racing, this would be equivalent to a $20,000 claimer at the Meadowlands making its next start in a $4,000 claiming race at Freehold. When a horse drops in class like this, clearly warning bells should go off, for bettors as well as any horseman considering claiming a horse like this.  Make no mistake, situtations like this occur in standardbred racing as well.

Incidents like this beg for a change to the current claiming rules where title to the horse passes once the starter says ‘go’. While the claiming system was implemented to allow horsemen to classify their own horses where they see fit instead of letting a racing secretary classify their horse, the truth is the system is being abused to permit trainers to lose their problem horses, instead of giving horses the necessary time off to recover sufficiently from their injuries. Horsemen should continue to be allowed to set whatever claiming price they wish for their horses but it is time to make it harder for horsemen to use the claiming game to unload their problems on someone else.

The claiming rules need to be changed so title to a horse does not pass until after the race has been completed. If a horse does not finish a race, it should be mandatory for the horse to remain the property of the original owner and if a horse ends up on the stewards list for not being able to make the qualifying time or for being unsound, the new owner should have the ability to void the claim immediately after the race.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) is of similar mind. Their latest recommendations for the protection of race horses suggests: A modified structure for claiming races which allows claims to be rescinded if the post-race drug test is positive. Horses that do not finish the race or those that sustain a catastrophic injury during the race or while leaving the track should remain the property of the original owner unless the individual with the claim decides to accept the horse.

Adopting such a standard would substantially close the current loophole which allows horsemen to abuse the claiming system by dumping their problems on someone else. Rather than being able to dump a problem on someone else, an owner/trainer would have to do what they should be doing in the first place; either give the horse enough time to recover sufficiently from their injuries or retire the horse. It also makes the sport safer for the other horses and drivers competing on the track. Hopefully, the AAEP proposal can be implemented by the various racing commissions as soon as possible so horsemen will be required to do the right thing for horses who are severely unsound.

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