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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Time to End Claiming Races

With the rise of racinos and slot-fueled purses, the time has come to drop claiming races.  Claiming races were for a different time, a time that has long passed; specifically at the racino tracks.  The claiming game has become dirty and is contrary to the goal of providing for equine welfare.

A long time ago, claiming races were introduced in response to trainers complaining about the 'powerful' racing secretaries had when it came to classified racing as the racing secretary put horses into classes he felt it belonged in.  Many trainers didn't like the fact the secretary placed horses where he felt as they felt the secretary would mis-classify a horse or play favorites for some trainers to the detriment of others.  The idea of claiming races was it allowed trainers to classify their own horses by setting a claiming price for the horse; the theory being a trainer would put a horse in a class which they thought it would be competitive in.  Put the horse in too high you would starve; try to steal a race by racing for too low a price tag and you ran the risk of losing your horse.  Furthermore, to make sure people didn't just grab a horse, you needed to race a horse at the existing meet before you could claim a horse and for a certain period of time, a horse claimed had to race for a higher tag.

The system worked.  Horses would race in claimers but typically were left alone.  Sure, horses would be claimed, typically by trainers who thought they could improve a horse, but it was a small number at each meet; for the most part horses stayed with their existing owners.  As a result, trainers treated these horses as long time residents in their barn.

Then some rules changed.  Open claiming rules were adopted, meaning you didn't have to start a horse at a race meet prior to claiming horses as a method to get new owners into the business.  Most racing jurisdictions removed the requirement of a horse having to move up off a claim which made it more likely a horse would be claimed as you no longer had to improve a horse to make it worthwhile.  When slots came into being at racetracks, the claiming system has broken down with regards to being responsible for a horse.

Horses, who were once a long term investment, have become de facto rental investments.  Claim a horse one week and drop them back in the same class the following week.  Purses have become so lucrative at most racinos that any live horse gets claimed and at times is claimed multiple times in a short period as horsemen are looking for a horse to race the following week.  Since these horses have become rentals, the long term care of the horse becomes less important.  Some horses race in the same class week in week out while others with suspect trainers move up in eye opening fashion.  The claiming game having gotten so bad certain trainers won't get involved with claimers because they refuse to play the medication game.  With lucrative purses and the temporary view of horse ownership, there is no saving of horses for next week as next week may not happen for the existing owner.  The bottom line being the well-being of the horse is the least of all concerns for some trainers and owners. 

Now, to be fair, some attempts have been made to improve the welfare of the claimer by allowing a horse to be tested for drugs and returned to the previous owner if the horse comes up positive as well as proposals to void claims when a horse dies on the track or is euthanized as a result of a breakdown in an effort to get current owners of the claiming horse to treat the horse better.  Unfortunately, these efforts come up short.

Realizing the sport is not about to go back to the old claiming rules, the only solution to the current problem is to drop claiming races, thus forcing owners to treat the former claiming stock as long term investments instead of rent a horse.  Realizing most horsemen oppose classified races, the horses would transfer to conditioned races.  As for the non-racino tracks, the claiming races need to be eliminated as well as individuals may claim a horse at that track merely to send it over to a racino.

Recognizing Horse Rescue United - It is nice to see one of my favorite horse rescues receive some recognition in an article was published by the USTA on their website.  Back in 2010, I did an interview with the founder of the organization, standardbred trainer Anouk Busch.  You may read that interview here.

Then of course, there is the reason horse rescues are needed.  The Canadian Equine Defense Coalition provides the biographies of six standardbreds which met their untimely end in a Canadian slaughterhouse.  This is not a problem restricted to standardbreds.  The time has come for the American and Canadian breed registries to take serious steps against those who send horses to slaughter either directly or through 'convenient' ignorance.  Yes, you may lose owners but in the long run you will keep your industry going. 

Hazel Park was once a top harness track in the nation.  It is far from that these days.  Here is an article about the current situation of racing at Hazel Park and in Michigan.


Anonymous said...

I've been saying this for awhile now. I never really knew the history of how claimers started, but when Pena came along with all of his success I wondered why this was not considered. Then again, just like everything else in harness racing, there is no real central authority to make this happen.

Pacingguy said...

Anon, this is nothing about Pena. There is unfortunately quite a few trainers who fall into this category.

For your information, I believe claiming races were started by the late Stan Bergstein when he was a racing secretary out in Chicago.