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Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 USTA Rule Change Proposals

It is that time of the year where USTA district meetings get underway and amongst other business, those in attendance get their chance to express their opinions on the rule proposals submitted from their fellow USTA members as well as the USTA itself.

This year there are eighteen proposals on tap, but some of the proposals are related to other proposals.  Specifically, there are proposals to use mile rates for odd-distance races and timing races in tenths of a second.  Being implementing these changes requires modifying several rules, the list of proposals is larger than it is in reality.

Proposal 1 - This proposal clarifies the definition of a Record/Standard Record to be the horses fastest win time at the distance of one mile.  Why this clarification?  This is to ensure a mile rate time at a distance other than one mile will never be considered as a horse's standard.  This proposal is one of several related to the idea of introducing mile rates for odd distance races in an effort to make the American racing product similar to foreign racing and hence more desirable for export to foreign markets and to also make American fans more familiar with the idea of mile or kilometer rates which are used outside of North America making them more receptive to wagering on foreign races in the future.

Analysis:  This is a minute change and just clarifies what a record mile is.  Its passage alone makes has no impact on racing even if the rest of the changes related to mile rates is voted down.

Recommendation - Yes  

Proposal 2-  A proposal to change saddle pad colors to conform with the colors used by thoroughbred tracks in an effort to attract more business from thoroughbred customers as they would be familiar with the saddle pad colors.

Analysis:  This one irks me to some degree.  Not that the proposal is bad, it's just that harness racing has had colored saddle pads well before the thoroughbred industry and they consciously chose to adopt saddle pad colors which were different from harness racing.  Adoption of this proposal would make the color schemes the same.  The question is would standardizing saddle clothes really help handle?  I tend to doubt it.  

Recommendation - Neutral  

Proposal 3 -  A proposal to require each track to employee an outrider and have a plan approved by the racing commission for the capture of lose horses on the track.

Analysis: To think there are tracks without outriders is a disgrace.

Recommendation: Yes  


Proposal 4 - A proposal to add to the duties of the clerk of course to provide mile rates for each horse that races at distances other than a mile

Analysis: Part of the general proposal to allow for final times of each horse in odd distance races to be reported in mile rates.  This proposal requires the clerk of course to report the mile rate for each horse in a race in addition to the actual finish time of the race winner.

Recommendation: Yes  

Proposal 5 - A proposal to require past performance lines in programs to show the actual win time, mile rate of the winning horse and the mile rate of the specific horse for odd distance races in the racing program.

Analysis - Adoption of this rule would result in a horses' finish time to be shown in a mile rate, making it easier for handicappers to handicap future races when the distance of the day's race is different from the charted line's distance.  

Recommendation: Yes   

Proposal 6 - A proposal which would show the lifetime mile rate win record for the horse at that distance for races conducted at distances other than mile

Analysis - What good is seeing a record of 1:50 if the day's race is at 1 1/2 miles?  This rule will show in the career summary line the fastest mile rate at the day's distance.

Prediction: Yes   

Proposal 7 -  A proposal which in odd distance races would require the program in the summary section to show the horses fastest mile rate win time at that distance instead of the fastest win time at a mile.  As currently done, it will show the track the record was taken at.

Analysis - Adoption of this rule would provide more meaningful information for the handicapper and avoid seeing in the program "None at Standard Distance" when a horse only shows a win at an odd distance being competed in that race.

Recommendation:  Yes    

Proposal 8 - A proposal to change the timing of races from 1/5ths to 1/10ths of a second.  This specific proposal refers to manual time.

Analysis - The effort to time horses individually in 1/100ths of a second is off the slate for this year and is replaced by a more modest proposal to time horses in 1/10ths of a second.  The timing would be conducted the same as currently done; just using tenths of a second which is the standard outside of North America.   Instead of the rule being 1 length back being 1/5th of a second, it would change to a half length being 1/10th of a second and a length back being 2/10th of a second.  Thus final times for horses will be more accurate than done specifically.

Recommendation:  Yes, in coordination with Standardbred Canada  

Proposal 9 - Limit leases to two years.  

Analysis - The longer a lease goes for, the greater the possibility of a dispute between parties or financial hardship developing which would result in a horse being sidelined and unable to race while requiring maintenance, potentially putting the horse at risk.  By limiting leases to two years, the chances of such problems are minimized.

Recommendation:  A no brainer.  A strong Yes.

Proposal 10 - Allow horses to race past the age 15.

Analysis - The thought is the mandatory retirement age of 15 puts older horses at risk; trainers knowing the end of the career is near may run the horse into the ground to get what they can out of them before getting rid of the horse.  If a horse is allowed to race until whatever age, the clock won't end a horse's career, his declining ability will.  As a result, the horse will be better cared for.  It is admitted that this rule change would apply to few horses but it may help with increasing horse shortages as well as help alleviate the problem of unwanted ex-racehorses.

I have mixed feelings about this proposal.  No doubt the proposal is well-intentioned, but is there a time where a horse deserves to enjoy the life of a pensioner?  Will a hard hitting veteran at the end of his career be found racing in $1,000 claiming races as time catches up to them?  However, a horse being raced is a horse not ending up on the feed lot.

Recommendation: A Conditional Yes.  Would suggest allowing rule change which with a sunset date of five years.  This will give enough time to do a study to see how it works.  If the proposal does what is claimed, the sunset clause can be removed.

Proposal 11 -  A proposal to restrict horses to no more than 35 starts per year.

Analysis - Considering race horses tend not to be as durable as before, the feeling is starting a horse more than 35 starts a year is not in the horse's best interests and leads to the perception that horse racing is cruel.  Unfortunately, while more than 90% of the horses currently racing don't exceed the 35 start limit, making this a hard and fast rule will contribute to the shrinking pool of available horses.

Recommendation:   No

Proposal 12 - A proposal calling for computerized post position draws using a weighted system to minimize the chance a horse will continuously draw inside or outside in consecutive races.

Analysis: An idea whose time has come.  There is a lot of money involved in keeping a horse racing.  Therefore, to keep post positions a matter of luck can create a hardship for an owner who draws an outside post five or six starts in a row.  As each owner claims their horses deserve a spot on the starting gate, each horse deserves the opportunity to race from the inside as well.

Recommendation: A strong Yes.

Proposal 13 - A proposal making it illegal to drive a horse in any position other than sitting up.

Analysis:  The proposer suggests drivers laying back in a race present an unsafe situation in the event a horse stumbles during a race.  They claim requiring the driver to be upright is safer.

Recommendation: Neutral

Proposal 14 - A proposal to suspend horses when an owner, trainer, or driver is suspended more than 45 days. 

Analysis:  In effect, it provides for two classes of penalties.  Minor penalties of less than 45 days would allow a horse to continue racing under different ownership.  Major penalties (those of 45 days or more) would put the horse in a penalty box for at least 45 days.  While not part of the formal proposal, the recommendation is made to increase transfer frees to $500 when a trainer/owner/driver is under suspension to avoid 'paper' transfers.

While I agree with the concept, I question the validity of suspending horses when a driver is suspended more than 45 days.  As for increasing the transfer fees significantly when a trainer/owner is under suspension should be increased to discourage these paper transfers, it makes it too easy and cost effective; the $500 amount may need to be reduced.

Recommendation:  Yes, with modifications.

Proposal 15 - Change timing to tenths of a second instead of fifths.

Analysis: Already discussed.

Recommendation: Yes

Proposal 16 - Requiring Non-Standardbred horses to be spayed or neutered before being allowed to race.

Analysis: Back in 2003, a recommendation was made to require the spaying or neutering of any non-standard horses before allowing them to race, thus not allowing them to be used for breeding.

While adoption of this rule will help keep the standardbred 'pure', wouldn't allowing a non-standard horse to be used for breeding if the non-standard horse is successful racing give us an opportunity to widen the gene pool?

Recommendation: No

Proposal 17 - A proposal to allow names to consist of 20 spaces and five words.

Analysis: This proposal will modify the current standard of a name being limited to 18 spaces and four words.

Recommendation: Yes

Proposal 18 - A proposal to move Colorado from District 3 to District 4B

Analysis: This proposal will force six people to move to a different district.

Recommendation: Poll the six members to get their feelings none and act accordingly.

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