The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) voted last week to endorse two changes to claiming rules designed to slow the pace of claiming.
Those changes would prohibit dropping newly claimed horses in price for the first 30 days after the claim and permit horsemen bringing horses back after a six-month or longer layoff to run them in a claiming race without exposing them to being claimed in their first race back as long as they were running at or above the level of their last start.
The proposals now head to the Maryland Racing Commission for consideration, a process that, given state good-government rules, typically takes months.
The latter proposal passed unanimously and is expected to have little impact. Not a single horse on today’s Laurel card was returning from a six-month layoff, and the number of horses claimed off such a break is vanishingly small.
The former proposal, on the other hand, is more controversial. Though many states require horses to run back at the same or in some cases a higher level within 30 days of being claimed, Maryland in recent years has permitted horsemen to run newly claimed horses at any level, including for much less than they paid.
Linda Gaudet, a trainer and owner who is on the MTHA board and who was the leading advocate for the changes, claimed that Maryland is the last state in the region to adopt rules limiting horsemen’s ability to drop a horse immediately after making a claim. “We want to make a level playing field, protecting the horses and the owners,” she said.
Among other issues, she pointed out that the infusion of slots money into purses has changed the economics of racing considerably, thus providing cheaper horses more likelihood of being profitable, at least in the short run. That’s led to an increase in claiming activity and may lead to a rise in trainers claiming horses and then jamming them into cheaper races.
Many horsemen active in the claiming game oppose restrictions such as the proposed rule, viewing them as something of a backdoor tax on horse ownership and an undesirable imposition preventing them from handling their horses the way they think most appropriate. Often, they say, the best move with a newly claimed horse coming off a poor effort is to drop them into an easier spot. They contend that forcing horses to remain where they are not competitive or to sit on the sidelines for 30 days when a break isn’t necessary or desirable does a disservice to both horse and horseman.
On the first two live racing days of the week at Laurel, 16 horses were claimed. That number is considerably higher than typical days before the arrival of slots money.
Of the nine horses entered on Friday making their first start since being claimed, eight were in for an amount equal to or greater than their prior tag. The lone exception, Elkhorn Creek in the seventh, was in for $12,000 after being claimed for $14,000. The decline in claiming tag left him in the same race — claiming price of $14,000 down to $12,000 — but gave the six year-old a four-pound weight advantage.
Advocates had initially pushed for requiring horsemen to raise newly claimed horses’ claiming tag by at least 25 percent, but that idea did not garner sufficient support.
Still, Gaudet pronounced herself “satisfied” with the compromise. “We’ll see how this works,” she said, adding, “We can’t use the horse as a disposable commodity.”