04/28/2011 6:46PM

California Horse Racing Board to hear public on fatality-related claiming rule change


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The California Horse Racing Board has launched a 45-day public comment period on a controversial rule change that would void a claim when a claimed horse suffered a fatality during the running of a race or before returning to be unsaddled.

The racing board heard a spirited debate on the subject at its monthly meeting on Thursday. The public comment period is the first stage of a potential rule change. After comments are received, the board will hear the matter again, as soon as June, when a rule change could be the subject of a vote.

If passed, the rule would not take effect until late summer or early fall and would be the first of its kind in the nation, according to the racing board's equine medical director, Rick Arthur. He told the racing board during testimony that New York State has a rule voiding a claim if a medication violation is found.

"Nothing I can find voids claims for fatalities or injuries," Arthur said of policies in other states.

The proposed rule change would also permit a claim to be voided if a horse was placed on the veterinarian's list for unsoundness or lameness as a result of a performance in a race in which it was claimed, but that clause was dropped from the 45-day comment period because of the potential for legal disputes. Vice chairman David Israel described that clause as a "full employment act for attorneys."

In discussing the revocation of claims for fatally injured horses, board member Bo Derek expressed concern about the condition of horses who are dropped several levels in claiming value.

"I think we've had some fatal breakdowns that could have been avoided by the passing of this rule," she said.

John Sadler, the president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers association, spoke in opposition of the proposed rule, saying that the tone of the rule change was unfair to trainers.

"We think, at the CTT, that this should be put off," he said. "I resent the tone in here that trainers are trying to drop horses, get them hurt and get them off our hands. To stereotype horse trainers as butchers is unfair. We think this needs to be worked on.

"Let's work on it and see if we can find something that suits everybody."

Commissioner John Harris disagreed with Sadler's opinion that trainers were being singled out.

"If we can do something to save a few horses along the way, we should," he said. "I don't think we're pointing a finger at anybody."

On related matters, the racing board approved a plan to finance a more extensive studies of equine necropsies in the state in conjunction with the University of California at Davis, and submitted a rule amendment for a public comment period requiring that six months of veterinary records be submitted within 48 hours of the death of a horse.