07/18/2006 12:00AM

Churchill asks for scratch rule changes


Officials at Churchill Downs, which reached an agreement to sell Ellis Park on Monday to Kentucky businessman and former political appointee Ronald Geary, has asked the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority to change three rules regarding scratches and entries in an effort to boost field sizes at the state's racetracks.

At a meeting on Monday, the racing authority agreed to consider the rule changes, which would eliminate so-called "jail time" requirements and make it harder for trainers to scratch horses after entry. The authority is currently considering a complete overhaul of Kentucky's rules, a process that is not expected to begin until later this year.

Policies and regulations governing scratches and entries have become a matter of concern to many racetracks nationally under growing anecdotal evidence that scratches have increased in frequency over the past five years as trainers attempt to find the softest spots for their horses. In addition, competition in the out-of-state simulcast market has increased pressure on racetracks to present races with full fields.

Steve Sexton, the chief operating officer of Churchill, said at the meeting that racing secretaries at Churchill, Turfway Park, Keeneland, and Ellis Park all support the changes. However, Marty Maline, the executive vice president of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said at the meeting that horsemen would likely oppose some elements of the rule changes.

Under current regulations, a horse that is claimed cannot run in another claiming race for 30 days after the claim unless the claiming price in the race is 25 percent higher than the price in the race in which the horse was claimed. Churchill is asking the authority to strike the 25 percent requirement.

Churchill also asked the authority to increase from 6 days to 10 days the amount of time a horse is prohibited from entering in a race after a scratch for veterinary reasons. The third request was for the authority to eliminate a rule that allows horsemen to scratch from a race for any reason if the field has more than eight horses after veterinary scratches are allowed.

Sexton said that at the recently completed 57-day Churchill meet, "just over 200 horses" were scratched for non-veterinary reasons, not including scratches because of surface changes. At that meet, average field size dropped to 8.14 horses, down from 8.26 horses at last year?s spring and summer meet.