12/12/2008 12:00AM

Claiming action slows to a crawl


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - On most racing days, trainer Bill Spawr can be found on a rail near the paddock, making notes in his program on the condition of horses as they head to the racetrack. Spawr, a trainer with a large number of claimers in his stable, has not had much opportunity to put the information to use of late.

Along with numerous other trainers in Southern California, Spawr has cut back on the number of horses he has claimed. From his perspective, owners have not expressed the same enthusiasm for acquiring race-ready horses as they have in past seasons.

"It's the economy and the purses," he said. "It doesn't make sense to keep a cheap horse. For what it costs to train a horse and pay the vet bills, you better have a horse that's worth $20,000."

Statistics compiled by the Hollywood Park paymaster's office support Spawr's theories. Through Wednesday, 48 horses had been claimed for $1,413,000, or an average of $29,437. At the corresponding meeting in 2007, 81 horses had been claimed for $2,000,408, an average claiming price of $24,696. What is being claimed this year is worth more than last year.

"I haven't claimed a horse since Del Mar," trainer Bob Hess Jr. said. "The cost of training a horse in California is prohibitive. I'm trying to direct my people to a higher-priced horse. Money isn't as available.

"I'm sending two horses to Sunland for a client that's a dear friend. At $90 a day, it doesn't make sense to have the horses with me. We need to do what's right for his bottom line."

Small fields and the lack of horses from other circuits that could wind up being claimed when they race here have played a role in the drop in claims.

"There aren't as many horses to claim," trainer Jack Carava said. "I think there has been a general downsizing in claiming over the last 10 years."

Carava said the presence of starter allowance races, which allow maiden claimers to run in nonclaiming races until they win their second starts, also reduces the number of claims.

"Nine out of 10 horses in starter races would be in claiming races," he said. "The flipside is a starter is a good place to run a horse."

Carava said the claiming action could pick up at Santa Anita, which starts its winter-spring meeting Dec. 26. "It seems to get a breath of fresh air at Santa Anita," he said.

For Spawr, an upswing in activity cannot come soon enough. In the past, he had clients with ample funds who were capable of claiming a horse on a moment's notice.

"No one has any money on account," he said.

Court date set for Cost of Freedom case

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge will hear arguments Jan. 13 regarding a lawsuit owner Gary Barber has filed against the California Horse Racing Board's decision to place the Grade 1 stakes winner Cost of Freedom on a veterinarian's list.

Barber is challenging the opinion of the racing board's official veterinarian regarding the soundness of Cost of Freedom. The two sides were in court Friday, when the Jan. 13 date was set by Judge James Chalfant.

Twice in the last seven weeks, Cost of Freedom has failed a prerace physical examination regarding soundness. Currently, Cost of Freedom is on the racing board's veterinarian's list for unsoundness and is unable to race until he is removed from that list. He was placed on the veterinarian's list in late October after failing a prerace inspection for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Barber and trainer John Sadler attempted to have Cost of Freedom removed from the veterinarian's list in November, in advance of the Vernon Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 22. Cost of Freedom was given a workout Nov. 19, five furlongs in 1:00, but was not removed from the vet's list after state veterinarian Tim Connor said the gelding did not jog satisfactorily after the workout.

Last month, Barber said he submitted Cost of Freedom to a variety of medical tests, including X-rays and an ultrasound, which revealed no injuries.

On Friday, Barber said, "I'm a very gratified that the judge feels we have compelling evidence."

Sadler said earlier this week that Cost of Freedom is galloping at Santa Anita. Pending court decisions, Cost of Freedom will either resume racing at Santa Anita this winter or could be sent to trainer Michael de Kock in Dubai, Sadler said.

Antique Avenue recovering from gate mishap

Antique Avenue, an allowance-class gelding who was briefly knocked out after striking the front of the gate before Thursday's seventh race, was recovering at trainer Ray Bell's stable on the backstretch on Friday.

Antique Avenue struck the gate with such force that he was unconscious on the racetrack for "a few minutes," Bell said. The gelding, who bled profusely from the nose because of the accident, was later transported to Bell's stable via horse ambulance.

Friday, Bell said it was unclear what long-term effects the incident would have on Antique Avenue, who has won 3 of 5 starts and $74,640 for owner-breeders Betty and Robert Irvin.

"He hit the gate so hard it knocked him out," Bell said. "He took a step forward and fell on the track. He lost a tremendous amount of blood, five or six liters of blood.

"He's a little livelier," Bell said. "He's eating, and that's a good sign. We'll give him time, and he'll tell us when he's feeling better. You have to wonder what it will do psychologically. Hopefully, he's intelligent enough to overcome it."

The incident resulted in a nine-minute delay to the running of the race, which was won by Serra Song.

Frumious works for CashCall Futurity

Frumious, winner of three consecutive races at Golden Gate Fields, will make his stakes debut in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity next Saturday. On Friday at Hollywood Park, Frumious worked six furlongs in 1:11.80, the fastest of nine recorded works at the distance.

Trained by Jeff Bonde, Frumious's most recent win came going a mile on Nov. 13. The Grade 1 CashCall Futurity is run at 1 1/16 miles.