02/01/2012 1:51PM

Jerardi: Recent claim ready to go, with no place to run

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Barbara D. Livingston
Owner Robert Cole has been unable to enter recent claim Aaron’s Legend in any races as a result of new rules at Charles Town.

Over the last month, “only in horse racing” met up with Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.”

I got a call last Saturday from owner Robert Cole, less than two weeks removed from getting that Special Eclipse for Rapid Redux’s perfect 2011. He said he wanted to tell me a story.

Cole claimed a 5-year-old gelding named Aaron’s Legend out of a 4 1/2-furlong $7,500 maiden claimer on Dec. 17 at Charles Town. Little did he know he was claiming a horse that was not eligible to run at Charles Town or, for 60 days, anywhere else.

On the day Cole claimed the horse, Aaron’s Legend finished a solid second. The former trainer, Nancy Heil, was 1 for 40 in 2011 when the horse was claimed. Cole’s trainer, Scooter Davis, was a solid 28 percent last year and 40 percent off the claim.

The horse had raced 12 times since his August 2010 debut, with five seconds and earnings of $21,830. The horse got a 39 Beyer Speed Figure on the day he was claimed. He was with the pace in just about every race. He was quite competitive and had gotten dirt Beyers as high as 56 and 57.

Cole entered the horse for maiden $10,000 on Jan. 4.

“Just a typical spot, 4 1/2, nothing fancy, just where the horse figured to run,” Cole said. “And they refused to take the entry.”

Cole was confused. Then, he was bewildered. Finally, he decided to call me.

Seems that without much, if any notice, it was decided that any maidens that were 6 years old or older and had started at least 10 times would no longer be eligible to run at Charles Town in 2012.

“It was a bit of a cockeyed rule, but they can do anything they want,” Cole said.

It would have been nice if Cole had known about the rule when he claimed a 5-year-old maiden with 12 starts two weeks before the calendar turned to 2012.

“That was unfair, but this gets worse,” Cole said.

He’s right.

Charles Town has a 60-day jail rule. You can’t run a claimed horse out of town for 60 days after the claim.

“I said to the stewards ‘Well, you can let me run out of town,’ and they refused to let me run out of town,” Cole said.

Thus, the Heller/Catch-22 connection – you can’t run here in a maiden race, and you can’t run anywhere else, either.

“So, they don’t let me run at Charles Town, nor do they let me run out of state,” Cole said.

Cole’s $7,500 claim has been incurring training bills for the owner, but has no chance to earn any of it back until the middle of February, when he can run out of town in races that probably don’t suit him. Anytime the horse has run beyond 4 1/2 furlongs on the dirt, he has not been close at the finish. All of his good races have been at 4 or 4 1/2, the classic Charles Town distance.

This probably is not the best way to encourage owners, the very lifeblood of a sport that does not need any more stupidity than it already has. Can we please get a national commissioner to explain to those that are in charge of their little fiefdoms that it really isn’t about them – it is about the game.

When Cole asked the stewards why they instituted the rule, he was told they didn’t want horses that “aren’t going to be competitive.”
Cole figured Aaron’s Legend would have been 2-5 in the race where he entered him. So, it would appear as if the 6-year-old would have been competitive.

Cole then went to the Maryland stewards who he said “blew me off” when he asked if they would ignore the 60-day jail rule.

Cole then was told about another maiden race at Charles Town. Two maidens who were more than 6 years old with more than 10 starts ran in it. He made a call to the stewards and was told it was a bad rule and they decided to change it, apparently because it would have superseded a state rule. If Cole had known, he would have entered the race.

He entered Aaron’s Legend again at Charles Town. His entry was not accepted. He was told the rule had been changed back again. Only now, it apparently had been written into the conditions of maiden races.

Charles Town’s chief steward, Danny Wright, confirmed the details of Cole’s story.

“I’m not unsympathetic to his circumstances,” Wright said. “I understand his feelings.”

Wright said the issue of barring certain horses from racing at the track will be addressed at a Feb. 7 rules committee meeting of the West Virginia Racing Commission.

Wright said he would prefer the criteria to be based on “poor performance.”

“Obviously, this is an absurd story,” Cole said. “It wouldn’t matter if it was me or an owner with one horse. Owners don’t need this kind of abuse. Here, they have a horse ready to run and they won’t take the entry. They won’t let him run out of town and then they change the rule a couple of times. Now, that’s the story.”

I say free Aaron’s Legend.

Why is common sense such a foreign concept in this sport?

Whenever I am out with some of my horse racing writing brethren at a major event and we are considering something really stupid in the sport, we say in unison: “It’s horse racing.” We say it a lot. We have been saying for years. We will probably be saying it forever.