07/17/2013 2:30PM

Maryland adopts void-claim rules


The Maryland Racing Commission on Tuesday adopted temporary rules that will make claims void if a horse dies during a race or in the immediate aftermath of the race.

The rules, which are similar to those recently adopted in California and New York, were adopted following a spate of deaths at Laurel Park this winter, with most of the deaths occurring in claiming races. According to racing records, at least 17 horses died while racing at Laurel Park in the first three months of the year, leading to a racing commission investigation.

Under the new rules, claims will automatically be voided if a horse dies or is euthanized on the track at any time after breaking from the gate. In addition, owners will be allowed to void a claim within one hour of a horse being vanned off the track.

Rules that allow for voided claims have been adopted in several major racing jurisdictions recently under the belief that trainers should have no incentive for entering unsound horses in races in the hope of a horse being claimed. The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association supported the adoption of the rules.

While drawing far less attention, the breakdowns at Laurel this winter had similarities to a spate of breakdowns at Aqueduct in New York during that track’s 2011-12 winter meet that resulted in a lengthy state investigation. Most notably, purses at both tracks were raised considerably due to subsidies from slot machines just prior to the spate of breakdowns. On a percentage basis, purses in the claiming ranks at both tracks were targeted for the largest increases.

Following the release of a report examining the Laurel deaths, the racing commission adopted rules requiring that claimed horses start only in races worth at least 125 percent of the claiming price for 30 days after being claimed. The commission also directed its veterinarians to apply more stringent criteria for pre-race examinations, and the Maryland Jockey Club, the owner of Laurel and Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore, agreed to fund a necropsy program.

The rules were adopted on a conditional basis because horse racing constituents were not able to review the regulations prior to the vote Tuesday. The commission plans to conduct a formal vote on the rules at a meeting this fall after a public-comment period.