04/02/2012 2:35PM

New York adopts rule that allows cancelling of claim if horse dies ontrack

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The New York State Racing and Wagering Board passed a rule on Monday that will void a claim for any horse that is euthanized on the track. The rule, passed on an emergency basis, will go into effect immediately.

With the adoption of the rule, New York becomes the second state to pass a rule allowing for the voiding of a claim for a horse that is injured during a race and subsequently euthanized – as long as the horse is euthanized before being removed from the track. California passed an identical rule last year.

Racing board officials contended in a release and in a notice posted last week that the adoption of the rule will reduce incentives for trainers to run unsound horses in claiming races. The rule is being adopted in the midst of an investigation into the deaths of 21 horses during Aqueduct’s current meet. Six of the 21 horses were subjects of claims, and the majority of the fatalities occurred in races that offered claiming prices of $15,000 or less.

“This rule change emphasizes the fact that claiming races cannot be dumping grounds for unsound horses,” said the racing board’s chairman, John Sabini, in a release. “The tradition of authorizing claims even when a horse dies is no longer acceptable.”

The deaths of the horses at Aqueduct came at a time when the track significantly raised its purses because of payments to its purse fund from a casino located on the track’s grounds. Because of the jump in purses, claiming activity soared. During the first 74 days of the meet, 451 horses were claimed, for an average of 6.1 horses per day.

To respond to concern over the number of horses that had died during the meet, Aqueduct’s operator, the New York Racing Association, decided to raise the bottom-level claiming price from $7,500 to $10,000. The change will go into effect as of Wednesday.

Although claiming rules require the voiding of a claim for a number of administrative reasons, such as the improper spelling of a horse’s name, claims have generally been upheld throughout U.S. racing history regardless of what happens on the racetrack, with the responsibility for the horse immediately passing to the new owner at the moment the gate opens.

However, many states are now contemplating exceptions to those rules. In Kentucky, for example, the state racing commission passed regulations last year that allow a new owner to void a claim if the claimed horse tests positive for a prohibited drug after the race.

The spate of injuries at Aqueduct have occurred against a backdrop of renewed scrutiny over injuries suffered by horses at U.S. racetracks. The concerns have been amplified by the publication of an article in the March 25 edition of the New York Times examining deaths at U.S. racetracks. The article was the first in what it is expected to be a three- or four-part series.

The New York board passed the rule on the same day that it launched two databases that will allow the public to search for rulings against licensees and injuries suffered by horses, jockeys, and drivers at the state’s Thoroughbred and harness tracks. The injury database includes information on injuries and fatalities that occurred during both racing and training, and it can be searched by horse name, incident type, breed, location, date, trainer, jockey/driver, weather, and by entering in a brief description of the incident, the board said.