04/30/2012 2:51PM

New York places limit on claiming purses

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The New York State Racing and Wagering Board on Monday adopted an emergency rule, effective May 9, prohibiting  racetracks from offering a purse that is more than double the claiming price in the race, while simultaneously laying the groundwork for the consideration of a rule that would ban the use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide on raceday.

In a release, board officials said that they passed the rule on claiming purses to put in a place a “proportional economic relationship between the purse offered in a claiming race and the value of a claiming horse.” Under the rule, if a claiming race has a purse of $40,000, the claiming price in the race must equal or exceed $20,000.

The board passed the rule on the same day that the New York Times published an article that contended that the growth in purses at tracks that receive casino subsidies has produced incentives for trainers to run unsound horses in cheap races, leading to a sharp rise in racetrack injuries. The new rule will acutely affect the tracks operated by the New York Racing Association, which has significantly boosted purses in claiming races since the beginning of the year because of an influx of money from a casino that opened last year at Aqueduct.

The purse increases have led to a sharp rise in claiming activity at New York tracks, and they have accompanied double-digit increases in handle at both Aqueduct and Belmont.

Under the recently instituted purse increases, many of cheapest claiming races at Aqueduct and Belmont had purses that were more than double the claiming price, though those spreads did not occur in high-priced claiming races. For example, on Thursday, Belmont has carded a $14,000 claiming race with a purse of $30,000, and another $14,000 claiming race with a purse of $31,000.

Dan Silver, a spokesperson for NYRA, said that racing officials were in communication with the board on the impact of the new rule and reviewing purse races in upcoming claiming races to determine whether purses in the races should be cut or whether the claiming prices should be raised.

“We just found out about it,” Silver said. “Obviously, we’re going to be in compliance.”

Rick Violette, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, criticized the board for passing the rule on an emergency basis without first waiting for a report from a task force it set up at the direction of Gov. Andrew Cuomo to investigate a spate of breakdowns at Aqueduct this past winter. He also said the new rule may lead to drops in field size at New York tracks.
“It certainly puts NYRA at a disadvantage in attracting some claiming horses, and it could hurt business,” Violette said. “But we certainly need to take a look at it.” 

The board’s decision on Monday to open up discussion on a ban of the raceday use of furosemide makes New York the second major U.S. racing jurisdiction to consider a raceday ban of the drug, which is used to treat bleeding in the lungs. One week ago, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission hastily called a vote on phasing out the raceday use of the drug, but the vote failed.

The New York board said that it would solicit comments on a range of questions regarding use of furosemide over the next two weeks, including how a ban could be introduced and whether there are alternatives to the use of furosemide to treat bleeding.

Violette said that the horsemen’s group would remain in opposition to a ban on the use of the drug.

“This is first and foremost a health issue for the racehorse,” Violette said. “There’s no one out there that can say with a straight face that letting a horse bleed when we have the wherewithal to treat it is in the best interests of a horse or rider.”