02/14/2016 8:23PM

Santa Anita stewards explore eligibility of starter handicap winner


ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita stewards will conduct a hearing in coming weeks to determine whether China Girl Lover, the winner of the $43,170 Super Bowl Starter Handicap on Feb. 7, met the eligibility requirements of the restricted race.

The Super Bowl Starter Handicap was limited to horses that had started for a claiming price of $25,000 or less in 2015 or this year. China Girl Lover started in one claiming race during that time, a $16,000 race at a mile at Del Mar on Aug. 1, which the gelding won.

For that race, China Girl Lover was not eligible to be claimed under the provision of a 2008 rule enacted by the California Horse Racing Board. The rule allows a horse to return from a layoff of at least 180 days and be ineligible to be claimed for one race, provided the horse starts for a claiming price equal or greater to the claiming price of his previous race.

China Girl Lover finished seventh in a $16,000 claimer at Del Mar in July 2014, and had been rested for approximately 53 weeks before his return.

The 2008 rule was adopted to encourage owners to rest horses for an extended period and allow the horse to return to competition without risk of being claimed in his comeback race.

China Girl Lover is trained by Dan Hendricks for Patrick Sheehy.

Sunday, Hendricks acknowledged that the wording of the race conditions were vague regarding China Girl Lover’s eligibility.

“What it really is, is an interpretation of the wording,” Hendricks said. “You’re in a claiming race, but you’re not eligible to be claimed.”

In a one-page ruling issued Saturday, stewards Grant Baker, Scott Chaney, and Kim Sawyer said they have called for an inquiry and that a hearing will be conducted. Sunday, Chaney said the hearing has not been scheduled, but is likely to be heard in coming weeks.

No rival owners or trainers protested the eligibility of China Girl Lover in the Feb. 7 within the required time for an official protest, three racing days after the race, stewards said.

Since returning to racing last summer, China Girl Lover has won 4 of 8 starts and $107,480. The 6-year-old gelding has started in four starter handicaps or starter allowances during that time, winning a starter allowance at Los Alamitos in September, finishing second and third at Del Mar in November, and winning the Feb. 7 race.

China Girl Lover’s eligibility in the Los Alamitos race is not in question. The race was restricted to horses that had started for $25,000 or less in 2014 or 2015. The races at Del Mar – one on turf and one on the main track - were restricted to horses that had started for a claiming price of $20,000 or less in 2015.

Hendricks said he fears the stewards will disqualify China Girl Lover from the two races at Del Mar and the Feb. 7 race.

“I’d hate to see the owner lose three purses,” Hendricks said.

“The rule was done to protect horses and give them time off. Every time I entered, they said he was eligible.”

As for China Girl Lover, Hendricks said the gelding has thrived since the Feb. 7 race. There are no plans for another start in a starter handicap. Hendricks said he is looking for an allowance race at a longer distance on turf.




Donny Smith More than 1 year ago
On the surface the horse is eligible , the question comes with the fact that he entered under the waiver rule. I would say that this is probably the first case in which this has come into question and the wins should stand. I would go outside the state of California and research what other states (if any) have thought of this as a problem or come across it in their racing jurisdictions. Then make a decision. Honestly the trainer is ultimately responsible for the horses eligibility and if he had a question before entering, it should have been addressed then. The racing office provides the means to check eligibility but it is the trainers responibility in the end not the racing offices.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
As racing secretaries get creative .things get more complicated.. Pretty soon you will have to hire a consultant to know if your horse is eligible or not. It's funny that we are at the point were even the racing officials did not catch the "mistake". On the other hand I think the trainer knew his horse was not in a position to be claimed in those races and therefore not eligible .he rolled the dice 3 times and thought it came up golden .now we will see.
Michael Bench More than 1 year ago
What's next, will Santa Anita allow Cal Bred Optional $20k winners who have never raced for the tag into these starters, since it says a 20,000 tag in the condition?
Mike Oliveto More than 1 year ago
My opinion is if the stewards allowed the horse to run, absent any ironclad rules that would disqualify the horse, then the result should stand. Allowunf the horse to run then disqualifying the horse based on an after-the-fact interpretation would be outrageous.
Stefan More than 1 year ago
Here's my $0.02... the stewards have opened a can of worms. The CHRB wrote the exception to the rule but apparently forgot to tell the tracks how race conditions should be written in order to account for the rule change. Does the CHRB now have to write an "exception to the exception" to solve this issue? Will the CHRB step in if one of its members doesn't agree with the ruling? Sounds like a potential s**t storm in the making. Since nobody protested, I say let them keep the prize money but have all of the CA track stewards meet and agree on language that will specify future conditions more precisely.
Clay More than 1 year ago
According to the article, to be eligible for the one race exemption from claiming, the horse had to start for a claiming price greater or equal to the claiming price of its last race. It raced for a claiming price of $16K. Any ambiguity in the rule should be resolved in favor of the owners, whose horse was allowed to run by the appropriate racing officials.
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
I agree they should let the results stand but in the horse never did race for a claiming price of 16K. He was in the race, but not for a claiming price.
George More than 1 year ago
It seems to me that I recall some starter races where the wording is "For horses entered to be claimed for whatever price...so did the conditions for these races say started for such and such claiming or entered to be claimed?