09/08/2005 12:00AM

Some horsemen say Del Mar made bad call on no contest


DEL MAR, Calif. - Some trainers and owners whose horses ran in Sunday's first race at Del Mar have petitioned the California Horse Racing Board, claiming that the stewards' decision to declare that race no contest following an accident was in error. Only three of the seven runners completed the race following an accident heading into the far turn.

No purse money was distributed and all claims were voided. All single-race wagers and the daily double were refunded, but the pick three and place pick-all continued as though all horses in the disputed race were winners.

Unusual Spring crossed the wire first, and the 3-year-old filly's trainer, Doug O'Neill, and owners, Steve Kenly and Jason Wood, are arguing that the purse money should have been distributed. They are citing inconsistencies in the way betting on the race was processed.

"Purses come from wagering, so if some of the bets were still valid, there should have been purse money generated from that, too," O'Neill said Thursday. "The gates all opened at the same time. The horses were starters. To not get the benefits of that race is not fair. My owners supplied the product that produced handle, and they didn't get jack."

Peter Miller, who trained and owned one of the runners in the race, Road Runner Robyn, believes claims submitted for his filly for $62,500 should have been valid. There were two claims for Road Runner Robyn, who emerged from the race with a tendon injury to her left front leg.

"By their definition, a horse becomes a starter when the gates open, and any claim becomes valid and title transfers at that point," Miller said. "If something happens at the three-eighths pole, you can't retroactively go back and say the start didn't happen.

"The rules for declaring a race no contest talk about mechanical failure or interference. Mechanical failure to me means if the gate doesn't open properly."

The stewards cited CHRB Rule 1544 in declaring the race no contest. That rule says that "in the event of mechanical failure or interference during the running of the race which affects the majority of the horses in such race, the stewards may declare the race as no contest." It further states that "any wagers on such races . . . shall be refunded, and no purse, prize or stakes shall be rewarded." There is no mention of claims.

The CHRB rule book describes a starter as "a horse when it is in the starting gate stall, and when the field is dispatched by the starter, the stall gate in front of the horse is opened."

"I know it's a tough job, but they made a mistake," Miller said. "Fortunately, it can be fixed."

Dennis Nevin, one of Del Mar's stewards, said, "If a race is no contest, then the horse is not a starter."

"The rule is pretty clear. The horse has to be a starter," Nevin said. "The ruling we made was for everybody's protection."