By T. D. Thornton
The current New York Thoroughbred rule that mandates a minimum claiming price of 50% of the purse for any given race could soon be relaxed by a modest amount on a case-by-case basis in an attempt to allow the New York Racing Association (NYRA) to better compete for entries.
The New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) voted unanimously Monday to advance an amendment to the 60-day public commentary period that would tweak a rule enacted in 2012 that aimed to dis-incentivize owners and trainers from entering lame or uncompetitive horses in lower-level races bolstered by gaming-inflated purses.
The proposed amendment reads as follows, with the new language added to the existing rule highlighted in bold:
“The minimum price for which a horse may be entered in a claiming race shall not be less than 50% of the value of the purse for the race, unless the commission approves a request from a franchised or licensed corporation conducting thoroughbred racing for a lower minimum price for all or a portion of a race meeting. The commission shall not approve such a request unless the track has implemented increased measures required by the commission to ensure close examination of the competitiveness, soundness and safety of each horse entered in such race.”
NYSGC equine medical director Scott Palmer, VMD, advocated for the rule change at Monday’s meeting, underscoring his support for the change based on other protective measures that have since been successfully incorporated to try and cut down on injuries and fatalities.
“The claiming rule price ratio that we set up in 2012 was an emergency measure to address a specific situation at Aqueduct Racetrack, where there were purse-to-claim [price] ratios of up to four times the value, and it really was a tough situation there,” Palmer said.
Now, Palmer added, “The circumstances are different than they were in 2012. In 2012, there was an enormous influx of money into the purse structure at Aqueduct. And a $10,000 claiming horse could be running for $40,000 purses. That was way inappropriate, and it completely distorted the normal level of risk aversion [with regard to entering potentially unsound horses]. What we’re talking about here is a very modest change. Not four times… Maybe we go [to a ratio of] 2.4 for certain races. There really are only two classes of races that NYRA has requested to make these changes in.”
Palmer continued: “Also, I would say to you that at that time, there was no scientific evidence…to really prove that four times the purse-to-claim ratio was more dangerous than two [times the price]. But it seemed intuitive, we had to do something, and we did a lot of things in a hurry because we had to stop” fatalities and injuries in lower-level claiming races.
Palmer said he was confident that other protective policies, most notably the NYSGC’s “out of competition scrutiny” system that centers on more detailed veterinary investigation of at-risk horses, would allow the claiming price ratio to be changed without triggering a spike in injuries or fatalities.
“We have in place right now what I like to think of as an ongoing quality-control program where every single fatality is investigated…and we do real-time assessments and interventions,” Palmer said. “So it’s a constant real-time evaluation and adjustment capability that makes me believe that we can put this amendment in place without making a significant increase in risk for the horses.”
This agenda item generated the most discussion among commissioners at Monday’s meeting, and the general tone was cautionary about not wanting to roll back safety initiatives for the sake of getting more entries if the end result could be harm to horses.
“Believe me, I’ve studied this carefully,” Palmer emphasized. “Because I’m on the line for this, and that’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
In the only other Thoroughbred-related item of Monday’s agenda, there was zero discussion among commissioners prior to voting unanimously to advance a new rule that would allow “jackpot” or “rainbow” pick six wagers at the state’s Thoroughbred tracks. This measure, like the claiming price rule, now advances to a 60-day public commentary period before a final NYSGC vote can be taken to adopt it.
According to a brief written by NYSGC general counsel Edmund Burns that was included in the informational packet for Monday’s meeting, this type of bet “appeals to bettors by giving a larger prize when there is only one winning wager from a pool.”