Horsemen balk at fed proposal to limit claiming-race purses

Horsemen balk at fed proposal to limit claiming-race purses
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

At least 13,802 claiming and 5,330 maiden-claiming races had been run in the U.S. through Friday. In 2020, those numbers were 13,028 and 4,969, respectively. In 2019 they were 17,787 and 6,311.

Claiming races provide a pillar to cards across the country, making a rule proposed in the recently proposed Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act regulations a tough pill to swallow for many. The rule would limit claiming-race purses to 1.6 times the claiming price of the horse.

Related: Drugs, crops and claims: Inside the newly proposed HISA rules

The proposal has angered some horsemen, who say it has the potential to hurt the lower levels of the racing game.

“I’m not necessarily opposed to a cap, but as low as that cap they’re trying to implement through the bill, it’s scary for a lot of people,” trainer Ron Faucheux said.

A similar rule was introduced in New York after 21 horses died during the 2011-12 winter meet at Aqueduct. It was intended to protect the health of horses who might have been entered for recently increased claiming purses despite having tun too often or when unsound. But that rule was quickly abandoned with the stipulation that tracks must take other measures to protect the safety of horses.

The HISA authority did not respond to a request from Horse Racing Nation for comment regarding the intent of the proposed rule.

Some horsemen pointed out that if other precautions were taken, a purse limit would not be needed.

“That’s what the stewards are for,” said trainer George Leonard, who conditions Jessamine (G2) winner California Angel. “That’s what they’re supposed to do, limit the amount of times you can run a horse. But to limit the purse structure is crazy.”

Leonard also made note of the main reason that claiming purses have ballooned: revenue from casino gambling.

"The casinos at the racetracks already have more money than they know what to do with," Leonard said. "Why not give it back to the owners?"

Horsemen feared that the move to limit purses would mostly impact the lower levels of racing, which already have been dealing with hard times. The number of horse trainers was cut nearly in half from 2000 to 2019 for many reasons, including the rise of giant stable operations.

Related: 'Out of business': Why is racing losing so many trainers?

Trainer Ron Moquett said the new rule would cut purses at nearly every track in the country and make things far more difficult for smaller barns.

“It just goes to show how out of touch regulators can be that they try and slide that in and hurt 70-80 percent of the card every day,” Moquett said.

He agreed with Leonard, saying the rule should not be needed given the other safeguards in place to stop horses from running when they should not be on the track.

“You’ve got a pre-race exam,” Moquett said. “You have a vet on the track. Your works have to be approved by a vet. Why in the world are you going to limit the amount of money that they can run for?”

Faucheux said the proposed rule, if implemented, would make it more difficult to bring new owners into horse racing.

“The majority of owners in this sport, they don’t start out as world-class, graded-stakes-winning owners,” Faucheux said. “They start out claiming horses, and they start out getting their feet wet and learning about the business.”

Faucheux, who earned the 2020-21 training title at Fair Grounds in his native Louisiana, said the rule also could remove some of racing’s best stories that sometimes fly under the radar.

“We understand it’s a sport of kings, but personally I’m a kind of guy who always roots for the underdogs in sporting events and horse racing, whatever it may be,” Faucheux said. A claiming purse limit "might kind of do away with all of that.”

The proposed rules under HISA were released Nov. 11. They are available for viewing and for public comment on the HISA authority’s website and are subject to change.

After being approved by the Federal Trade Commission, a final version of the rules likely will go into effect in July.

HISA was passed by Congress last winter as an amendment to an omnibus budget bill that included economic relief for COVID. Signed by former President Trump in December, HISA is scheduled to become law next summer, although there are legal challenges that could delay its implementation.

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