The new California rule that gives the new owner an out if the horse claimed is euthanized on the track just hits me as wrong, mainly because there might be occasions when a horse might be put down even though there is some ambiguity to the extent of the injury. In other words, it may not have been put down if the rule didn't exist, or if the claim wasn't made.
It got me thinking of a solution, and I think I've come up with one, not only one that will save the lives of some horses but one that will fire up the claiming game possibly bringing in new owners, something the game desperately needs.
Claiming races are very important. They allow horses to compete against their equals, and allows owners to either try to lose their horses or buy horses whom they think they can do well financially with in the future. The claiming element allows for racing partnerships to exist which means those with little racing background can get involved in the game for a commitment of a few thousand dollars. Some of these newbie owners wind up buying more horses, and even get into buying yearlings and even get involved in breeding (it happened to me, though I had a more than a little racing background).
New owners are likely to bring newbie friends and family to the track the odd time to see their horse run, again, this is good for growth, as new gamblers and owners can come out of it.
General claiming rules haven't changed much over time. Owners either talk themselves into claiming a horse with potential or a trainer talks the owner into a horse with potential to claim. The claim slip is dropped prior to 15 minutes to post time in most jurisdictions, and if you are the only claim in on the horse, or if you win a shake when 2 or more claims are in on the same horse, the horse becomes yours.
Technically you own the horse after the race is official, but in reality you bought the horse when the gate opened. This means that the purse money earned in the race goes to the former owner. It is really an odd way of doing things, if you think about it. In most instances in the real world, you own it when you buy it. Take stocks for example. I guess, you can compare the current system to buying a home in a fluctuating real estate market, the only difference being, the home doesn't have much of a chance to be worth nothing by the time the deal closes.
It is 2012, and Ebay is still hot. Why not change the claiming game to reflect the times and save the odd horse as well? My idea is to have an auction after the race is official. This could rejuvenate the claiming game and bring in a brand new clientele as well, as an auction would increase buyer confidence in a big way, because the new buyer is now buying in real time.
The way it would work is pretty simple, horses are still put in claiming races with the same tags that exist today, however, after the race, any of the horses can be "claimed" by auction. The owner has the option to place a minimum price on the horse below the claiming price or use the claiming price as the minimum bid. The old owner is not allowed to bid on their own horse, nor can the trainer of that horse.
For example, a conditioned non winner of two $10,000 claiming race is over. The winner ran hard and the time was decent. The second place finisher was only beaten a neck, but still has the non winner of two condition. The third place finisher was beaten another 3 lengths as the favorite. The rest of the field was back at least another 3 lengths.
The owner of the winner, knowing that the horse will have to go against non winners of three next time, and that the horse has a pretty high vet bill puts a minimum price of $7,500. Bidding starts, the horse goes for $9,000. The owner of the second place finisher really doesn't want to part with the horse because it is next to a cinch to win for $10,000-$20,000 next time out, so the bidding starts at $10,000. The horse sells for $14,000. The old owner is disappointed that he won't be in the picture next time out, but getting an extra $4,000 for the horse is acceptable. The third horse had good form but showed he belonged for $10,000 only. Because horses have to move up 25% of the auction price, in order for the new owner to run for $10,000, a price of more than $8,000 can't be paid. The old owner knows the first and second horse can't run in the same class race next time out, so he puts a minimum price of $9,000 on the horse. The horse doesn't sell.
As for the rest, some owner might just want to get rid of a horse and put price of $1,000. These horses can easily be bought by new owners looking to run for $5,000 or less if they think the horse could win for that next start.
One other thing this auctioning process will do is to prevent outfits from stealing. For bettors, they can make better inferences as to the wellness of a dropper, and will become more confident when making selections.
I believe that auctions after the race would bring more people to the track, mostly potential buyers. Trainers will required to make decisions on the horses action during the race, and even try to determine soundness by the way the horse jogs back to the unsaddling area. Trainers with good eyes will get more business.
I also think there is room to do both, keep the pre-race claiming (EBAY Buy It Now!) and also have the auction afterwards. Of course, if a horse is claimed, it is up to the new owner to put the horse in the auction or not. If claimed though, the new owner does not have the option to put down the horse to void the claim.
Speaking about voiding the claim, all auctioned horses get tested. If a positive occurs, the new owner has the option to void the claim as well as get compensated at a rate of $100 a day by the old owner. This could help deter those taking a chance on pre-race concoctions.