By: T.D. Thornton

The New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) voted by unanimous voice vote Monday to tweak a claiming price rule enacted in 2012 that had aimed to dis-incentivize owners and trainers from entering lame or uncompetitive horses in lower-level races that had been bolstered by gaming-inflated purses.

The new rule will allow for some flexibility in setting claiming prices that are below the required 2:1 standard mandated by the NYSGC. It reads as follows, with the new language that was 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.”

When the proposal first came up in September, NYSGC equine medical director Scott Palmer, VMD, had advocated for the rule change, underscoring that he supported allowing flexibility in claiming prices because other protective measures have since been successfully incorporated to try and cut down on injuries and fatalities.

According to a brief written by NYSGC general counsel Edmund Burns that was included in the informational packet for the Dec. 10 meeting, “various interested parties have requested the Commission to consider adding flexibility to the existing rule, identifying neighboring jurisdictions who have experienced safe racing with higher purse-to-claiming-price ratios.

“The proposal would allow a Thoroughbred racetrack operator, with the approval of the Commission, to depart from this limitation under certain circumstances,” Burns continued. “The Commission has added the requirement that its approval to depart from the limitation will not be granted unless the track implements enhanced measures to ensure close examination of the competitiveness, soundness and safety of each horse in such races.”

The new claiming ratio rule takes effect immediately.

Two other proposals were advanced to the 60-day public commentary period, both by unanimous voice vote.

One would set forth standards for backstretch housing at state-licensed Thoroughbred and harness tracks.

“The proposed rule, which would provide, among other things, standards for buildings and residential rooms, sanitary, water, garbage removal and pest control, is generally modeled after the New York Department of Health’s Migrant Farmworker Housing regulations,” Burns wrote. “Staff from the New York Department of Health and New York Department of Labor provided significant input in the development and refinement of the proposal.”

According to the NYSGC, of the 2,512 beds currently located on racetrack backstretches statewide, 2,261 (90%) are at facilities operated by The New York Racing Association.

A separate proposal that advanced to the public commentary stage involves updating safety standards for helmets and vests at Thoroughbred tracks.

Most notably, the proposed new rule would increase the maximum weight of the safety vest from two to four pounds “to permit the wearing of newer vest models, which provide enhanced safety,” Burns wrote.

In addition, the proposal also expands the requirement to wear a safety helmet to apply to any person mounted on a horse, plus members of the starting gate crew, including the starter and all assistant starters.