Woodbine VideoCon Shines Light On Claiming

By Ben Hamill - September 21 2020
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Woodbine VideoCon Shines Light On Claiming

A recent Wednesday videoconference hosted by Woodbine Entertainment for the purpose of the discussion of several topics aimed at improving Ontario’s horse racing industry, eventually led to the subject of “claiming races” dominating much of the virtual debate session.

During a typical claiming race, any individual or organisation interested in acquiring a horse is permitted to pledge the predetermined value of a particular horse. In the event that the horse “claimed” wins the race, the guarantor automatically takes ownership of that horse.

Considered the quickest route for many towards becoming a successful racehorse owner, claiming has traditionally sparked varying reactions from trainers and owners. And the recent “Stronger Together” videoconference, co-hosted by Woodbine CEO Jim Lawson and fellow host Jason Portuondo, and attended by the likes of trainers Mark Casse and Kevin Attard, proved no different.

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Claiming Is Flawed Says Casse

According to trainer Casse, who also happens to be a Hall of Famer in the U.S. as well as in Canada, the current claiming races system leaves much to be desired as it often leaves many horses without suitable race options. Since many owners don’t want to risk having to give up ownership rights to their runners as a result of a successful claim, they opt instead to keep their horses in the barn until such time as a suitable race is in the offing.

The result, pointed out Casse, is that Woodbine now has horses sitting in the barn for extended periods of time, and with nowhere to run – at times even for months on end. The situation bodes nothing good for Woodbine, for trainers, for owners, or for the actual horses, said Casse, which is why according to the trainer, the rules will have to change. 

A classification system, proposed Casse, based on performance and qualifications, not unlike the system long already successfully at work in Greyhound racing, would be a fantastic alternative to outright claiming.

Attard States His Opposing Case

But trainer Kevin Attard had an altogether different side of the story to tell the panel. Claiming, said Attard, has for the past several years served him well. Attard in September 2014 claimed Melmich for $20,000 on behalf of horse owners Cory Hoffman and Stephen Chesney – Melmich being a gelding that would ultimately end up an eight-time stakes winner and millionaire runner in Canada. And then of course there was Starship Jubilee, who after having been claimed for $16,000 in 2017 by Attard’s father, would eventually under Attard Jnr’s training, be named Canada’s Horse of the Year in 2019.

Attard also pointed out the risk of possible corruption creeping into the system as a result of individuals taking undue advantage of the classification system.

As for Woodbine CEO Jim Lawson, his is a song by his own admittance sung in harmony with that of Casse – at least as far as an immediate change being necessary is concerned.

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