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Oaklawn Shows Importance of Claiming (3/28)

By Andrew OffermanWhen visiting other racetracks around the country I tend to compare each of them to Canterbury Park. Of course, I’m always biased towards Canterbury and usually prefer the way we do things to the way that others do. Our facility is matched by few I’ve been to in its upkeep and overall appearance. Furthermore, there aren’t a lot of places that go through the effort to make the overall experience as entertaining as Canterbury does.
Differences do arise when comparing Oaklawn to Canterbury. There are the obvious ones: the presence (or lack thereof) of electronic gaming, history (Oaklawn opened in 1904 while Canterbury opened in 1985), etc. However, one that may not come to mind as quickly is claiming and its importance to the sport of kings.

I’ve followed this Oaklawn meet more closely than before in hopes of finding a solid claimer for some friends or identifying a horse which may have a breakout season this summer if it makes the trip north to Canterbury. This marks the first winter which I spent scouring Oaklawn past performances in search of a hot commodity. However, I had no idea how different the claiming circuit is in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Their conditions are slightly different as they run more allowance optional claming races and a higher class of claimers. While Canterbury consistently cards $7,500N2L, $7,500N3L, $7,500N4L, $15,000N2L and $15,000N3L races, Oaklawn tends to bunch most of these types of horses into $7,500B races where they may face older horses who have not won within a certain time period.

Furthermore, the claiming tags are significantly different. Canterbury races are typically carded with claiming prices between $5,000 and $25,000, money which makes sense when compared to the purses. Oaklawn, with more purse money, is able to card claiming races with tags ranging from $5,000 – $75,000. Thus, many of the claiming races are carded with tags that are too expensive to justify bringing the horse back to Minnesota to race. For example, if you claimed a horse for $25,000 at Oaklawn, the horse would have to win a stakes race or multiple allowance races at Canterbury in order to make the money back.
The class levels and conditions certainly do make a difference in the claming game. However, the most significant difference is in the volume of claims put in during the respective meets. Prior to this week of racing at Oaklawn, before March 25, 182 horses had been claimed in 40 days of racing. In 2008, 101 horses were claimed during the 69 day live racing season. Thus, Oaklawn is averaging approximately 4.5 claims per day, while Canterbury averaged about 1.4 horses claimed per day. Although these numbers can’t be directly compared (Oaklawn does not run quarter horses and also runs more races per day) they do give a much better idea of just how many horses change hands during a meeting.
In addition, many of Oaklawn’s claims come down to the shake (picking numbers from a hat when more than one person enters a claim on the same horse). I’ve known multiple people this year who had decided to part ways with $20,000 for a horse only to find out that they have lost a seven-way shake for it. Although disappointing, it is another aspect of the game often forgotten on the Minnesota circuit.
Why is this massive difference in claiming important? For many, it is their way of making a living. Trainers such as Cody Autrey, Jorge Lara, and even local trainer Jamie Ness focus almost exclusively on claiming horses and doing their best to make them run better. Also, it is a cheaper way to get into the game then if one was to buy a yearling and pay for all of the work in getting it ready to race.
Canterbury has done everything possible to make claiming a more important aspect of racing. Brunch on the Rail is offered as one way to introduce horse ownerships seminars throughout the summer. Furthermore, management has made every effort to make Claiming Crown a success (Claiming Crown X will be held August 2, 2008).
It is time for owners and trainers at Canterbury to support claiming as a necessary and important part of the game. Running horses at the right levels, where they have a chance to win, creates more competitive racing and also helps field races which the public is more willing to wager on. Furthermore, it makes horse ownership a more viable option for the middle class family or the younger horse racing fan (both of which make up a large portion of our live racing fans). Finding ways to get these individuals into the sport can only help business in the long run.

Lessons can be learned from other race tracks and I think that a renewal in the importance of claiming would help Minnesota racing. It allows more individuals to become involved as owners and creates a better product for the public. Both of these aspects can only help racing as it moves forward in the state of Minnesota.