Nobody ever said that claiming horses was a rose garden.
"When you claim a horse out of a race and he comes back hurt, it's like driving a block with a new car and having all four tires go flat," says New York trainer P.K. Johnson.
Two trainers experienced the ultimate downer in the claiming business in the past few days at Santa Anita. Martin Kenney and John Sadler claimed horses that were injured in their races and had to be destroyed.
Clearway, a 3-year-old filly, was claimed by Kenney for $50,000 last Saturday, then broke down in the stretch. Ligament damage was so severe in her left foreleg that Clearway was given a lethal injection shortly after the race.
I.M. Able Too, a 3-year-old running for an $18,000 tag last Tuesday, was claimed by Sadler before the race, and also broke down. Veterinarians determined that I.M. Able Too had broken both sesamoids--rear ankle bones--in a foreleg, and he was destroyed.
When a trainer claims a horse, the owner who entered him in that race is entitled to any purse money. But after the race, the horse belongs to the new trainer and owner.
Fortunately for the new owners of Clearway and I.M. Able Too, both Kenney and Sadler carry blanket insurance coverage on the horses that they claim. In both cases, the insurance companies paid the full costs of the claims.
Kenney said that his insurance costs him 1/2% of the cost of the claim every time he makes one. He claimed Mark the Lark for $62,500 in a race at Hollywood Park in November, and that premium cost him $312.50. Insurance on his claim of Clearway cost $250.
Sadler said: "Most trainers carry the insurance because you might get a little edgy making a big claim if you didn't have the coverage. But in the long run, it probably doesn't pay. This was the first one I've collected on in eight years, and I've probably paid a premium on about 50 other horses in the meantime. Nine out of every 10 horses that get hurt might not be able to run again, but they aren't destroyed, and then you're left with a horse who can't run. There's no insurance on a horse just getting injured."
Kenney, 45, has been training for 26 years, and Clearway was the third claim he's lost on the track. A $13,000 claim broke a hind leg at Bay Meadows and was destroyed, and so was a $25,000 horse who shattered a sesamoid at Golden Gate Fields. Kenney said that neither of those horses was insured.
Kenney had claimed Clearway for the Garelick Stable, which is owned by two St. Paul, Minn., brothers who are in the manufacturing business.
"My owners were here Saturday," Kenney said. "They took the breakdown well. Even though they are new to racing, they know how the claiming business works. I introduced them to the insurance people one day this past season at Hollywood Park."
Kenney had hoped that Clearway would be a suitable runner for the Garelicks this summer at Canterbury Downs, a new track near Minneapolis.
"We were looking for something that would fit in the filly and mare division at Canterbury," Kenney said. "This filly had earned $80,000 and went off the 3-2 favorite in the race. Besides having the potential to win at Canterbury, she was bred by a top farm (Elmendorf, by a sire named Transworld) and might have been able to produce babies for $50,000 or so for 10 years after she finished racing."
When Canterbury opened last June, Kenney won the track's first race with Faiz, an English-bred 7-year-old he both owned and trained.
For Kenney, who has just five horses at Santa Anita, the highlight of his training career occurred when he saddled Smasher to finish second, just a head behind John Henry, in a division of the San Gabriel Handicap at Santa Anita on New Year's Day 1980. Smasher ran only three races in the rest of a winless year.
After Kenney had claimed Mark the Lark at Hollywood, he ran him back five weeks later at Santa Anita for a $100,000 price, and the 4-year-old gelding won by 2 1/2 lengths.
Chris McCarron, who rode Mark the Lark to victory, also was aboard Clearway for her ill-fated race last Saturday.
"The way Chris got off that filly in the stretch was a real professional job," Kenney said. "He did everything he could to keep her from aggravating the injury before they got her off the track."
While appreciating the compliment, McCarron said he didn't really deserve it.
"It was just self-defense, hopping off," the jockey said. "When a horse breaks down in a spot like that, it's more self-preservation than anything else."
Horse Racing Notes
The top stake of the weekend is Sunday's $80,000 San Gabriel Handicap for older horses at 1 1/8 miles on the turf. Yashgan is the top weight with 124 pounds, followed by Drumalis at 120. . . . The 10-horse field, in post position order, consists of Boom Town Charlie, Fabbiani, Rivlia, Yashgan, Derby Dawning, Drumalis, Capture Him, Vulnerability, Tights and Foscarini. . . . Silveyville, who would have shared second-high weight with Drumalis, instead is being returned to Old English Rancho in Ontario for the resumption of a stud career. Silveyville was bred to about 25 mares there last spring, then was returned to the track this fall, winning two of four starts and finishing second to Drumalis in the Bay Meadows Handicap. . . . Today's stake is the Los Feliz, which has drawn eight newly turned 3-year-olds, including Ferdinand, who was third behind Snow Chief and Electric Blue in the Hollywood Futurity. . . . Snow Chief worked six furlongs Friday in a quick 1:09 3/5 for his start in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes a week from Sunday.