USTA Director Ray Schnittker wants Qualifying Rules Changed

By Bill Finley
Photo: Ray Schnittker with Cassis (USTA)

Ray Schnittker has submitted a proposed rule change to the USTA that would require a horse to have a qualifier only if they do not have a clean racing line within the last 120 days. Currently, a horse must qualify if they don’t have a clean line within 30 days, a rule Schnittker believes is too stringent and places an unnecessary burden on owners.

“I can’t stand this stupid rule,” Schnittker said. “All this does is cost people a lot of money. You have to ship the horses to the track to qualify, which some guys will charge as much as $400 for, you have to hire a groom and there is the expense the driver has to pay to get there. Then you’re going to miss at least one week of racing, maybe more. You could have a sire stakes horse and you might have to miss two races that are very important to your bottom line.”

The rule was established as a protection for bettors and is an attempt to give them a better read on horses that have not raced for some time or have had problems breaking. Schnittker said bettors are savvy enough that they can figure out for themselves whether or not a horse is ready for a top effort, with or without a qualifier.

“The real bettors, they know what they are looking at,” he said. “To have a qualifier only if a horse has been out or doesn’t have a clean line within 120 days is perfectly adequate. Qualifying a 1:50 pacer, who goes out and qualifies in 58,what does that prove?”

Schnittker said there have been times he was so worried about breaking in a race because he did not want to have to qualify and miss a major engagement that he drove cautiously, and admitted that wasn’t fair to the bettors.

In his submission to the USTA, Schnittker wrote: “It costs an owner/trainer as much as $400 each time they ‘qualify’ a horse. A bettor knows which trainers have them ready or not. The proposal is supported by every trainer under 60.”

He said he also wrote “anybody opposed to this is probably a slow adult,” but that sentence was taken out.

Schnittker has an ally in Bernie Noren, the assistant trainer to Åke Svanstedt. Noren has been complaining about the qualifying rules since they cost two members of the Svanstedt stable starts in stakes races.

“It’s a terrible situation when you get locked out of a stakes race or a sire stakes because of this rule, that you need to have a clean line within in 30 days. If the owner and the trainer wants to race a stakes horse they should be able to do it. This rule is costing everybody too much money.”

Noren said that in Sweden a horse must qualify only if they have not started within the last eight months. Many of Svanstedt’s owners are from Sweden.

“Our owners, they’re not happy about this,” he said. “You put all the money down, you train them, you stake them, it’s not cheap. Then you try to get them into a race with a good purse and you can’t because of a stupid rule. It’s ridiculous and harmful for harness racing.”

Schnittker’s proposal will be voted on at the USTA’s annual meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 27 to 29. State racing commissions are under no obligation at adopt USTA rules, but often will.