Amateur driving clubs are moving to strictly limit the use of 15-year-old horses.
by Debbie Little
Driving clubs are taking a stand when it comes to the safety of equine senior citizens.
“We don’t want people racing old, lame horses in our races,” said GSY (Gural Settlemoir Yarock) driving club member Dave Glasser, who recently submitted additions to U.S. Trotting Association (USTA) rule 9.07, which states: “No horse that is 15 years of age or older is eligible to perform in any race except matinees, county fair races, races exclusively for amateur or club drivers as sanctioned by USTA, or non-betting racing under saddle events and no electronic eligibility shall be issued for such a horse except for a performance in such races.”
This rule has been on the books for quite some time and when originally written only included matinee races. It was amended in 1999 to include amateurs/clubs, and again in 2008, for county fairs.
“We don’t think there is a problem with 15-year-olds racing,” said Glasser. “We just want to protect the horses that are in our races. The 15-year-olds draw extra attention because they can only race in our races, and they don’t compete with the same checks and balances in the system as, let’s say, a 14-year-old does because a 14-year-old can race in any race.”
The reasoning behind the submitted additions is that the original rule authors could not have envisioned the opportunities that abound for 15-year-olds in 2022.
The four submitted additions to the rule are as follows:
• Any horse that was placed on the Steward’s List (aka “Vet’s List”) for any lameness during its 14-year-old season is not eligible to race as a 15-year-old.
• Additionally, a 15-year-old horse that is placed on the Steward’s List for any type of lameness during its 15-year-old season is no longer eligible to race.
• Fifteen-year-old horses are limited to a maximum of 3 starts in a calendar month.
• Fifteen-year-old horses are limited to maximum purse earnings of $25,000 during their 15-year-old year, after which, they are no longer eligible to race.
Glasser made this submission with the full support and backing of Bill Abdelnauer (New England Amateur Harness Drivers Club), Joe Burke (Maine Amateur Drivers Club), owner/trainer/driver Stacy Chiodo, Steve Oldford (Great Lakes Amateur Driving Association), Pete Szymanski (Director of Racing for the Ocean Club at Ocean Downs), Tony Verruso (American Harness Drivers Club), Scott Warren (Director of Racing and Racing Secretary, The Meadowlands and Vernon Downs) and Dave Yarock (GSY president), who have agreed to implement these rules regardless of the outcome of the USTA voting.
“We’re trying to make this an extreme deterrent,” said Glasser. “Trainers shouldn’t bring a questionably sound horse of any age to the racetrack.”
Much discussion went into crafting these rules and Glasser made sure to include Chiodo, whose husband Bruno competes with the GSY and drives 14-year-old Rock To Glory.
Bruno still needed more qualifying drives to get his license so he could participate in GSY races, so when Rock To Glory came up for sale in March of 2021, the Chiodos took the plunge.
“We had the intention of buying him and just qualifying him every week until Bruno got his license and then we were going to retire him and find him a good home,” said Stacy. “And then Bruno’s qualifying him and all of a sudden, he’s getting braver and braver.
“I asked him, why are you pulling first over in a qualifier? And he said ‘I can’t hold him anymore. He wants to go, and he really wants to race. I think we should try to race him one time.’”
The Chiodos were pleased when Rock To Glory, driven by Mark MacDonald, won a TrackMaster race at The Meadowlands and then laughed because the horse had to qualify the next week because Bruno wasn’t done with his drives yet.
In late 2021, Rock To Glory gave Bruno his first pari-mutuel win and the pair have scored three more times so far this year.
“The horse owes us nothing,” said Stacy. “He’s actually only about $30,000 away from $1 million, so he does have the chance of doing that. I have a soft spot for the old veterans. He’s like a barn mascot. He turned into a pet by accident and he’s just the coolest horse. We refuse to put him in a claimer because I know somebody out there would probably claim him.”
Part of the reason for limiting starts per month and earnings during their 15-year-old season is to discourage monetary elder abuse.
“Amateur races are not supposed to be a money-making enterprise at all for any horse of any age for any driver,” said Glasser. “You don’t think I make any money on the horses I race in the amateurs, do you? I just try to pay the bills.”
THE BRITISH ARE COMING
Prior to the death earlier this month of Queen Elizabeth II, the GSY club had planned a driving competition to honor the Queen’s platinum jubilee (70 years on the throne).
The competition, including five amateur drivers from either England, Scotland or Wales, will take place when the fall meeting resumes at The Meadowlands on Friday, Nov. 4.
Friendship races of this type are common amongst driving clubs and this particular event is viewed as a way to pay tribute to an internationally admired monarch who loved horses.