Feature: Tag on, drop in, shake out … The Oaklawn Claiming Game

J.N. Campbell examines Oaklawn Park's 'Claiming Game' in this long-form piece ... Pictured above, 1983 Condition Book from the track in Hot Springs. (Image: courtesy of Ron Moquett)
J.N. Campbell examines Oaklawn Park's "Claiming Game" in this long-form piece ... Pictured above, 1983 Condition Book from the track in Hot Springs. (Image: courtesy of Ron Moquett)

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A bright Sunday late afternoon in January … “I’m going to call your name, so listen up,” she said with a healthy dose of authority. There was quite a crowd gathering. It was at a racetrack after all, and you would expect some excitement. You are probably thinking that the throng was milling about around the winner’s circle, waiting for some kind of T-shirt giveaway, as the victor of Race 9 made his way to have their picture taken with the connections. But, that’s not what this group was waiting on. They weren’t outside in the waning sunlight and crisp air either, basking in the glory of a race win. Their pitch was deep within the labyrinth of the grandstand. There was a giveaway, of sorts … that’s where we set our scene.

Flying an imaginary drone through the double doors, by way of the Paddock, and past the entrance to the Casino, there is an oft-trod, brightly-colored hallway, that’s lined with archived photos from racing’s past. Similar to an electrified runway, its imagery equals the excitement here. Some high stakes are afoot. Near an elevator, via a cut-through in a wall that cannot fit two at a time, you would half expect an imposing C.S. Lewis-inspired wardrobe full of furs guarding the access. Passing beyond is a set of stairs that leads down and to the left. Some grey monogrammed mats cover the floor because invariably dirt is regularly deposited there. It’s an occupational hazard for the individuals seeking access. What remains is like a calling card, a marker which comes from being around a barn.

Once inside the open doorway, a waiting room appears; it’s standing-room only, and that’s where the crowd assembles. There is a scuffed yellow line on the floor, drawn like Travis’ supposed mark in the sand. Of the some 20-plus in attendance, several are weighing in with whispers, quips, some snickers, and you can see sets of eyes shifting back and forth. A few are sporting tack, halters to be exact. The group just swiveled around from having their backs to the line, and the desk that serves as an altar. Up above, the surface dweller action is complete, and now it is time to get down to business.

The cadenced voice of Track Announcer Vic Stauffer emanating from the television on the back wall revealed the jig … Leading West, a ridgling, #9 horse had swept down the lane, winning by 5¾ lengths. The odds-on favorite had prevailed, but it was what was about to happen next that had this bunch of lieutenants intrigued. While the public tore-up their tickets, made a beeline for the windows, or talked of tucking in for dinner at The Bugler, everyone downstairs in the Racing Office was pensive … Once again, at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas the “Claiming Game” was on … it was time to play.

'Come'on 7' ... Racing Office Manager Carmen Bish (left) and the Team ready themselves for action. Oaklawn has regularly produced 10-way shakes or more since the Meet opened back in early December.
"Come'on 7" ... Racing Office Manager Carmen Bish (left) and the Team ready themselves for action. Oaklawn has regularly produced 10-way shakes or more since the Meet opened back in early December.

Many believe that North American Thoroughbred racing thrives on what is called “claiming.” By definition, it is the trading of “runners” from one ownership group to the next in exchange for money. Yet, it is a tad more complex than that. What is considered the backbone of the industry, it exists because not all horses can win the Kentucky Derby or even a stakes race. The “Claiming Game,” as it is most-often referred to, is akin to the baseball players in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball … being traded from one team to the next. They are in one uniform for a game, and before they know it, they are headed to another clubhouse. All horses that run for a “tag” (that is a set price dictated by the type of claiming event), could be headed to a new stable, once the race is complete.

Whether they win that race or come in last, if a claim is dropped into the “Box” in the racing office at any given track that has carded such a race, then barn members could be headed to a new home. The cadre of Thoroughbreds run for purse money, a structure that can vary state-to-state. Not all are created equal. Some tracks, backed by state governments or powerful casinos have raised their level of investment, and that has prompted horsepeople to gravitate to a river of money. So-called “Super Trainers,” in possession of large stables, have also established themselves during certain meets, in hopes of commanding the high ground when it comes to claiming. With only so many horses available, the supply can run short, especially if the demand overflows. Connections must decide when entering a claiming race … does the opportunity to garner purse winnings outweigh the possibility that I could lose this horse to another outfit?

In the turfwriting milieu, over the years there continues to be coverage about whether the “Game” has a future. Both sides of the argument have shared their strong opinions … should it stay or should it go? What we do know is that the money generated today, even in these uncertain economic times of COVID and the like, allows claiming to theoretically march on. But here is the rub, not all “Claiming Games” are created equal. They might function similarly, but some are more robust, more competitive, than others. The New York Racing Association, which governs Aqueduct Racetrack from November into April, produced claiming money from December 9 until the 3rd week of January to the tune of $2,951,500.00. That was a total of 117 claims. Even more impressive was the action at Oaklawn Park during roughly the same period, where 147 claims were made, producing a total $3,167,750.00 (Per Robert Yates: as of 1/23 there were 195 claims for $4,411,250.00, 20 days complete of 65 for the OP Meet). The Hot Springs venue continues to churn with a revolution in “drops” made seemingly in every race in which it is eligible. Clearly, something is going on at Oaklawn. “The Game” is rolling … how does it work, who is involved, and why is demand at an all-time high? The narrative begins with some race writing … and the writer.

The 'Yellow Line' in the Oaklawn Racing Office keeps everyone back from 'The Shake.' All the stables assemble right after each claiming race to view the results ... and maybe, 'claim' their prize.
The "Yellow Line" in the Oaklawn Racing Office keeps everyone back from "The Shake." All the stables assemble right after each claiming race to view the results ... and maybe, "claim" their prize.

The Race Writer of Hot Springs

Pat Pope sits behind his desk, penning a carefully crafted piece. It’s not necessarily what most would consider flowery prose, but that’s not really the purpose. Being succinct and the creation of a fair playing field … those matter most. Pope is a race writer … Thoroughbreds, and as the Racing Secretary at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he is what many consider to be the best in the business having worked at Louisiana Downs, Prairie Meadows, and Belmont Park. He literally sets the “conditions” by which a race is to be run … the class, the distance, the gender, the weights, special considerations, and so on. As an author, what he produces from those keys on his office computer funnels into what some call “The Bible,” also known as the Condition Book. It’s not blasphemy to say, “You know the Book; you can know the way to the winner’s circle.”

I found Pope to be conversational, affable, and with a complete understanding when it comes to the confluence of parties involved (trainers, owners, the betting public, Oaklawn, etc.) … the global perspective. “When you are writing races,” he said, “I think you should always want 4, 5, or 6 of the entries to have a chance to win.” A desire for equality and fairness bears out with every comment, and experience is his guide when it comes to the drafting of claiming races. “I’ve been doing this a number of years, and I would like to think that if you are across the street at the local establishment having an iced-t or a beer with your friends, that anyone could make a case for each horse that is drawn in.” What Pope is talking about is parity, and that is absolutely essential when it comes to the claiming races that he pens at Oaklawn.

When I asked him about the current state of the business in Hot Springs, he spoke to a broader vision … with a healthy dose of a macro perspective. “One of our goals is to attract the very best that the sport has to offer at all levels, and the Cella Family (who founded Oaklawn back in 1904 and still operates it today) continues to want to develop horses, so if they go elsewhere,” Pope professed, “they will raise the standards at other tracks.” It would be no different than studying mechanical engineering at Cal Tech; those graduates head to other academic institutions, spreading their knowledge and their pedigree in areas that could benefit from that kind of outside expertise. Horse racing can work the same way … runners from Oaklawn that compete against others that are comparable, in turn, make one another better. Thus, the class levels, even when it comes to claiming races, produce a panoply of seasoned Thoroughbreds. When nearby states, like Texas, continue to improve their purse structure, it only makes the circuit more cohesive.

When I asked the Racing Secretary about the “The Game,” and its rules that are set down both by the Arkansas Racing Commission and the Oaklawn Jockey Club, he listened intently. One of the critiques I had heard was that smaller stables had a difficult time when their runners were claimed by major outfits. In other words, those horses were in for tags, and were scooped up, leaving their barn depleted. During this Meet in particular, some 14-horse stables are now down to just 4 runners. Pope offered a definitive answer when he stated, “We understand that presents smaller outfits with a tough proposition, but the shake (when more than 1 group is seeking to claim the same horse) evens the playing field by giving everyone a chance to get that horse.” To put it another way, it’s the power of democratic and capitalistic systems, and as we know in this type of framework, not everyone can win.

The rules of claiming have evolved at Oaklawn over the decades. If you go back and look at a Condition Book from 40 years ago, you will find little when it comes to formal rulemaking from within. Over time, the business has evolved, and there are a complex set of “state rules” and “house rules” that make everything click. It is not a perfect system, but it is impressive in scope. In the Racing Office, with so many seeking claims, “The Shake,” which is what the participants were doing when they sought Leading West from Race 9, only allows one numbered die to be rolled per trainer. With so much demand of late, it is quite regular to have 10-20 barns chasing the same horse. Based on the rules in Arkansas, whether you are a large barn or a small one, you can only claim one horse per race. You also cannot offer multiple claims for the same horse, so you have to be judicious. While tracks elsewhere shy away from such rule-making, Oaklawn is strict, and unbending when it comes to this procedure. The lottery system of “shaking” can literally change the fortunes of a barn. One minute they are down some key runners, and the next minute, they are rolling with prospects.

For Pope, more options equate to more chances, and he is unapologetic when it comes to horsepeople entering races. “If you don’t want to lose your horse,” he said frankly, “I would advise not entering.” That might be perceived as cold, but he is also religious about writing races that offer “outs.” As he put it, “We are conscientious to run more Allowance and Starters, so that entries are protected from claims, which gives people the chance to see the fruits of their labors.” Again, what Pope hopes for is a strong “marketplace,” which can spread to other sites. As he reminded me, “This is a system of give and take, and just because you lost a shake or several of them, doesn’t mean that your fortunes will not turn around.” Spending time in “jail,” waiting the 27 days after a horse is claimed until they can compete again or choosing to run for 25% more than you claimed them for, are just a couple of the myriad rules that connections must follow. It’s a complicated process, but the OP Racing Office is committed. “We are here to limit what is called exposure,” Pope added, “which is good for everyone involved.” With some of the best horsepeople in the country coming to Hot Springs, the Racing Office is a hive of activity.

Those fortunes that are made in the “Claiming Box” are greatly impacted by owners, whose individual capitalistic endeavors funnel money into the Horseman’s Bookkeeping, which is adjacent to the “Waiting Room” in the Racing Office. A large sign reminds everyone that funds must be deposited 1 hour prior to post, and the sales tax for claiming comes to 9.5% (broken down: State: 6.5%, County 1.5%, City 1.5%). No small fee, especially considering the money exchanged here … The trading of Thoroughbreds that run at Oaklawn includes a unique group of individuals, who are absolutely rabid when it comes to winning in Hot Springs. They are also intensely committed to the animals that make this sport go. As for the “Claiming Game,” all of them would agree, it’s much harder than anyone could possibly imagine.

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Oaklawn Claim Forms go inside this envelope, and must be dropped in the 'Box' 15 minutes before each race goes off.
Oaklawn Claim Forms go inside this envelope, and must be dropped in the "Box" 15 minutes before each race goes off.

Prestige of Ownership

Down in the Paddock at Oaklawn, Jeff Johnson looked like the cat that got the cream. With a wonderful grin, he was clearly enjoying himself. Saddling a Thoroughbred has a certain mystique, no matter how many times you have participated in it. That’s why he appeared so gratified. Johnson knows electrical transformers, but when it comes to a true passion, it’s Thoroughbred racing. Both are intricately complex, and not for the faint of heart. His family business in Bryant, Arkansas provides a boost to the local economy, literally, and his racing stable best exemplifies everything that a small outfit should be—full of bountiful dreams. Growing up in Arkansas, he formed a lasting friendship with Mark Carter when the pair were about 11-years-old. Coming to Oaklawn was one of those seminal events in his life. “You could just feel the energy in this place,” Johnson said beaming, “I knew I wanted to be a part of what was going on here … it’s Oaklawn.” Johnson and Carter formed the 501 Boys Racing Stable a few years back, and it was a moment of pride and prestige realized … even though the wins were hard to come by. “When we first started, I was committed to doing this without real help from anyone,” he admitted, “I thought that we could come here to our home track and just get going … it doesn’t work like that.” The 501 Boys started with J.R. Caldwell, but then switched to Karl Broberg. It was a good fit. “We knew Karl was a horseplayer at heart, and more importantly, he invests in his own stock, so that told us we were headed in the right direction,” Johnson believes.

After a series of misses, plus the perils of the Pandemic, 2021 dawned and it was a fruitful one. Some major claims and subsequent shakes (a 19-way included), led to a couple of key acquisitions, namely Cave Run and an Arkansas bred named Young Bull. Superb races were won along the way, and winning a purse like $105,000, to hear the “Boys” tell it, was just like “Winning a Grade 1!” Johnson credits the relationship with Broberg, which is an easy two-way street. The 501 fellas do their own background research, and their trainer oversees their interests and ideas. “Karl will tell us when we are sailing too close to the rocks, and we are always talking strategy and our next set of moves,” he said. Johnson and Carter personify the dream-like world of what can be at Oaklawn. They are up against powerful ownership groups that are well-heeled when it comes to cash. Still, it is the prestige of getting to compete in Hot Springs that keeps them coming back. With almost $200,000 in winnings this past year (7 wins out of 14 starts), it was an incredible run. “It was everything you could hope for,” grinned the partner, “I had my family here, cheering on our horses, and it was just such a wonderful set of moments.” Nothing like a local success story …

A counterargument is that the “Game” at Oaklawn is not necessarily easier for stables that command more capital … in some ways it is just as perilous. They have just as difficult a time keeping pace. Percentages giveth, and taketh away … in a world of “what have you done lately.” Talking with trainer Bret Calhoun, who enters throughout the Southwest Circuit (Texas-Oklahoma-Louisiana-Arkansas), he told me that running at Oaklawn is something his owners just feel compelled to try, even if it is not the best choice. “They love the purse structure, and enjoy coming here, so what you try to do is find the best race that fits their need,” he explained. The best laid plans do not always work out, as was the case with Shortleaf Stables and their homebred Amity Road. Brad Cox, the filly’s trainer, told me that they decided that the 1st-time starter just was not a good fit for them, and that is why they put the runner in for a tag. “We just watched his progress in training, and the level of talent just was not there,” the Eclipse Award-winning conditioner admitted, “I think when that happens you pursue the claiming market, and see what happens.” Amity Road finished 4th, in for a tag of $50,000 in a Maiden Claiming, and now is owned by Hronis Racing. With new trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, she will have to sit the bench, waiting for a next out appearance in a month. How will she run next time? That’s to be determined …

Speaking about things unresolved, no one knows this better than owner Danny Caldwell, a fixture at Oaklawn (4 titles @OP), and at his home track at Remington Park. Caldwell’s story is well-known in the business because not only has he won titles, but Fox Sports followed him around a few years back. A former coach, he has a sparkling personality in conversation, and I happened to catch up with him right after his long shot, Rated R Superstar, just won the $150k Fifth Season S. on a Saturday at Oaklawn. Was there any better claim than this one, I asked? “Not really,” he laughed, “we knew he had something inside of him, and this is what racing is all about, the unexpected.” A $50,000 claim, the Boomer Sooner acquired the router in a Waiver Claiming event back in late January of last year. The gelding by Kodiak Kowboy had his share of solid experience, and nearly 50 starts to his credit. Caldwell and his trainer Federico Villafranco have shared in some wonderful wins, and they knew there was potential for something special. This effort was particularly impressive, especially considering that he was 26/1. Blowing by more heavily favored entries like Cox’s Concert Tour and John Ortiz’s Mucho, the 9-yr-old proved that opportunity can knock with a heavy hand. He blew-up the tote board, proving that underdogs are here to stay. Caldwell told me, “This is why we come to Oaklawn, because with some luck, and the best claims in the country, you can compete against the best, having a shot to win.” And win Rated R Superstar did. I still wanted to know, how do trainers claim, or decide to do so? What are the written and unwritten rules of engagement at Oaklawn? This was a missing piece … an errant jigsaw misplaced … I wanted to know.

The 501 ... Jeff Johnson watches a race at his beloved Oaklawn on Saturday. Along with his friend, Mike Carter, the 'Boys' had an amazing 2021, with nearly $200,000 in purse earnings for the small outfit.
The 501 ... Jeff Johnson watches a race at his beloved Oaklawn on Saturday. Along with his friend, Mike Carter, the "Boys" had an amazing 2021, with nearly $200,000 in purse earnings for the small outfit.

Rules of Claiming Combat

Race 5, a Maiden Claiming race for 3-yr-old fillies was over … “She just got claimed,” her trainer shouted in disbelief. And with that, she was off. That quote and reaction requires context. If you had seen Ingrid Mason with her entry, #7 Princedreamcess, down in the sunken Paddock at Oaklawn Park, you would have witnessed how much she cared for this Thoroughbred. It was palpable … there was meaning behind this moment as she carefully soothed the animal. When I spoke to her later, she told me, “That Paddock can be noisy and full of activity, and she is the type of horse who really responds to a kind touch.” Clearly, Mason understood her 3-yr-old filly’s tendencies, but also wanted to see her relaxed, no matter what the outcome of the race might be. Princessdreamcess ran a big race, and though she was passed late, she “Placed” nicely. The shock came when she was claimed by Robertino Diodoro. “I just did not think we would lose her, and frankly, I was devastated,” admitted Mason, “I think it’s because we bought her at the sales, and she was still developing.” When I asked Diodoro about the claim, he responded that it was his owner, Flying P Stable, who wanted to try and claim her. Mason understands how “The Game” works, and that the prospect of losing a runner from your outfit is possible. She is a seasoned conditioner, a former jockey, and what is happening at Oaklawn is part of the business. “My goal is wanting to run safely and protect the horse at all cost,” she asserted, “I believe, as a trainer, that you have a responsibility to run a clean operation.” Mason knows, it is time to move on, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting a bit.

The temperature in Hot Springs, with regards to claiming, continues apace. What happened to Mason is a prime example of how demand can drive activities around the “Claim Box.” Horses that might not otherwise be claimed in the previous climate, are now. Trainers with small to midsize establishments continue to be hit hard when their stock is lost either by an individual claim or when a shake occurs. Larger outfits run by the likes of Steve Asmussen or Diodoro, who have more resources, can shuttle more runners in as needed, so the argument goes. When you run a stable of only a handful, it can make life a challenge. Trainer Paul Holthus knows this all too well. He and his wife Nancy, whom you probably know as the Paddock Analyst and host of “Oaklawn Today” with Vic Stauffer, have seen their membership decline by more than half since the start of the Meet. Holthus told me, “The only means to replenish is to hope you win some shakes along the way because those are going to be the very best horses you can get.” A 3rd generation horseman, whose father is the all-time winningest trainer in Oaklawn history, he is an impeccable horseman. Following many of the lessons that his father bequeathed him, he continues to mine data the old way … by observation, in order to get in on claims that make sense for the Holthus Stable. “What we try to do is make every horse better that comes through our system,” he told me with conviction, “I think that most races are won before they are even run, so if you believe that, then true horsemanship is your guiding principle.” With “Claim” envelopes stuffed in his pocket, Holthus, and the other trainers that are seeking to fill their barn with another charge, are poised to pounce when the opportunity arises. But with so much competition and “shakes” happening with regularity, the odds are not always in their favor. Remember, only one barn can win, and with upwards of 10, 20, or 30 trainers in the mix, all competing for the same horse, the outcome could be stellar or you could end up with nothing to show for it. The roulette wheel spins …

The major structural bulwark that is being tested right now are the “Unwritten Rules of Claiming.” These are not on some alt website or handed out of someone’s trunk of their car; rather they float out there, among the cadre of conditioners, morphing and altering … Some of these tenets are passed down from one generation to the next at Oaklawn, while still others are adopted by the new wave of younger trainers who come to town. A fairly unscientific survey yielded some interesting results. I asked Ron Moquett, a folksy Hot Springs ambassador of the sport who has a solid stable of runners that compete at all sorts of class levels, what he considers to be the “rules” that he claims by? “For me, I never try to take someone’s last horse, one that is stabled in the same barn as you are, and if I have gone to dinner with you in the last week, then that is a “no” as well,” he said in all seriousness. Moquett admitted this business can be cutthroat, and he thinks of each individual horse as representative of its own corporate enterprise. “I think that is such an honor to be in this sport and we have to do everything we can to protect the animals,” he said, “I like horses, and I do this not because I couldn’t do anything else, but because I enjoy it.” That Sunday we visited in his office, which is just a stone’s throw away from the backstretch, he planned to go after a number of claimers. When I saw him later in the afternoon he shrugged and said, “Better luck next time.”

As the unwritten rules of horsemanship are reformed, you have to wonder if a trainer’s eye begins to change over time. Think on this … if owners continue to demand more and more stock for their stable, does that mean that the expertise of the conditioner does not have the value that it once did? Holthus and Moquett both told me that trainers, for instance like Randy Morse, have the ability to spot a horse’s talent from afar and use their own databank stored in their brains like a server. “I remember I brought a horse in once from another track, and he had a pretty thick coat, and from afar Randy named him immediately,” said Moquett, “I was just dumbfounded that he recognized him.” Accessing those files can be essential in the claiming business because it can spot both potential gems and identify issues that a horse might possess. If the “rules of engagement” are being eroded or reformed, what does the future hold in a world where percentages dictate a trainer’s success or failure? There is no easy answer.

The Oaklawn 'Shake' ... how the game is played. Each trainer's stable gets only one red marble for a horse per race. The shaker then produces a 'winner.' A representative from the barn must be present when this process takes place.
The Oaklawn "Shake" ... how the game is played. Each trainer's stable gets only one red marble for a horse per race. The shaker then produces a "winner." A representative from the barn must be present when this process takes place.

The Oaklawn Claiming Nexus

Robertino Diodoro’s granddad, Jim Dorman, gave the Oaklawn-based trainer his first understanding of the “Claiming Game” a generation ago up in Canada. I was curious to know the first time he came in contact with it. “It is interesting, in those days, claiming a horse was such a secret, and you didn’t want anyone to know which one you were after,” he recalled. Diodoro worked for Dorman at a young age, and he would follow him along the circuit in Calgary and Edmonton, working for the small outfit. Diodoro explained that his grandad was always wary of who was watching. “He would hand me a grocery sack and tell me to keep it safe, not let it out of my sight,” smiled the trainer. I had to ask what was inside … his answer, “It was a bridle and chain, ready for the next claim.” Some things do change …

Back down in the Racing Office, there are no stable staff hanging about with paper bags. On the contrary, everyone at Oaklawn knows everyone else. This is like a college town … a college town of horse racing. The campus is abuzz with conversation, organization, and planning for the next claim. Office Manager Carmen Bish, who possesses that clean and strong voice which calls everyone to attention and the Staff, run a tight ship in Hot Springs. Each week brings a new set of claims, and once those 15 minutes are up before a race goes off can produce all sorts of competition. The last race on Sunday at approximately 4:39 CST, in which Diodoro’s Leading West was highly sought, produced a 23-way shake. That is why the Waiting Room was so packed. Part of the rules state that a member of the barn must be on-hand when the draw occurs. With a board that includes only 12 spaces on it for little red marbles, they divided the trainers into 2 separate groups—a 12-lot and an 11-lot. Then, a “playoff” ensues between the winner of each lot. In the end, it was Joe Sharp who was victorious … Leading West was his.

How will the Oaklawn Claiming Game play out as the rest of the Meet unfolds over the course of the next few months? What will be the impact on smaller stables? Will horsemanship and the ability to assess a runner’s value continue to be essential or gradually devalued? More questions abound than answers. What we do know is that Pat Pope and the Racing Office will continue to “write” and administer as fair a “Game” as humanly possible by offering more types of restricted races, so claims do not happen as often. On top of this, one could argue that the Oaklawn system is certainly investing in racing by providing such a strong purse structure at their prestigious Meet that now includes running in the month of December. With full fields, the competition is fierce. From a betting perspective, all of this is a recipe for some excellent horseplaying, and payouts are the best in the country—no 5-horse fields here.

As for the horsepeople, rhetoric meets reality when you have to make the decision … should we chase the happy prospect of keeping this member of our barn and winning a race? Both are within reach … It’s a gamble though, just like the table games in the Casino … enter your runner in a spot where they can get claimed, and you could lose them, plus you could miss out on the purse money. Conversely, wait too long, and you could be passing up the opportunity for a sizable score. As Pope, the race writer, reminded me, “This is a give and take … remember, even if you lose your horse to a claim, you still visit the Bookkeeper for a check … so, compensation comes in many different forms.” Owners like Danny Caldwell and the 501 Boys Racing proved that claiming in Hot Springs, guided by the written and the unwritten, can be very lucrative … interpret it as the stuff of dreams. And that might be the point … when passion, chance, and hope form a nexus, it creates a synergy around Thoroughbred racing. Hence why, when it comes to the evolving “Game” at Oaklawn Park, anything can happen. Thus, a “Claiming” coda ensues … Tag on, drop in, shake out …

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