The owners of top Ohio-based Thoroughbred Marble Cliff must return the gelding’s earnings, the Ohio State Racing Commission ruled Aug. 21 after the panel upheld a stewards’ ruling the 3-year-old wasn’t eligible for Ohio-restricted races.
The principals in Foxwood Stables, which owns Marble Cliff, had appealed the stewards’ ruling issued Aug. 15. The OSRC, after an investigation, notified the owners Aug. 1 that Marble Cliff’s Ohio registration had been canceled.
Marble Cliff has won four of five career starts, including the $100,000 Cleveland Gold Cup at Thistledown. He was moved up from third to second in another stakes at River Downs. In all, Marble Cliff had banked $109,940.
Because he has been disqualified in all of his races, Marble Cliff, trained by William “Doug” Cowans, is now a maiden with no earnings. He is so well-regarded that his connections entered him in the Aug. 2 West Virginia Derby (gr. III), but scratched him because of an infection.
“I think I’ve got the best maiden in America,” Foxwood Stables principal Charlie Ruma told the racing commission after the hearing was concluded.
Ruma said he respected the decision, but earlier made his case. Ruma, the majority of owner of Beulah Park in Grove City, Ohio, said there is nothing in Ohio racing rules that call for retroactive measures—returning purse money—in registration cases.
Ruma is partners in Marble Cliff with Joe Sugar Jr., who also owns part of Beulah Park. The partners for years have done business with David Shashura, who is listed as co-breeder of Marble Cliff along with Sugar.
OSRC officials said a total of nine horses’ registrations are in question, a point not lost on Ruma.
“Innocent owners should not suffer the consequences of a fraudulent application,” Ruma said. “It’s buyer beware. Ohio-certified is meaningless. I don’t think that’s a good message to send in this market.”
Ruma said he is considering legal action. “We’ll address it with the breeder directly,” he said. “We will now have to pursue it in court.”
The connections of Marble Cliff, by the Kentucky stallion Jump Start , are in a bad spot. The OSRC probe determined the gelding wasn’t foaled in Ohio, but it didn’t identify where he was foaled. It’s believed Marble Cliff was foaled in Kentucky, where his dam, Leza, is kept, but there currently is no proof.
Ruma and Sugar each own a 25% of Leza. Shashura owns the remaining 50%.
The OSRC said it would summon Shashura to a future hearing to discuss the situation. Commission chairman William Koester also formed an advisory committee to examine Thoroughbred registrations in Ohio. Ruma agreed to serve on the committee.
“Ohio might not have the best horse racing, but there’s no reason not to have accountability,” Koester said.
Officials said The Jockey Club has started its own investigation into the Ohio registrations. Jockey Club rules say sanctions can be taken against breeders should allegations of fraud be supported.
Racing commissioners peppered Sugar with questions. They suggested that as co-breeder, Sugar should know where his horses are foaled. Sugar said Shashura put his name on the registration, and that he has been unable to get an answer as to where Marble Cliff was foaled.
A recent change in regulations has complicated matters in Ohio. Currently, a foal can be considered Ohio-bred if the mare is transported into the state, has the foal in the trailer, and then is taken back to her home state.
The commission took offense with comments attributed to Sugar, who told the Columbus Dispatch the OSRC is culpable because it doesn’t extensively visit farms to check on registrations. Ruma said he was under the impression the inspections were routine.
Shashura has paid back about $4,700 in breeder awards he received for Marble Cliff and Houston Heist, a filly owned by Shazam Stable, of which Sugar is a principal. Houston Heist also had her Ohio registration revoked.
In a July 18 letter to the OSRC, Shashura said there was a “voluntary admission that it has come to our attention that there appear to have been mistakes made in the application of Ohio-foaled horses.” The applications for registration were withdrawn, but the OSRC made it clear Aug. 21 the investigation led to cancellation of the registrations.
Cowans, the trainer, asked racing commissioners how he and other trainers can be sure they won’t lose more money should other horses be called into question in the future. OSRC executive secretary Sam Zonak said the events surrounding Marble Cliff should serve as a warning to others.
“We will be calling breeders in,” Zonak said. “We will be asking for records. How can you be sure (a horse is Ohio-registered)? We have to trust our breeders in this state that they are telling the truth.”