River Downs Reconsiders, Grants Stalls to Horsemen

River Downs in Ohio has reconsidered its position and allotted stalls to several prominent horsemen who were told they wouldn't get them for the meet that begins April 9.

The horsemen--trainer Jim Morgan and owner/breeders Rolf Obrecht and Raymond "Pat" Buse--were notified either directly or indirectly of the decision by River Downs the week of March 15. Morgan and Obrecht told The Blood-Horse they had heard the decision was tied to politics, but that couldn't be confirmed.

Morgan, currently based at Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky, said he received notice from River Downs. Obrecht, who has about 15 horses at Turfway, said his trainers were informed they could have stalls but not for any horses he owns. Morgan trains for Buse and other prominent owner/breeders in Kentucky and Ohio.

John Englehardt, director of public relations for the Cincinnati-area track, said March 23 management had reconsidered its position on stalls for horses owned or trained by the three men.

In statement released by the track, general manager Jack Hanessian said: "We have reconsidered our position in the denial of stalls to these individuals. We have granted them stalls, and we expect them to act in a professional and courteous manner while on the grounds of River Downs this summer. They do have competitive horses at all levels, and can add to the racing program at River Downs."

Some in the Ohio racing industry claim Morgan, Obrecht, and Buse used influence to thwart racetrack gaming legislation in the state. Morgan and Obrecht said March 19 they fully support the concept of racetrack gaming but not the revenue splits agreed upon by the racing industry.

As written, the Ohio bill to authorize video lottery terminals would funnel 7.5% of revenue to purses, the lowest percentage of any racino state in the country and roughly half the national average. There remains an outside chance the bill could be revisited soon in an attempt to get the VLT question on the November ballot.

Morgan, the all-time stakes-winning trainer in Ohio, was leading trainer at two of the last four River Downs meets. He usually has about 20 to 30 horses--many of them Ohio-breds--on the grounds. Obrecht, who employs several trainers, among them Richard Estvanko, Wayne Mogge, and Art Zeis, currently has about 15 horses at Turfway and is a regular at River Downs.