Barred Ohio Owner: 'Maybe I'll See You There'

Prominent Ohio owner/breeder George Smith, barred from Beulah Park when he categorized it as the worst of Ohio earlier this year, said he isn't sure whether he'll be on hand at the Grove City track Oct. 4 for the Best of Ohio championship series. Owner Charlie Ruma banned him this spring.

During an Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners board meeting March 29, Smith said video lottery terminals could facilitate improvements at the state's racetracks. He said Beulah Park in particular needs a major facelift.

"I've never been on death row, but take a look at the d├ęcor at Beulah Park," Smith said at the meeting.

After Smith's comments made the rounds, Ruma told the Cleveland Plain Dealer Smith had been barred from Beulah Park. "He embarrassed me on a national basis...Smith should have some sense of what it's like to race in the winter," said Ruma, who defended his plant.

On Sept. 18, Smith, on his way to the Keeneland September yearling sale, said horses he bred or owned won or placed in stakes at Beulah Park after the ban was enacted. He said, however, he hasn't spoken to Ruma since that time and hasn't been at the track.

"I'd rather just drop the subject," said Smith, who owns Woodburn Farm in southwest Ohio in partnership with Dr. Wilbur Johnston. "I've got no reason to talk to Charlie Ruma. We've got enough problems in Ohio without talking about subjective things. When people all around us are getting money that we're not, that makes it rough."

(Smith was referring to racetracks in neighboring West Virginia and other states that have purse accounts fueled by alternative gaming. Business at Ohio racetracks has declined in recent years, and through Sept. 6 of this year, total handle at the state's seven tracks was down $30 million, or 7.6%, from the same period a year ago, according to Ohio State Racing Commission figures.)

Smith said he heard Ruma put the ban in writing. When asked if he might attend the Best of Ohio should a horse he owns or bred compete, Smith was noncommittal but later said with a laugh: "Maybe I'll see you there."

Ruma couldn't be immediately reached for comment. Beulah Park general manager Mike Weiss said he didn't know the status of the ban but believed Ruma and Smith, who serves on a Thoroughbred racing advisory committee in the state, would discuss it if Smith wanted to attend.

"I'm sure they'll talk it out," Weiss said.

The Best of Ohio is a $330,000, five-stakes championship series for Ohio-breds. It is the centerpiece of this year's fall meet at Beulah Park.

The Best of Ohio races are the $100,000 Endurance for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/4 miles, the $60,000 Distaff for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles, the $60,000 Juvenile for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, the $60,000 Juvenile Fillies for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/6 miles, and the $50,000 Sprint for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs.

The Best of Ohio was inaugurated in 1987 and as such was among the first of the championship days for state-breds in the country. It has been held at Beulah Park, River Downs, and Thistledown. Because of business declines at Ohio tracks, purses for the stakes have been reduced in recent years.