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Ruling due today on racehorse dispute at Charles Town Races & Slots

October 16, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The chief racing steward for Charles Town Races & Slots testified Monday that he believed prominent local racehorse owner Randy Funkhouser committed "the cardinal sin of sportsmanship" and resorted to manipulation when competing horse Forest Park was removed from a July 4 race at the track where Funkhouser's horse won.

Meanwhile, David Hammer, Funkhouser's attorney, worked to deflate attacks on his client during a hearing at the Charles Town Library.

Hammer showed home builder Dan Ryan, owner of Forest Park, a document outlining how Forest Park had been ruled ineligible to race at Delaware Park on June 30 because of a "quarter crack, left front," an injury the horse has been plagued with.

Ryan said he did not know about the document.

In order for a horse to run in a race, it must be continuously eligible from the "day of entry" for racing and Forest Park was not in this case, Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association attorney Clarence E. "CEM" Martin said previously.

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Turning his attention later to Danny Wright, the track's chief racing steward, Hammer pointed out that people with a horse in a race and with a financial interest in a race are the ones who are supposed to protest entries of horses in races.

Hammer asked Wright that if Wright was concerned about how Forest Park was eliminated from the race, why did the racing commission get involved and hold a hearing in the matter?

"Did you tell the racing commission you thought the wrong process was being followed?" Hammer asked.

"No, I did not," Wright responded.

Testimony in the hearing lasted about 12 hours, and at the close of testimony Monday night, hearing examiner Oscar Bean instructed attorneys on both sides to make conclusions of law statements and submit them to him by early this afternoon.

Bean is expected to make a decision by the close of business today, Hammer said.

The track's board of stewards, who enforce state racing laws, suspended Funkhouser's occupational permit at the track following a complaint that Funkhouser allegedly improperly influenced the commission to get another owner's horse disqualified from the race.

Monday's hearing was held to determine whether the board of stewards acted properly in suspending Funkhouser's occupational permit.

If Bean rules in Funkhouser's favor, he'll have enough time to enter four horses in the Breeder's Classic, scheduled for Saturday at Charles Town Races & Slots.

The eight races in that event have a total purse of $1.45 million.

If Bean rules against Funkhouser, Funkhouser won't be able to appeal, and his horses - some of which are favored to win their races - won't run.

Wright testified that there were several unusual circumstances involving the removal of Forest Park from the Charles Town Dash Invitational.

Funkhouser's horse, Confucius Say, ended up winning the July 4 race, giving Funkhouser and others about $80,000 in winnings, officials said.

Wright said no other horse owners, grooms or others involved in horse racing at the track lodged complaints about Forest Park being able to compete in the race.

Then, on the day before the race, Wright said he received a faxed letter from Martin & Seibert law firm stating that the local chapter of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association - its client - was protesting a decision to allow Forest Park to compete in the race.

Funkhouser is the president of the HBPA, which represents the interests of horsemen at the local track.

Wright said the letter left no time to have a hearing on the matter, which is the normal course of action.

Wright testified that the HBPA cannot protest the entry of a horse in a race and owners, trainers or jockeys instead protest horse entries.

Also, Wright said it was unusual for the West Virginia Racing Commission to get involved in the issue.

The racing commission decided to remove or "scratch" Forest Park from the race.

"We had no reason to disqualify this horse," Wright said.

Funkhouser testified Monday night that he was told by a Racing Commission official to write a letter to the commission outlining his concerns about Forest Park. Funkhouser testified about how Forest Park "mysteriously" appeared for the race.

Ryan testified he has been in the horse racing business for 25 years and is currently racing about 25 horses in various states.

Ryan said Forest Park is an impressive race horse and others have said that if there was a horse that was going to beat Confucius Say, it was Ryan's horse.

Ryan said his trainer was very upset when Forest Park was removed from the race and Ryan said others involved in horse racing at Charles Town told him they believed Forest Park was improperly removed from the race.

"It really encouraged me to pursue it," Ryan said. A lawyer representing Ryan later asked the racing commission to investigate the matter.

Hammer and the Racing Commission's attorney Christie Utt also argued Monday over whether Funkhouser should be forced to give up his winnings from the July 4 race if the arbiter rules against him.

That issue was not resolved.

Monday's hearing was held in a meeting room in the ground level of the library along Washington Street. About 30 people, including many involved in horse racing at Charles Town, watched the proceedings.

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