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BOB ROBERTS
Special to The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Unless eyesight and attention to detail improves at Mahoning Valley Race Course, the traditional stabling of thoroughbreds in stalls in barns provided by management will have to be reconfigured.

After what transpired last Wednesday at the suburban Youngstown track, coed housing may be abandoned. Placing fillies and mares in the same barn with colts and geldings contributed to a pari-mutuel disaster.

All appeared to be business as usual when Ruby Queen breezed to a 7 ¾-length victory in the ninth race finale on Nov. 4. Well, almost. The 3-year-old filly was a huge longshot, 110-1 on the oddsboard, and paid $222.40 for a $2 win wager for owner-trainer Shane Spiess.

But the triumphant underdog storyline quickly fell apart when Ruby Queen arrived at the state barn for blood and urine tests, a procedure that all winners submit to following a victory. Much to the surprise of lab technicians, Ruby Queen was not who she was advertised to be. She was a male, a 4-year-old gelding named Leathers Slappin, another member of the Spiess barn.

Ruby Queen, valued at $5,000, was winless in 13 career starts. Leathers Slappin had won two of 26 starts, including one in Chicago for $7,500 claimers.

When racetrack bad guys hatch a plan to substitute a good horse for an inferior one (the two have to look pretty much alike), the superior horse is known as a ringer. The bettors cash because the good horse gets to run under the name of the bad one, carrying the bad one’s poor record, which hikes the betting odds.

Judging by the huge race payoffs, Ruby Queen/Leathers Slappin looks be an accidental ringer.

Mahoning Valley management and the Ohio State Racing Commission have launched separate investigations into the race. The track “suspended indefinitely” Thomas Clark Jr. He is MVRC’s identifier. His job is to check lip tattoos that confirm who each horse is according to numbers and physical markings on their foal (birth) certificates.

The OSRC isn’t moving as quickly. It has yet to hold a hearing for Spiess. He owns and trains both horses and it’s his job to make sure the right horse is brought over to the paddock.

While Clark and Spiess will probably be fined or suspended for their failings, the folks who have already paid the price are the bettors.

There was more than $130,000 wagered on the botched race and, like racing has done for years, tickets have already been cashed on the wrong winner and will continue to be so. Racing has never found a way to make whole those who ended up with worthless mutuel tickets that should have been winners.

Moments after the news got out about the alleged accidental ringer, a frustrated bettor tweeted, “And I thought I had found every way to lose in this game. (I) had the second place horse (for) the Pick 4. It was paying over $900.

That guy is out of luck, or is he? There was nearly $800,000 bet Nov. 4 on MVRC’s nine races. A great deal of it, perhaps half, was processed through advance wagering deposit platforms, meaning the bets were made on laptops, iPads or cell phones.

There are records of all those wagers. While no solution is perfect, and this one would be expensive, the pools could be refigured and those who should have won could be paid.

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