A race won by Rapid Redux, the 18th victory in the 5-year-old gelding's record-breaking 20-race winning streak, was investigated for impropriety by the Board of Stewards at the Charles Town racetrack in West Virginia.
Owned by Robert Cole Jr., and trained by David Wells, Rapid Redux won the 1 1/8-mile dirt race by 4 3/4 lengths on Oct. 14 as the 2-5 favorite in a field of six.
The investigation was the result of rampant rumors circulating at Charles Town the day of the race that two horses that posed a significant threat to Rapid Redux would be scratched that evening. The two runners, Disco Indy and Valid Venture, were to run as an entry for Mountaineer Park-based trainer Scooter Davis, who also has horses at Charles Town.
Erich Zimny, the director of racing operations at Charles Town, said he grew concerned enough the day of the race to report the rumors to the stewards.
“We weren't comfortable with some of the circumstances surrounding the race Oct. 14,” Zimny said. “We want to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, so we decided to take a cautious approach going forward. We took information to the Board of Stewards regarding a couple horses in the race. On the night of the race, the two horses previously mentioned scratched out.”
Disco Indy and Valid Venture were scratched when Davis called in and said he was having van trouble, chief steward Danny Wright said. Both runners since have won their subsequent starts.
“Once we got those rumors we jumped on it because it's a very serious accusation,” Wright said. “We called every single person in that race prior to any scratches taking place and we asked, 'Is it your intent to run? Is this an entry of convenience, and do you plan on running?' Every single one said they were intent on running, and if someone had approached them they would tell them where to go.”
Wright said he sent chief investigator Danny Frye down to the Charles Town barns of Davis to see if either Disco Indy or Valid Venture already were on the grounds. He said tattoos were checked on the horses there.
“We even called (Davis's) father … and he said his van had broken down,” Wright said. “We went as far as we could with the authority we had to do it with. We got absolutely no one who was willing to say anything was going on the Board of Stewards should be concerned with.”
Asked if he ever considered canceling the race, Wright said, “Absolutely not.”
Cole, who led the country in victories by an owner in 2008 with 238, claimed a horse named Sugarplumfairy from a race Oct. 12 at Charles Town and gave it to Davis to train, three days after entries were drawn for the Rapid Redux race. Previously, the owner and trainer never had worked together. Sugarplumfairy won her first start for her new connections on Nov. 9. Cole said he has since given another horse to Davis and had another claim for him voided.
“He just started training for me,” Cole said. “He's fantastic out there at Charles Town with sprinters going 4 1/2 furlongs. I plan on using him for the time being for the next few years.”
Cole said he never was contacted by the stewards during their investigation of the Oct. 14 race. Asked what Wells, the trainer of Rapid Redux, had told him about his contact with officials, Cole said, “Nothing of great importance.
“I've not been called about anything on this issue,” Cole said. “One or two fans might have said something. I definitely haven't heard from the stewards. Scooter has not called me about it, and I have not been called by any stewards.
“The stewards are like Supreme Court judges; they're very honorable people. If they felt there was a problem, they would have issued fines or something. Danny Wright is a strict disciplinarian; he's about as tough as you can get.”
Wright said it should not be considered out of the ordinary for Cole to have given horses to Davis.
“Robert Cole changes trainers like you and I change socks,” Wright said.
Cole, 45, of Highland, Md., got into racing after finding success with Service 1st Mortgage, a small firm he founded in 1999. Cole is the grandnephew of William P. Cole, who served two terms in the U.S. Congress.
Davis could not be reached for comment.
Scratches have been common features during Rapid Redux's winning streak: There have been 40 runners scratched across the 20 races – more than 30 percent of the entrants – and the fields have averaged less than 5.5 horses.
Charles Town-based trainer David Walters said it was common knowledge at the track the day of the race that Valid Venture and Disco Indy would be scratched.
“I heard that afternoon, not two hours after the overnight came out, that those two horses weren't running,” said Walters, who has not raced a horse against Rapid Redux during the streak. “The only person who didn't know those two horses weren't running was Stevie Wonder, and he wasn't there.”
Walters said it was wrong for the race to have been allowed to take place.
“If I had any control over that race, I would have canceled,” he said. “If I had all the information beforehand, and the way it played out that late in the evening, I would have canceled the event. If things like that happened on a daily basis, horse racing would be in a lot of trouble. Just because that horse had a record on the line, it shouldn't make any difference. There should be an asterisk by that horse's record. That sums up anything you want to say.”
Zimny declined to comment on the results of the stewards' investigation.
“Mr. Cole and Mr. Wells are free to race their horses here,” he said.
Asked if Rapid Redux was welcome back, as well, Zimny said, “At no point have we explicitly told them not to race here.”
Editor's note: Tuesday at Laurel Park, Rapid Redux will attempt to tie the modern-day U.S. record of 19 victories in a calendar year – set by Citation in 1948. At least one researcher has uncovered evidence that prior to 1920, more than one horse may have eclipsed that number, including Donald MacDonald in 1913.
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