08/22/2001 12:00AM

Abandoned colt lands in winner's circle

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Scheme, who at age 5 won his career debut in a $7,500 maiden claiming race at River Downs on Aug. 19, is not expected to achieve superstardom, but he has already come far.

Two years ago, maintenance workers at Turfway Park discovered an abandoned 3-year-old named Scheme during a routine stall check at the end of the meet. The colt's owner and trainer, Sally Botkin, had left him at Turfway, where stewards tried, but had a hard time, locating Botkin. In the meantime, Scheme was placed under the care of trainer Jerry Antounk. Botkin finally was found and summoned for a hearing, but she didn't turn up and was fined.

Turfway Park became the owners of Scheme through a court ruling one year after his discovery. But Botkin had the colt's Jockey Club registration papers, and without them, Scheme, a son of Chief Honcho, was unable to race. With the help of the Jockey Club, his papers and records were reconstructed, and Turfway was able to auction the horse off last December with the assurance that he would be able to race for his future owners.

Trainer Ron Hale was awarded the colt for $1,200 after the sealed-bid auction. Hale, who trains Scheme for owner Charles Giles, found him tough to handle, throwing him several times. But Hale was able to get Scheme ready to win his debut wire to wire.

Scheme paid $12.40, a price many of the colt's supporters in the Turfway front office were happy to cash on. "This is one of those stories that truly has a happy ending," said Greg Schmitz, Turfway's director of operations, who along with his staff oversaw the care of the horse while it was owned by Turfway.