07/17/2017 2:26PM

Charles Town bars 11-year-old layoff horse

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An 11-year-old horse who has not started in 6 1/2 years was barred by officials at Charles Town Races in West Virginia from working at the track on Saturday, and the owner of the horse now says he has no plans to run the horse in the immediate future.

Awesome Actor, who had been stabled at the track for six weeks and recorded two official workouts in June, had been earlier ordered out of the backstretch area by the racing secretary and was not granted permission to return for the Saturday workout, according to Erich Zimny, the vice president of racing operations at Charles Town.

The owner of the horse, James King, had been told earlier in the week by the stewards at Charles Town that the horse could be deemed eligible to start in a race at the track if he worked under the supervision of the state veterinarian and passed physical examinations and a drug test.

“It’s not an issue with the individual,” Zimny said, referring to King. “It’s an issue with the horse.”

The decision by Charles Town to bar the horse from the grounds appears to have ended King’s quest to return the horse to racing, at least in the short term. King, who has a farm in Columbia, Md., received a share in the horse in 2011 on the condition that he rehabilitate the horse, and he said he was prevented from returning the horse to the races after an ownership dispute took years to unravel in the courts.

“I’m taking him back to Columbia,” King said on Saturday.

Awesome Actor had been entered in a $5,000 claiming race at Charles Town scheduled for June 29 when stewards ordered the horse scratched, even though the horse was eligible to run under West Virginia racing rules. The stewards said they decided to scratch the horse after being notified of critical comments on social-media sites about the horse’s long layoff.

The case has raised questions about racing’s approach to horses coming off layoffs in an age when remote observers can disseminate opinions that may or may not be based on any knowledge of a horse’s condition, fitness, or history, aside from racing and training records. King had said that Awesome Actor, who won five races from 22 starts and earned $140,575 in his career from 2008-10, had been in race training for five months, and he had expressed confidence that the horse would win again.

When asked if Charles Town management would apply extra scrutiny in the future to any horses returning from a long layoff, Zimny said that the Awesome Actor case was a situation in which “it was [on the face of it] obvious that this was not a good horse for us to have here.”

“I haven’t seen one like this before,” Zimny said. “Where is that line? We know that the line is at least right here.”

Awesome Actor finished last in his final three starts, all in claiming races at Charles Town. King, who took over his rehabilitation after those starts, said the horse was suffering from worms and an ulcer when he received him and that he nursed the horse back to health with the intention of returning him to the races later that year. The ownership dispute began in 2011 and was not resolved until last year, King said.

Zimny said Charles Town could not afford any bad publicity from the case.

“On the surface, the horse had not been competitive for the bottom price in his last three starts seven years ago,” Zimny said. “Having him come off a seven-year layoff, the amount of things that can go wrong are exponentially greater than the number of things that can go right.”