06/20/2003 12:00AM

Commission ruling riles Shuman


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Michael Gill, the leading owner at the Monmouth meet, is embroiled in a dispute over a horse who was declared ineligible for a starter handicap on Saturday's card.

The conditions for Saturday's seventh race read: "A handicap for 3-year-olds and upward which have started for a claiming price of $12,500 or less since September 1, 2002 and have not won a stake since then."

The issue hinges on the phrase "since then."

Gill claimed Saratoga Games for $12,500 on May 30, 2003, at Pimlico. Based on the claiming price, Saratoga Games was qualified to run in the starter allowance.

But Saratoga Games had won a stakes at Charles Town on Oct. 11, 2002.

That's where controversy lies.

Does the prohibition against winning a stakes refer to the Sept. 1, 2002 date? Or does the "since then" refer to the date the horse ran for "$12,500 or less"?

The issue bounced from the race office to the stewards to Frank Zanzuccki, the executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission, who was at Monmouth on Friday.

Zanzuccki, citing the intent of the condition, ruled Saratoga Games ineligible to the race.

"The decision was simple," Zanzuccki said. "This matter was brought to my attention. I reviewed the condition of the race. I had discussions with the race secretary and the stewards and determined that Saratoga Games was not eligible for this race."

That did not sit well with Mark Shuman, the trainer of most of the Gill horses who run at Monmouth.

"Trainers kept crying and complaining about it to the racing commission," Shuman said. "I'd like to appeal it."

Shuman confronted trainer Eddie Broome, who has Maybe Jack in the starter handicap, in the paddock before the fourth race Friday.

"Keep crying to the commission," Shuman said to Broome.

Broome sided with the Zanzuccki decision.

"If you're eligible, you're eligible," Broome said later. "The condition was not designed to keep out a specific horse."

Shuman believes the decision is part of plot to drive Gill and him out of New Jersey.

"The same people crying about this is the reason I don't have stalls here," Shuman said. "The shipping is taking it out of them. I'd rather go to Philadelphia Park and run them over there. If they don't want us here, they should come out and say it."

Gill is way out in front in the Monmouth owner standings. He won two more races Friday to push his total to 17 through the first 20 days of the meet.

Gill been very aggressive at the claim box, acquiring 21 horses. Those runners can race only at Monmouth until the meet ends on Sept. 28.

Rare treat: Jersey-bred fillies going to turns

Opportunities to race stakes-caliber New Jersey-bred fillies and mares around two turns do not come along very often.

Trainer Jamie Woodington will seize one of those rare windows Sunday afternoon to run Willie's Luv and Proud and Free in the $50,000 Santo Lalomia at one mile.

"They both need to run when the opportunity presents itself," Woodington said.

Willie's Luv tries for a Santo Lalomia repeat. She took last year's edition as a 3-year-old with a front-running 6 1/2-length romp in the mud.

With rain a constant presence at Monmouth this meet, a wet track looks possible.

"She's speed and speed usually carries here in the mud," Woodington said. "Obviously it helps her."

Willie's Luv is unbeaten in two off-track starts, having also won Pennsylvania Oaks at Philadelphia Park last September on a wet-fast surface.

The Pennsylvania Oaks was the first of four straight starts against open company for Willie's Luv. Discounting the one sprint, she was highly competitive with two wins and a third in that stretch.

Woodington's main concern centers on the pace scenario. Willie's Luv figures to be very close to the lead and Woodington would prefer that she not have a lot of company.

"The compromising thing is that some in there are pretty one-dimensional and are speed only," Woodington said. "That's the kind of thing that can compromise someone like Willie. If they all go after her, it makes it tougher,"

Joe Bravo will be aboard for Willie's Luv return to the statebred ranks.

Entrymate Proud and Free has impressed Woodington with her development this season.

"She is a better filly as she's gotten older," Woodington said of the 5-year-old. "She's always tried hard and been a useful horse but she's a little better than last year."

Proud and Free's ran second in the Open Mind Stakes for New Jersey-breds in her lone start this season.

The Sunday card also features the $60,000 Longfellow Stakes at six furlongs.

Say Florida Sandy, a career winner of 33 races and over $2 million, heads the field of eight.