02/26/2009 12:00AM

Prominent owners involved in dispute


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Michael Repole and Steve Sigler will likely be involved in a year-long battle for leading owner on the New York Racing Association circuit. For now, they are engaged in a legal battle over the ownership of a horse.

Repole is protesting the Aqueduct stewards' decision to void a successful claim he and trainer Scott Lake made on Jan. 30 for West Coast Flier from trainer Chip Dutrow and owner High Grade Racing Stable. Repole and Lake were one of three outfits that put in a claim for the horse and won what is known as a "shake,'' or blind draw, for West Coast Flier.

The following day, the claim was voided by the stewards when they learned that Lake trains at least one horse - Gryfinndor's Sword - that High Grade owns in a partnership. Gary Contessa, who trains for Sigler's Winning Move outfit, brought that fact to the stewards' attention the day after the claim.

According to New York State Racing and Wagering Board steward Carmine Donofrio, the stewards believe it is not in the "best interests of racing'' for a trainer to claim a horse from an owner for whom he already trains. The concern is that an owner could drop a horse in class and yet retain ownership of the horse by having one of his other trainers claim him. However, there is no specific rule on the subject.

After voiding the claim, the stewards ruled that a shake be held between the two remaining parties that attempted to claim West Coast Flier - Winning Move and Contessa, and Michael Imperio and trainer Greg DiPrima. Winning Move and Contessa won that shake. West Coast Flier ran back on Feb. 16 and won a third-level allowance race and could run back March 7 in the Grade 3 Toboggan Stakes against the Repole-owned Driven by Success.

Repole, who leads Winning Move by one win at this meet, called the void of his claim "not fair, pretty unjust. The claim was good, the void was bad.''

Sigler, who described his relationship with Repole as cordial, said: "The stewards' responsibility is to uphold the best interests of racing whether it's a decision like this or a jockey's objection.''

In a letter sent to the racing and wagering board on Wednesday, Repole's attorney, Karen Murphy argues that by voiding the claim, the stewards' only course of action "under the rules of racing was to return the animal to his original owner, High Grade Racing Stable, and refer the matter to the board.'' Murphy contends that the stewards did not have the authority to allow another shake.

Donofrio noted the rules of racing state, in part, "all claims shall be passed upon by the stewards,'' and thus it was in the stewards' authority to allow a new shake.

Murphy has requested that the board place West Coast Flier in some form of receivership and hold an immediate hearing to determine whether there was any collusion in this transaction.

"If none is found, then the rightful owner is Repole Stable,'' Murphy wrote in her letter. "If collusion is demonstrated ... then the transaction is canceled, the horse returned, the purses adjusted, and the matter referred to the board.''

A board spokesman said Thursday the issue is under review and declined further comment.

This is not the first time Winning Move and Repole have been involved in a dispute over a claim. On Aug. 1, 2007, Repole claimed Rumspringa for $25,000 from Winning Move and Contessa. The horse broke in a tangle and lost his rider. He was declared a non-starter by the stewards after it was deemed he was in the hands of the assistant starter in the gate. Contessa and Winning Move protested the claim, but the stewards ruled in favor of Repole, who got to keep the horse.

Galluscio enjoying strong meet

When Taxadame rallied to win Thursday's ninth race, it was the 14th victory of the inner-track meet for trainer Dominic Galluscio, putting him sixth in the standings.

Galluscio, who won 12 races last winter, has won mostly claiming races this winter with a variety of owners. One owner for whom he has won a handful of races is Mark Lewis, a tax grievance specialist from Suffolk County, N.Y., who maintains a small string of low-level claimers with Galluscio. Lewis also has a couple of New York-breds with trainer Steve Asmussen.

From his stable of seven horses, Lewis has won 4 races from 14 starters during the winter meet.

"I began the month with three wins and two seconds from five starters,'' Lewis said. "When you compare myself to Winning Move and how many horses they have, and David Jacobson and how many horses he has, and Bruce Levine and how many horses he has, I'm basically a little guy.''

Lewis said he has owned horses for 10 years and hooked up with Galluscio about six years ago when his trainer - whom he wouldn't name - couldn't get a horse he claimed from Galluscio to run. Lewis eventually turned the horse over to Galluscio, who went on to win with that horse.

"I do it for fun,'' Lewis said. "If, at the end of a year or two, you break even and don't make money you're way ahead of the game.''

As for Galluscio, he said he can't pinpoint any one reason for his success this winter.

"I can't figure it out,'' Galluscio said. "You just got to keep working hard, keep trying.''