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Atlanta dispute leads to auction

February 13, 2019

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As a result of the six-month suspension and fine of Ontario-based horseman Rick Zeron, who trained and co-owned the 2018 Hambletonian champion Atlanta, the 4-year-old trotting mare  has been put up for auction on the website ongait.com.

The opening bid for Atlanta, who will be honored as the Dan Patch 2018 Three-Year-Old Filly Trotter of the Year—and possibly Trotter of the Year and Horse of the Year—on Feb. 24 in Orlando, Fla., was set at $500,000, and on Wednesday morning the current bid was $550,000. Bidding ends at 1 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15.

Zeron was suspended by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission in Ontario in early January after a barn search last July revealed unmarked drugs and counterfeit labels. The search also led to a pair of alleged shock-wave violations and bribery against Zeron. Zeron has appealed the penalty.

Atlanta was purchased as a yearling for $60,000 by Zeron, Holland Racing Stable, Howard Taylor and Brad Grant as equal 25-percent partners. Early last year, unbeknownst to the other partners, Zeron sold most of his interest to Crawford Farms, retaining only five percent interest.

“We’re selling her to dissolve the partnership,” explained Grant of the decision to put Atlanta on ongait.com. “We have a five-percent partner that has to go. The only way to do it, since he thinks he owns and controls the horse and the rest of us are along for the ride, is to put her up for auction. And it’s an absolute shame.”

Atlanta, who earned more than $1 million in purses in 2018, is currently with Zeron at his winter base at Sunshine Meadows in Florida. On Tuesday (Feb. 12), under the instruction of the 95-percent partners, trainer Tony Alagna went to Zeron’s barn and brought Atlanta back to his stable at Sunshine Meadows. Later on Tuesday, Zeron came and took back Atlanta.

“Ninety-five percent of the ownership group wanted the horse moved,” Grant explained of the decision to move the filly to Alagna. “Rick can’t train the horse and race at (Woodbine Mohawk Park), he can’t race at the Gural group of tracks. This mare has a lot of races at those two venues (Mohawk and Meadowlands).

“We moved her to Tony’s barn and then Rick just came and got her. I told Tony don’t get into a confrontation. I just have a hard time understanding how a five-percent owner can get away with what he’s doing. Tony got the horse on the direction of the 95-percenters.”

According to Grant and Taylor, Zeron offered to sell his five-percent interest for $200,000. They declined, noting that the price would value the mare at $4 million.

“We couldn’t agree on a buyout, so we’ll see what the market brings,” said Taylor, noting the possibility of a breeding syndicate or European syndicate making a big bid. “My hope is to stay in (retain ownership), but if she brings enough, I guess I will sell.”

Grant agrees with Taylor.

“I’m not going to let her go cheap,” said Grant. “Four of us want to stay in, and depending on how it goes, I indicated to the partnership I’d like to keep the partnership going. We’ve agreed that if there is a (certain) price we’ll stay in. If it goes beyond that, then good luck to the next one.”

Grant said against the partnership’s wishes because of the uncertainty of ownership, Atlanta was fully staked this year by Zeron. Grant said the stakes payments are all pending, depending on the outcome of the auction.—By Gordon Waterstone

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