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Smilin Eli Cleared To Race

Published: July 19, 2013 3:07 pm ET

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One of the top contenders for the 2013 Hambletonian will be able to enter the race after concerns over the trainer of the horse that recently surfaced were reportedly resolved.

New Jersey Racing Commission executive director Frank Zanzuccki told harnessracing.com Friday afternoon that an initial investigation regarding Smilin Eli and who the actual trainer was has been completed and the three-year-old colt trotter has changed barns to trainer David Smith and been declared eligible to race.

"We are going to clear the horse…taking him off the stewards' list,” said Zanzuccki. "We have completed our investigation into the trainer change and are satisfied that the horse is being trained by the trainer of record (Smith) without any involvement of un-licensable people.”

While Deshawn Minor was the listed trainer of Smilin Eli, who won the $150,000 New Jersey Sires Stakes final on June 1 at the Meadowlands and considered a top contender to win next month's Hambletonian, there were rumors that the real conditioner was Carl Conte Jr., who has a license in some jurisdictions but not in New Jersey. An investigation led to the discovery on July 12 of Smilin Eli near Conte's barn at the unlicensed Dreamland Farm, and as a result the trotter was scratched the day before he was scheduled to start in the $294,000 Stanley Dancer Memorial at the Meadowlands.

Smilin Eli was then placed on the stewards' list as ineligible to compete as the New Jersey Racing Commission launched an investigation. The connections told the Commission the trotter was at Dreamland only because his caretaker -- who reportedly is Conte's girlfriend -- stopped to pick up a lost cell phone while taking him to be treated in a hyperbaric chamber at Walnridge Farm. Although Zanzuccki declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation, he told harnessracing.com that the commission questions the validity of that story. It is against New Jersey Racing Commission rules to treat a horse in a hyperbaric chamber that close to a scheduled start.

Coming off the scratch from the Dancer, Smilin Eli is scheduled to start in a qualifier Saturday morning at the Meadowlands, drawing post nine in the 11th race. Smith is listed as trainer with regular driver Tim Tetrick in the sulky. Zanzuccki said while the horse has been cleared, the investigation has not been completed, including looking at the involvement of Minor and owner Nick Cimino, and if the owner was aware of the Conte/Dreamland connection. Conte cannot be sanctioned by the commission since he is not licensed in the state.

"That part of this matter has not been resolved yet,” he said. "There is an on-going investigation into the arrangement that was in place, and once that investigation is complete, we'll evaluate it and determine whether or not a hearing is necessary involving all or some of the parties.”

(harnessracing.com)


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