Schnittker fed up with beard trainers and lack of action from regulators

Long-time horseman Ray Schnittker said the issue came to a head last Monday at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono when he was verbally assaulted by former trainer Josh Marks.

by Dave Briggs

Trainer Ray Schnittker said he’s fed up with beard trainers and racing commissions doing little to put them out of business, and he is far from alone.

The issue became a personal one for Schnittker last Monday (July 8) after he won the 12th race at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono with Can’t Say No in a Pennsylvania All-Stars division. He said while he was in the winner’s circle he was verbally assaulted by former trainer Josh Marks.

“I don’t know what set (Marks) off, but when I won that race at Pocono I was in the winner’s circle and he was going completely nuts, yelling and swearing,” Schnittker said, adding Marks was soon approached by casino security. “I actually never even called it in… There’s a girl that comes down in a golf cart and brings the grooms back and she called security because (Marks) was completely out of control, yelling ‘I’ll kick your ass’ and blah, blah, blah.”

He said he has no idea what led to Marks’ tirade.

Schnittker said he then received a series of threatening texts from Marks’ phone number.

In July of 2011, Marks was stripped of his racing license by New York in a ruling that reads in part, “… any and all Racing and Wagering Board licenses currently held by respondent Joshua Marks are revoked and any former existing license rights are terminated…Joshua Marks is excluded from the grounds of all racetracks under the jurisdiction of this Board, whether as a patron or otherwise until such time as he may be granted licensing privileges.” The ban was reciprocated by Ontario and elsewhere. Marks is not licensed in Pennsylvania and has not held a USTA license since 2011.

After the incident Monday at Pocono, prominent owners Howard Taylor and Ken Jacobs moved horses out of the barn of trainer Gareth Dowse, who has posted a UTRS of .490 through 127 starts in 2019, the second highest percentage of all North American trainers. Last year, Dowse posted a UTRS of .371 in 223 starts. Prior to that, the number of starts under his own name were fairly limited as he worked mostly as a long-time assistant trainer for Schnittker.

Taylor was quoted by The Horseman and Fair World (full story here) as saying, “I know Josh (Marks) and Gareth (Dowse) worked together.”

Schnittker told HRU he still considers Dowse a friend, but Dowse, “kind of left on bad terms with me.

“I liked the guy, but for some reason (Dowse) got hooked up with (Marks),” Schnittker said.

Since Monday, Dowse has raced 12 horses at five tracks — Buffalo, Harrah’s Philadelphia, The Meadowlands, The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and Yonkers — and posted a 4-5-2 record, with just one out-of-the-money finish. One of his victories came Saturday in the $120,250 final of the Lawrence B. Sheppard Pace for 2-year-old colts and geldings at Yonkers Raceway with Columbo. Dowse also won the six-horse, non-wagering $160,000 New Jersey Sires Stakes event on Friday at the Meadowlands for 2-year-old trotting colts by 14-and-a-quarter lengths with Play Trix On Me in 1:55.3. Play Trix On Me is a perfect four-for-four in his young career.

Schnittker said he normally keeps to himself, but he was motivated to speak out after Marks “went crazy” at Pocono. He said he finds the lack of action on the part of racing officials alarming.

“At Pocono, I went in to see the judges and their line was, and I thought this was great, ‘(Marks) doesn’t have a license.’ Well, no s—, but he’s got a guy representing him. Wouldn’t you call him in and say, ‘We want to see the purse money, we want to see the owners’ checks?’ You’ve got to follow the money a little bit.

“They act like they don’t know Gareth.”

Schnittker said he also showed the judges the threatening text messages sent from Marks’ phone number.

“I went in there and showed them all the texts on my phone and it was like they were doing paperwork and I’m not even sure they were paying attention… It was like, ‘Why am I even doing this?’”

Schnittker said he has since heard Pocono casino security is on the case.

A well-placed source in Pennsylvania that wished to remain anonymous told HRU that racing officials are aware of the problem and many wheels are already in motion to correct it. That source also said we will likely see fewer entries from Dowse this week.

That’s not enough for Schnittker, who said more needs to be done by racing regulators. Many others in the industry have indicated on social media that they stand in solidarity with Schnittker and others that are trying to tackle the beard problem.

“Nobody does anything to these beard trainers,” Schnittker said. “Nobody investigates how does a guy get 60 horses when he (recently) just worked for somebody? You know how hard it is to get owners in this game? How are you going to get 10 owners all at once?

“And the tracks, why not just write down the license plate number when they come in and check them out a little bit? If it’s somebody that’s been barred, you maybe let it go one time if a guy said he borrowed his truck. But if a guy ships in there for three months with a guy that’s been barred, you’d kind of know that he’s been working for him, I would think.

“Wouldn’t it be great, every now and then, to run those plates and see who the vehicle actually belonged to? All of a sudden, some bum has a brand new F-350 Ford with a $60,000 horse trailer? That’s $120,000, where did he come up with that in one week?

“Around the track you almost know if some guy gets 60 horses something is not on the up and up, but the Commissions, they don’t want to do anything.”

Schnittker said finding out who is calling the shots wouldn’t be that difficult.

“(The guys) driving all of these horses for Josh… go see who (the drivers) are calling. I guarantee they aren’t calling Gareth up. I guarantee it’ll go right to Josh’s number. That’s a good way to know if someone is bearding as a trainer,” Schnittker said. “Get their phone records and (I bet) you’d have 50 calls to (Marks) and none to the (listed) trainer. Kind of a way of catching somebody, right?”