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by Joe Paschen

He's Back! Again!

No, not Michael Jordan. Ron Marsh is back, and with inspiring determination.

After serving a seven-year suspension from the Illinois Racing Board for contributing to the fixing of two races in 1995, the lifelong horseman -- who was one of the top harness drivers in Illinois for over 20 years -- Marsh returned to active duty last month.

"It's kind of like riding a bicycle," Marsh stated from the Hawthorne drivers' locker room this week. "It all just came back into place for me. I just had to get my timing back."

Not only has the 49-year-old Findley, Ohio native returned to driving, he's made it a habit of revisiting the winner's circle with regularity. Through June 16, Marsh had raced 191 times, winning 24, and finishing in the money on more than 30% of his drives. That places him eighth among the local driver colony.

The third-generation harness horseman didn't stop driving Standardbreds after the Illinois Racing Board indefinitely suspended his owner/driver's license Jan. 9, 1996.

"Right after the suspension, I trained with Joe Anderson for four years, then Carl Porcelli for two years, and then during this year's strike, with Homer Hochstetler," tells Marsh. "I was working out anywhere between 20-50 horses a day, so I was still involved every day with horses all this time."

Hochstetler admitted any time someone with the experience of a Ron Marsh is available, you welcome him aboard.

"He's a great racedriver and a great horseman," the veteran owner, trainer and driver said from Hawthorne's back paddock this week. "He was a good hand for me. He was there every morning at 7 am working horses. He's especially good with the babies. To many it's a job, to Ron it's still a competitive game. I thought he was way over punished."

The beginning of what seemed like the end for Marsh began Dec. 13, 1995 when the IRB revoked his license to compete in Illinois harness racing after state stewards accused him of allegedly taking part in a race-fixing scheme involving races at Maywood Park on Nov. 11 and Dec. 5, 1995.

Large amounts of exotic bets made in a short period of time on Autotote machines prior to those races did not include Marsh's horses, both who were listed as favorites.

The IRB ordered a lock on the suspicious credit vouchers, which were not claimed by bettors. That unlikelihood gave credence to the condemning existence that a suspect wagering pattern was involved.

Illinois Racing Board Chairman at the time, Gary Starkman stated in 1996, "The record does not directly link Ron Marsh to the wagering, (but) the overwhelming circumstancial evidence is that this is a pure race-fixing scheme."

IRB executive director Joe Sinopoli, who tried the case against Marsh, had attempted to tie in the fixing charges to Marsh admitting to a one-month suspension by Maywood President Phil Langley in 1994 for illegal self drug use. Marsh insists that past mistake has not been a problem in his life since.

Even after turning over IRB investigation reports to the Illinois State Attorney General's office, no criminal charges were ever filed against Marsh, or anyone else regarding these alleged "race fixes."

Marsh was crushed.

"It hurt," he recalled this week. "I tried to do the best I could whenever I raced. I couldn't believe what was going on. We tried to appeal, but by the time the case would have gotten to an appellate court, it was a couple years later, and I was tapped out financially."

The once widely popular and successful Marsh had his entire world fall apart following the suspension.

Marsh lost nearly all he owned over a short period of time, as he experienced more time in court filing for bankruptcy, divorce and child support payment issues.

"I had four lawyers going to various county courts," Marsh remembers. "After a while I went through all my assets and had nothing left."

Except a deep determination to come back at the track.

"I had to go to church again," Marsh admits. "I'm not real religious, but I got support there. My family was always supportive of my efforts and I'm real grateful to so many horsemen who supported me. I knew I wasn't guilty, so I knew if I stuck with it, I knew things would come back around."

His seven-year itch for live racing was finally scratched last month, but Marsh says he does not compete to vindicate himself.

"It's not vindication as much as knowing I still have the ability to do it," Marsh said with a serious tone between puffs of a long cigarette. "I've got over 4,600 wins and my goal has always been to get over 5,000. When I went out (in 1995), I was on top of my game."

That's how Marsh would like to leave next time, but on his own terms.

Ron Marsh's progress toward 5,000 career wins continues this weekend with a scheduled drive aboard Spiralscruzngsarah (15-1) in Saturday night's $108,000 Dygert Memorial Trot Stakes. A longshot, like that of his driver's comeback, Spiralscruzngsarah opens from the inside with a shot to set an early pace, which should see Marsh come out firing.

The ninth race of a live 12-race harness card at Hawthorne features a highly competitive field of ten led by trainer Perry Smith's duo entry of Columbus Hanover (3-1) and Yankee Douglas (3-1). Columbus Hanover was a beaten favorite in his elimination last week, finishing third. Yankee Douglas closed for second in his elimination.

The fact that former Breeders' Crown champion Cameron Hall did not qualify for this weekend's final leaves the field -- and result -- wide open.

Owner/driver Homer Hochstetler's Life's A Holiday (7-2) was in great form last week with an 8 3/4-length elimination win. He'll break from post six.

Others competing for a piece of the purse include Dream Lavec (9-2); Will Sikes (6-1); and Hochhauser (8-1).


As a prep for Saturday's big night of races at Hawthorne, Friday night will include an exhibition race between several past greats such as Daryl Busse, Walter Paisley, Del Insko, Howard Bessinger and Connel Willis. The "Master of the Reins" festivities will include an autograph session before the races with the former great drivers and several trainers such as Joe Anderson, Stanley Banks and Robert Farrington.




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