Page 191 of the 1977 American Racing Manual lists the "Lifetime Records of Leading Jockeys." Willie Shoemaker leads the parade with more than 7,000 victories, followed by John Longden, Eddie Arcaro, Steve Brooks, Walter Blum and Bill Hartack. Forty-five names are on the page. Jesse Davidson's is the 44th.
The line on Davidson showed he rode for 19 years, accepted 14,429 mounts and won with 2,405 for a percentage of 16.7. The horses he rode earned $6,303,086.
A set of parenthesis also reveals that Davidson last rode in 1975.
Davidson's career was shortened considerably because of the ninth race at Bowie on Valentine's Day three years ago today.He was on Cece Belle.
"She wasn't much horse," Davidson later testified. "She'd run for $5,000 against state-breds and now she was jumpin' to $7,500 open maiden claiming . . . (Luigi) Gino came over and asked me that afternoon if I like my horse in the triple. I told him no. Gino said he'd handicapped the race and that he'd talked to some of the other riders and they didn't like the horses they were riding, and that he'd talked to one who did."
Gino proposed a box on the 12-2-2 combination. Davidson agreed.
"The 12 and the 8 looked good on paper. With what he'd been told bout the 2 it looked good, too," Davidson testified. "I gave him $92 for five tickets."
The 8-12-2 paid $927.30.
"Why did you bet?" Davidson was asked by his attorney.
"It was a great temptation," the jockey responded. "I knew I was in violation of the commission rules by betting against my horse . . . but I didn't like my horse at all."
The attorney: "Did Gino ask you to pull your horse?"
Attorney: "Did anyone ask you to pull your horse?"
Attorney: "Did you intend to pull your horse?"
Attorney: "Did you intend to do anything less than your best (in riding Cece Belle)?"
Davidson: "My intention was to do the best 'could . . . which is what I did."
Cece Belle finished eighth in the field of 12 as the 5-to-1 third choice. Jockeys Davidson, Gino, Ben Feliciano and Eric Walsh eventually were convicted inf ederal court of sports fixing and sports bribery. Walsh committed suicide, Davidson and Feliciano, after losing appeals, each served more than four months at the Allenwood, Pa., prison.
The Maryland Racing Commission suspended the jockeys for five years each, through May 21, 1980. John Baboolal, an unindicted coconspirator, is suspended from riding through Sept. 21, 1980. Carles Jiminez, a jockey who testified against the other riders, was reinstated after being out of action for one year.
Feliciano is working on a horse farm in Florida. Gino was last seen working with a road crew.
Davidson, now 36, appealed to the commission to be reinstated. Last week, by a 3-2 vote, the board turned him down. None of the members favored Davidson returning to the track as a jockey. But Don Levinson and Frank Cuccia voted to permit him to return to racing in some capacity, perhaps as an exercise boy in the mornings.
"I know you don't let an embezzler return to the cashier's cage," Cuccia commented. "But you can let him earn a living. You can let him sweep the floor."
Levinson said, "The fact so many people came out in support of Jesse, people with integrity, whose reputations I respect, caused me to vote for his return - not to ride, but to come back to the trak to work."
Cuccia and Levinson apparently were prepared to extend the same welcome to Feliciano, Gino and Baboolal.
Many of the horsemen who supported Davidson's reinstatement bid believe he should be permitted to ride in competition again.
That is the odd thing about the racing business. A little larceny is at the heart of so much of the game, even though a little larceny is like a little cancer. Horsemen have been known, on occasion to instruct jockeys to do less than their best on their horses. Horsemen have been known to bet on horses other than their own in a race. How, then, can horsemen judge convicted jockeys too harshly?
So many comments of recent weeks seem to take it for granted that the Valentine's day's jockeys were telling the truth when they said they didn't pull their mounts that day: That they bet their money (a total of $684), then went out and tried to lose their $634 instead of possibly winning $35,237.40.
A Baltimore jury decided that the riders rode for their money that day, not against it. If that is correct, then Davidson, Feliciano, Gino, Walsh, Baboolal and Jiminez committed a daring daylight robbery at Bowie on Feb. 14, 1975. They held 38 of the winning bettors lost that day. Imagine what the 8-12-2 would have paid had the jockeys stayed out of the pari-mutual pool on the triple!
Davidson evokes more sympathy from horsemen than Feliciano or Gino, partly because of his background and partly because of his quiet personality.
"I quit school in Manchester, Ky., after the fifth grade," he told the jury. "I read fairly well; I can't write too good. I left the farm and ridin' mules when I was 16 to go to Ohio to learn to be a jockey.I first rode when I was 17, in the bushes, at the bottom of the bucket."
By 1965, Davidson had scored more victories that season than any other race rider in the country, a total of 319. A few years later he was "doing good" in New York, occasionally riding such major stakes performers as Shuvee.
Davison rose from the bottom to the top of the bucket. He made excellent money. He knew the rules of the game. He knew right from wrong. He knew on Feb. 14, 1975, he was violating one of racings most basic rules.
"The commission owes all those people who were out there that day all the integrity we can give them," Robert Banning, commission chairman, said after voting with the majority against Davidson's appeal last week. It was a good vote.
If the horsemen and friends who support Davidson really want to help him they should go to their wealthy or well-to-do owners and ask them not all commission, to help give the former jockey a new start in life. That would be an excellent gesture, one that Davidson deserves. He should not, however, be permitted back in racing. He blew that privilege three years ago today on Cece Belle in the last racce at Bowie.