The Daily Racing Form is beginning to read a bit like the Police Gazette. A juicy new scandal arises almost every day.
West Virginia officials have uncovered evidence that a ringer -- a good horse running under the name of a poor one -- won a recent trifecta race at Waterford Park.
Illinois authorities are investigating a ringer case at Hawthorne Race Track. And they believe the tainted race may be linked to the arson that destroyed the Chicago track two weeks ago.
In New Jersey, six jockeys and three trainers are being tried for racefixing that was supposedly orchestrated by confessed master fixer Tony Ciulla.
New York racing fans and officials are waiting to see what happens as a result of Ciulla's allegations -- published in Sports Illustrated -- that he bribed some of that state's best-known riders to lose races.
This current epidemic of scandals follows close behind last year's sensational ringer case at Belmont Park, and not long after the 1975 St. Valentine's Day fix at Bowie, which led to the criminal convictions of four riders. The frequency of such misdeeds might reasonably make a racing fan ask: Is the sport hopelessly corrupt?
Certainly, race-track larceny is not a new phenomenon; the betting coups and ringer scandals of the 1920s make their modern counterparts look tame by comparison. And the larceny always will occur, as long as there are large sums of untraceable cash to be made at the track.
People with larceny in their hearts know it is easier to make a dishonest dollar in racing than in almost any other activity. There is plenty of untraceable cash in gambling casinos, too, but we rarely read about scandals in Las Vegas because the casinos vigilantly safeguard their interests.
In racing, it is the public's money that is being robbed, and nobody in the sport seems highly motivated to protect the public.
This, to me, is the most offensive aspect of race-track dishonesty. I can feel a bit of admiration for crooks who labor and plan for months so they can cash an illicit wager. Mark Gerard, the mastermind of the Belmont Park ringer coup, got my vote for the Eclipse Award as the Owner of the Year.
The real scandal in racing is the willingness of the sport's officials, who are charged with protecting the public, to overlook and tolerate dishonesty.
When any form of race-track larceny occurs, something happens on the track that ought to stir suspicion -- a surprisingly bad performance by a horse, an unenergetic ride by a jockey, an unusual pattern of betting. Intelligent, observant horse players see these things every day. Ciulla, the confessed race-fixer, says they did happen almost every day. Yet racing stewards never seem to see anything. Almost all of these revelations about fixes and ringers have been unearthed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
One day at Saratoga, I saw the most blatant imaginable bit of misconduct during a race. A prominent jockey had the lead along the rail in midstretch when he stood up, yanked his horse outside and let another rider (who happened to be his closest friend) inside him, enabling the friend to win. Afterward, I asked one of the New York stewards if they planned to question the jockey. He looked at me as if I were a raving paranoiac. I thought he must be blind.
But a more celebrated case is New York revealed that the problem with their stewards is neither blindness nor stupidity. When New York improved its drug-testing procedures, some of the most prestigious trainers in the state were caught for giving their horses illegal medications. The stewards did not castigate these horsemen, or even punish them. They practically apologized to the trainers for causing them such embarrassment.
The stewards simply did not want to rock the boat. And this is the prevailing philosophy of racing officials in most states, including Maryland. They are more concerned with protecting the public image of the sport, with avoiding a scandal, than they are with safeguarding the public from thieving jockeys and trainers. And so long as that attitude prevails, the scandals will continue.