"Have you ever been offered money to fix a horse race?" the prosecutor began the questioning of leadoff witness Mike Venezia in the race-fixing trial of Con Errico. With the beginning of the trial, the recent bribery investigations sweeping thoroughbred tracks swung from small time to big time.
"Yes," replied Venezia, 35, a veteran rider who heads the Jockeys Guild. "In Saratoga in 1974."
Q. "Who offered you?"
A. "Con Errico offered me . . . I believe it was in the jocks' room at Saratoga . . . He came in (and) said I could get $7,500 not to try particularly hard."
A jury of six men and women was seated earlier yesterday to try Errico, 58, a stakes-winning rider 1944-68, on charges of bribing some of the nation's best riders to fix several races at Aqueduct and Saratoga in 1974 and 1975. Jockeys Ben Feliciano and Jose Amy are expected to follow Venezia to the stand.
Venezia said he rejected the bribe offer, and he quoted Errico as telling him, "Don't be foolish. There are other people making good money . . . He made a reference to certain riders, Latin American riders . . ." Famed names among them, names the racing world waits to hear dropped for eventual vindication, or otherwise, as having "pulled" (held back) horses at the behest of fixers pivoting on Errico . . .
The more of these items that cross the desk, the less one begrudges the Leonards and Alis the big paydays: Boxer John Wilburn in "critical but stable" condition in a Smithtown, N.Y., hospital three days since suffering a head injury, with numbness in his right leg, when stopped by Eddie Davis in a light heavyweight bout Friday night . . . Lightweight fighter Ralph Racine scheduled for a brain scan today in Montreal to determine his changes for full recovery after removal of a blood clot from his brain. He emerged from a coma over the weekend and thereafter showed slow but steady improvement, acording to the family of the 23-year-old knocked out by Canadian champion Gaetan Hart on Wednesday night. Progress, at least, to semiconsciousness . . .
The Supreme Court refused yesterday to revive a challenge to the NCAA limits on financial aid for student athletes -- and thus left intact an apparently unprecedented ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that students denied a place on a college team cannot turn to the federal courts for help.
Turned away was Clifford Wiley, world-class sprinter caught on the horns of an athletic scholarship worth $2,621 for tuition, fees, room, board and books, and a federal Basic Educational Opportunity Grant of $1,400. Wiley is one of nine children from what one court described as a "desperately poor" Baltimore family. His combined aid after enrolling at the University of Kansas in 1974 led to the NCAA declaring him ineligible in the spring of 1976, his sophomore year.
Wiley won a court decision in 1976 saving his right to compete, and had finished his senior competition before the appeals court overturned that lower court ruling . . .
Monday, May 19, John Thompson will receive a special award at the Boys' Clubs of Greater Washington annual banquet, Touchdown Club. "For his guidance to the youth of metropolitan Washington" within and without his basketball coaching at Georgetown, and previously, St. Anthony's. Check the Jelleff Boys and Girls Club or the TD Club, whose Tom Hurney surfaces again as toastmaster . . .
Take it from two sources in a position to know, the Colorado Rockies have not, despite reports, made U.S. Olympic hockey-winning Herb Brooks an offer to coach them off the NHL rocks. (1) Coach Don Cherry says the owners of the Denver-based club assured him they are not after Brooks to replace him; (2) the president of the Swiss champion HC Davos, which signed Brooks last month to a two-year coaching contract, says the former U. of Minnesota mentor has told them to ignore the reports from the United States that he might change his mind.