Former jockey Ben Feliciano, convicted and jailed for six months after a Bowie race-fixing scandal, was granted a license to exercise horses by the Maryland Racing Commission on a 3-2 vote today.
Feliciano and fellow jockeys Eric Walsh, Luigi Gino and Jesse Davidson were fould guilty of fixing a triple race on St. Valentine's Day in 1975. Walsh committed suicide while appealing the conviction; Gino, Davidson and Feliciano served sentences in federal prison. Davidson and Gino since have been reinstated, Gino as a trainer and Davidson as an exercise rider.
After the Bowie, evidence in New York trials revealed that Feliciano had admitted accepting bribes for twice holding back horses in races at Saratoga in August 1974. Former jockey Con Errico was convicted of paying Feliciano $7,500 to restrain those horses.
The former attorney general of Maryland, Francis P. Burch, said of Feliciano, "My client has proved by his hard work since his incarceration and his unqualified cooperation with the New York Strike Force and racing authorities that he is aware of the severity of his past misdeeds. I have a list of 67 of the most prominent names in racing that have petitioned this commission for Feliciano's reinstatement as a licensed exercise rider. He has paid his debt to society and now wants his son to gain from his past experience as a top jockey for almost 20 years."
Ben Jeliciano Jr., 16, is exercising horses at Pimlico and is expected to apply for an apprentice license before reaching his 17th birthday.
Commissioner Frank Cucchia, whose term on the commission ends next month, said, "We gave the other boys a chance, I believe that Feliciano should get the same treatment. Some fine people have testified that they believe that Feliciano has changed and I'm willing to give him a second chance."
But Commision Chairman Bob Banning said, "The integrity of racing is what is on trial here. Feliciano committed one of the worst crimes on the race track: he fixed races. That is an error too grave to allow."