From his office on Broadway, Mike Warren issues hot tips to the world.
The Baltimore-based tout moves his operation here for the Saratoga racing season after a blitz of mail advertising to his roster of potential clients (or what cynics might describe as a sucker list).
"How would you like to make $2,500 on Saturday, Aug. 8 . . . at Saratoga, the track Mike Warren Sports owns . . . his information is so powerful that it's worth many times the price we are asking . . . We are giving you this sensational three-horse killing for the incredibly low price of $15."
By Warren's standards, this was a somewhat low-key pitch. In the past, his come-ons have usually hinted that he possesses inside information about betting coups. One of his promised stable coups a few years ago turned out to be General Assembly, the most talked about 2-year-old in America, who paid $2.60 when he won the Hopeful Stakes.
Many aspects of Warren's operation may be questionable. But this month Warren's methods became the object of wider interest when the Maryland Racing Commission licensed him to run horses in the state.
What kind of racing officials would grant their seal of approval to someone in the business of selling information about betting coups?
Answer: the same soft-hearted or soft-headed officials who accept convicted race-fixers.
During the past year, the Maryland Racing Commission has granted licenses to three of the former jockeys who went to prison for fixing the triple race at Bowie on St. Valentine's Day in 1975. When one of them, Ben Feliciano, was given a license as an exercise rider earlier this summer, Pimlico General Manager Chick Lang issued a forthright (and courageous) denunciation of the commission.
"It seems that whenever the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau does its job, higher authorities come along and undo it," Lang complained. "It's incredible to me and to 99 out of 100 patrons that I talk to that (Luigi Gino, Ben Feliciano and Jesse Davidson) and many others over the recent years have been granted licenses . . . What kind of example are we setting when we allow back on the track individuals who were found guilty of trying to cheat the public? It's no wonder that racing fans are becoming more and more disgusted with our sport every day."
After the commission's vote, Pimlico took matters into its own hands, barring Feliciano from the track grounds as an undesirable. Courts have generally upheld such actions on the grounds that racetracks are private property, but anyone who cares about basic civil liberties has to worry about such an approach. It is much too easily abused.
Last year, a horse owner named Gomer Evans had been suspected of bookmaking on the premises of Louisiana Downs, and had been refused permission to race his horses at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. So he went before the Arkansas Racing Commission and refuted the charges. The commission concluded that "all evidence against him was hearsay" and ordered Oaklawn to grant Evans a license. The track did so, but then promptly barred Evans from the track as an undesirable, thus circumventing all due process or simple fairness.
There have been far worse abuses of the track's power to bar undesirables. A decade ago, Waterford Park ejected three riders for no reason -- except that the three all happened to be officers of the Jockeys Guild. Permitting racetrack officials to play the role of judge and jury is no way to police the sport. Deciding who may be licensed as an owner, trainer or jockey is a proper function of the state and its racing commission, unless, as in Maryland, that commission happens to have a soft spot for hustlers.