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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


On the sixth day of hearings Rice’s lawyer said to them, “one overworked phrase… no quid pro quo.”

The above quote comes from Andrew Turro Esq. to New York State Gaming Commission officials at a hearing in which trainer Linda Rice is accused of “actions inconsistent with, and detrimental to, the best interest of racing and corrupt and improper acts and practices in relation to racing.”

Getting races to fill on a daily basis is based on questionable acts and practices in which lines can be so blurred as to be opaque, a traditional way of doing business that has become part and parcel of the game. I know how it works because I was there.   

Back in the day, in a decade long, long ago, I worked on the NYRA press staff. Belmont was closed for reconstruction at the time and it was all Big A–all the time. It was so long ago that entries were drawn 24 hours in advance.

Only Mondays were dark and there were no past performances available in advance. Horseplayers would have to wait until the night before when the Morning Telegraph was delivered by truck to local newsstands all around town.  

One of my tasks was to transcribe the speed figures of the late Pat Lynch on work sheets made available in the press box for the next day’s races. Lynch was a former Journal-American columnist and handicapper turned NYRA Vice-President of Communications.

The only way public handicappers could make selections was through painstaking use of ”chart books:” Race 1 on JAN 1st was #1, the ninth race that day was #9. On Day 2 of the meet, the day’s first race was #10 in the chart book, etc., etc.

Every day, handicappers scissored off the back-page of the broadsheet and pasted result charts into their own journals, which were big ledgers that most accountants used. A year’s worth of races on the NYRA circuit, even in a shortened season, would fill one and a half ledgers.

During my tenure, mornings started in the Racing Office as the next day’s races were being drawn. There were nine races per day and the feature was always the eighth race. There were no horizontal pools to consider and management wanted horseplayers to stick around until the card ended.

Most often, races filled routinely and entries closed in a timely fashion, usually before 11 am. But many races had to be “hustled,” especially short-field allowance spots, perhaps when a member of NYRA’s Board of Trustees needed a prep for “the big hoss.”

By no means were high-class allowance races the only ones that needed hustling. At the time, attendance and handle figures were big news, leading virtually every story and not just in the trade papers. My seat in the racing office was about 10 feet from the assistant racing secretary’s desk.

After the races were drawn, they were “smoked”—a double-check of eligibility conditions, correct weights, etc. I would take the completed race and phone the data via headset up to the press box where it was typed and mimeograph for distribution after adding the most recent race number next to the horse’s name.

I’ve seen my share of hustled races. I heard entry clerks offer hints, some subtle, some not so much, as to what the competition might look like. “Yeah… Neloy’s got one in there” they might say, meaning you had a Phipps runner to beat. If you helped a race to “go,” the racing office owed you one.

Racing sausage is still made this way but that does not exonerate Rice or the entry clerks. Rice termed the money she paid a gift, no different than what she valets or assistant starters. But whatever term, the effect is the same; it’s a quid pro quo and it is “tampering with a sporting event.”

But according to transcripts, reported testimony from senior racing office officials stated that entry clerks are not permitted to give out the name of a horse or name of a trainer when “hustling” entries.

However, clerks are permitted to divulge information about the expected pace or comparative talents of pre-draw entrants, including finish positions.

How is that testimony not in conflict? If I want to run my speed horse and I find out that there are four other speed horses signed on, my horse is  staying in the barn.

Two trainers testified that they have been given names of trainers and horses pre-draw if a clerk was pushing hard to fill a race. One said he also uses a software program that keeps track of conditions, adding that if a race he was considering a race and it went with eight horses, he could have guessed at five of them.

Whatever happens to Rice, entry clerks Jose Morales and Matt Salvato got the Dutrow treatment, a 10-year suspension for taking the money that was offered. What will happen to the trainer who offered the money during this period, from 2011-2015? Talk about justice denied.

There’s another element in this case that doesn’t make sense.  There were approximately a dozen IP addresses listed in the transcript of others who allegedly received emails. Who are they? Why is Rice being singled out?

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Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

7 Responses

  1. JP,
    Your description of how things “worked” in the good old days was intriguing, but it’s hard for me to muster outrage at this latest racing “scandal” while so many people still ignore the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 without available hospital beds to deal with any medical emergency they might face.

    Perhaps the appropriate response to both failures to act responsibly should be “discouragement” using a “painless” riding crop.

  2. I,

    Some mixed messaging there. If you’re referring to outbreak of Covid that closed Golden Gate Fields, LA has been shut down at night as Cali is experiencing an outbreak worse that the first wave, according to reports I read. So let’s not lay this one on racing.

    Mark B virtually said the same in response; his comment inadvertently deleted, my apologies on that–bad keystroke…

    Finally, I am all for the use of Ramon’s painless riding crop, and sensible whip-use mandates. Most reasonable people are.

    If truth be told, I consider the whole Rice affair small potatoes compared to what appears to be continued rampant use of PEDs. The sooner the Feds get involved–with all its attendant logistical difficulties–the better.

    Of course, this all depends on when the rule of law will be restored in this country. Hard to be patient when people are dying in record numbers every day.

    1. JP,
      I’m not laying anything on racing. Its shoulders are not broad enough as it is.

      That said, it’s hard to give racing a lot of credit for doing the right thing when forced to
      from the outside as opposed to making things better from within.

      The revelation of your anonymous return deprives us of the opportunity to determine
      whether or not your words are as important as who you are. LOL

      However, I’ll take whatever I can get.

      1. I,

        First. I double checked the IP address and comment was not from MB. In retrospect, glad I spiked it, even if it seemed quasi relevant at the time…

        Oh, so a business or industry doing the right thing from within, transparency et al? Can’t see why not, not with so much generosity being commonplace in today’s world…

  3. John: In my former professional life ( now retired), I was a Quasi-Judicial official in the New York State Court system. In other words, I had Judicial responsibilities, although not as an Justice of the Unified Court System. As you note, way back when, in the last century, the lines of
    legally acceptable conduct were somewhat blurred. Nevertheless, when offered a “gift” ( a/k/a-CASH) at Christmas time, from attorneys who appeared in front of me, I returned the “gift” 100% of the time. I am not relating this story to promote my ethical conduct, rather to observe that, as you related, the “old” way of doing business was not ever the moral or ethical way to do such business.
    When one is in a position of power or authority, especially, in a public position of trust, you owe the public ( as well as yourself) the knowledge that justice is blind. Just because everyone thinks that all Judges, Stewards, Politicians, etc, are on the take, means that one has to be so cynical as to prove the conspiracy theorists correct. When one is in a position of authority, you have the obligation to be as pure as the driven snow.
    All that being said, I agree with you, that what Linda Rice did is not the most heinous crime ever committed in racing. She should be suspended but not for a term greater than a year. As far as the racing officials are concerned, I do not have much sympathy. For all of the reasons stated, they should have been prosecuted and should not be permitted to return to any job with official responsibility. I worked with and personally knew some of the Judges who were removed from office and prosecuted for bribery. Such conduct violated more than the letter of the law, in so far as Judicial bribery undermines the public’s faith in a Judicial system that is designed to be fair to all whose business must be litigated therein. The public’s belief that racing is being conducted on a fair and equitable playing field requires no less.

  4. Philosophically, I cannot disagree with anything you said. I just find it hard to believe, given the amount of IP addresses in the transcript, that Ms. Rice was the only one. That far from absolves anything the clerks might have done; all should be rooted out if they committed unethical/illegal acts but that goes for any other horsemen who might have offered “gifts.”

    But until the alleged widespread use of designer PEDs is exposed and those violators punished, not even racing’s biggest fans should ever accept that it is a wink-and-nod way of conducting business. There’s so much work to do…

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