- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
SHAME AT YONKERS
The sport of harness racing broke stride again last week when seven drivers at Yonkers (N.Y.) Raceway were suspended pending an investigation into the fourth race on Nov. 14, which yielded a suspiciously low payoff on the triple. Falcons Mann, an 18-1 shot, led the whole way and won by half a length over 2-1 choice Hobart Star, with Handy Yankee, which went off at 6-1, third. Logically that combination on a $3 triple wager should have paid from $1,000 to $1,500, but the payoff was only $192 because there was an inordinately large amount of money bet on the winning combination at off-track betting locations. Jim Michaels, the presiding judge at Yonkers, says that even while the race was in progress, he and the two other judges were questioning the performances of the drivers. "Then when the prices went up, the small triple payoff confirmed our suspicions that there was something wrong with the race," says Michaels.
Something, it appears, has really gone wrong in the world of trotters and pacers. The Yonkers scandal follows a similarly suspect race on Oct. 1 at Garden State Park in Cherry Hill, N.J. Seven drivers from that race were suspended. In September the Los Angeles Herald Examiner published a three-part report on the troubled state of harness racing in California. In that series, written by Andy Furillo, a trainer estimated that one race per night was fixed at Fairplex Park in Pomona. In the past 10 years the harness racing industry in California has suffered a 50% decrease in both attendance and wagering, and some of the financial crisis can be attributed to a credibility crisis. A decline, though less severe, is also being felt nationwide. "Our Number 1 problem is integrity and image," Phil Tully, president of Garden State Standardbred Sales, told SI's Bruce Selcraig. "If the public doesn't think this game is on the level, we'll all suffer."
That's one reason Yonkers and the New York State Racing and Wagering Board acted so swiftly and forcefully against the seven drivers. Henri Filion, younger brother of Hall of Fame driver Herv� Filion, was originally suspended for 90 days by the state for "driving in a manner inconsistent with an attempt to win." Filion's horse, 9-10 favorite Pan Am Sam, finished fifth. Mike LaChance, who has more wins this year than any other driver in the nation, Joe Marsh Jr., Jimmy Marohn, Ren� Poulin, Jay Randall and William Bresnahan were each suspended 30 days for "lack of effort." The only driver not suspended was the winner, Leo Bauer. The drivers were granted temporary stays against the state suspensions, but Yonkers has revoked their driving privileges indefinitely. "This in no way infers guilt on any individual," said Robert Galterio, general manager of Yonkers.
While Galterio was being careful in his pronouncement, and the drivers, to a man, denied any wrongdoing, Herman Kluge, the director of investigations for the state racing board, did not mince words: "Yes, I believe it to be a fixed race. In fact, it was blatant. If you saw the way the race was run, it was an insult to the intelligence."
Instead of becoming one of harness racing's darkest moments, that fourth race could turn out to be a blessing if other tracks follow the lead of Yonkers. Harness tracks could be much more vigilant and particular about their drivers and trainers; Furillo pointed out in one of his articles that Rick Piano, one of the leading drivers in California, has run afoul of racing officials in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. The racing commissions should also increase suspensions and fines enough to deter seriously any temptation to fix.
WORKING FOR PEANUTS
While growing up in Greenville, Ohio, Ed Olwine dreamed of pitching in the big leagues. Tossing baseballs? Well, yes, that too. But first and foremost, Olwine wanted to pitch peanuts—to sell snacks at pro games.
Olwine has realized both ambitions this year. Not only did he stick with the Atlanta Braves as a lefty in their bullpen, but he also got an off-season job hawking peanuts, popcorn and soda pop at Atlanta Hawks basketball games in the Omni. Olwine, who earned the major league minimum of $62,500 last season, averages about $45 a night as a vendor, but he's not in it for the money as much as for the thrill.
"My first night I was nervous," he says, "but I could relate to that since I had been through it when I pitched. Now I like it. I get pumped up before games, and I'm confident of my abilities. It's tough, though. Nothing easy about going up and down those steps. I get some strange looks out there, but I'm still intrigued by the hustling part of it, just as I was as a kid."