SI Vault
 
MY FEUDS WITH OFFICIALS AND THE PRESS
Bill Hartack
April 03, 1967
There's always been a great deal of talk about my arrogance and my resentment of authority. I guess I make an issue out of it. After I'd been riding about a year and a half and had lost the bug, I was back at Charles Town and there was a steward there named Snooks Winters, and Snooks was about as tough a steward as there ever was. He absolutely made up his own mind, and that's exactly how it had to be.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 03, 1967

My Feuds With Officials And The Press

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

There's always been a great deal of talk about my arrogance and my resentment of authority. I guess I make an issue out of it. After I'd been riding about a year and a half and had lost the bug, I was back at Charles Town and there was a steward there named Snooks Winters, and Snooks was about as tough a steward as there ever was. He absolutely made up his own mind, and that's exactly how it had to be.

The thing that really bugged me was an incident involving Junie Corbin, who had never had a black mark against him—he was always on time to the paddock, and I don't recall him ever having a fine. He had never done anything that I could say was dishonest. He liked to gamble, but not a great sum. If he really liked a horse he'd put $50 on him, which isn't a heckuva lot of money if you like a horse and you're training him.

I won a race for him on a horse called Spring Lark. When the urine or saliva test came back, it was positive—the horse was hopped. Now this steward, Snooks, had known Junie Corbin for I don't know how many years, because he raced around there all the time. Junie felt real bad because the test was positive and we had no idea who did it. One shady character had been hanging around our barn area, and I remember seeing him talking to our groom. He was the only person around who could possibly have done that thing, but there was no way you could prove it.

Junie came up to me and said, "Well, the only thing I have going for me is that Winters knows that I have never done anything wrong. When it comes time for the hearing before the racing commission, Winters will certainly speak up for me." Then he added, "I want you to be in the jocks' room. The investigation will be held after the races. I want you to be on hand so that you can testify in my behalf also."

So they had the hearing. I waited in the jocks' room and wasn't about to try to walk into the hearing. I sat there waiting for someone to call me in the jocks' room for an hour after the races were over. No one ever called me. And finally, when there was no one around anymore, I left and went home. I called Junie, and he said the hearing was over and that he got six months. I said, "You got six months! For what?" He replied, "Because when I went into the stewards' office all they did was tell me to prove that I didn't hop the horse. How could I prove it? If I thought he was hopped, I wouldn't have run him."

So I was hot. I was absolutely hot. This was, I think, on a Saturday night, and I was really flipping. Junie was absolutely sick because he was suspended for six months. No way in the world to make a livelihood. The next morning I was sitting in a restaurant having breakfast when Snooks and a man from the Daily Racing Form came in and I flipped my lid. There must have been 30 or 40 people in the restaurant, including my father and sister, and I had it out with Snooks for about 15 minutes. He got hot, too, and he started hollering back at me, and I guess it went round and round. On Monday they called me into the stewards' room. The funny part about it was that they had to hold up the first race for about 15 minutes because they were grilling me so long. A second steward in there wanted to remove me from my horses that very same day for not using respect to Mr. Winters. So they practically had me that time. One of the things that Snooks said was, "Why are you defending this man? Why are you sticking your nose into something that isn't your business?" I said, "Well, that man is my business—that man's been like a father to me. I'm defending him because he didn't do anything wrong. And why shouldn't I defend him? I have a right to defend him." We then got into why I hadn't been called into the hearing, and they said they looked for me but couldn't find me. I said, "Don't lie to me. You're not kidding anybody. You didn't call me for one minute." The second steward absolutely jumped down my throat. "Who do you think you are?" he said. "Don't you know stewards deserve respect?" I said, "What did the stewards ever do for me? Did the stewards ever buy me clothes? Did the stewards ever give me something to eat? Did the stewards ever give me a job? You're telling me how great the stewards are. What did they ever do for me? This man Corbin took me from nothing and made me something and you expect me to back down on his behalf?"

That was one of my first battles with authority. The only time I battled with them is when I knew they were wrong. And they were. When my boss had to take that suspension it really hurt him bad—financially and mentally. After that he sold my contract for $15,000 to the Ada L. Rice stable.

I believe in authority when authority is right, but when authority is wrong they should be man enough to admit it and they're often not man enough. When you prove they're wrong, that's the worst thing you can do, because then they hate you for the rest of your life. They're just waiting for one little situation to come up so they can really nail you to the cross. Yeah, racing is really wonderful at times. All in all, racing has been great. But I've put as much time and effort into it as anybody. They didn't give me anything. I won everything that I got. I fought for it. I don't mind the competition. I don't mind it as long as it's fair. I'll stand on my own two feet as long as it's fair but, man, don't try to jam something down my throat that's wrong, and don't try to get me to compromise and say it's all right, 'cause if you do you're gonna get nothing. I don't care if I ruin myself.

There is a good deal of talk these days about things being done for the so-called "good of racing." In 1964, for example, Milo Valenzuela said he dropped his suit for the good of racing. That was really beautiful. What Milo is saying is, "Don't bring racing into headlines badly, because it will hurt racing." And that's so false, it's pathetic, because the only way you'll make racing good is to bring everything out in the open so the bad parts can be remedied.

[In September 1964 at Chicago's Arlington Park, Mrs. Mary Hecht, through her trainer, Les Lear, engaged Valenzuela to ride her good 2-year-old Sadair in the rich Arlington-Washington Futurity. Two days before the race, Jockey Bill Shoemaker's mount was sidelined by illness, and Trainer Lear, neglecting his obligation to Milo—who had taken himself off another mount in a stakes at Aqueduct in order to come to Arlington—signed Shoemaker on Sadair. Valenzuela appeared at Arlington to signify his willingness to stand by the agreement, but all he received for his journey was a customary losing jock's fee and the added insult of being denied entry to the jocks' room. After first threatening suit against Sadair's owner for breach of a verbal contract, Milo decided not to press charges. Shoemaker, meanwhile, won the Futurity, and with it a 10% cut of $134,925.]

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5