The Kentucky State Racing Commission's meeting room in Lexington has this warm, down-home, Southern comfort air about it, so that any second you expect Colonel Sanders to walk in with a chicken leg in one hand and a bourbon and branch water in the other. The walls are paneled and there is thick green carpeting, a long conference table and a fireplace beneath a portrait of Nashua. Here last week the commission invited in a couple of friends—aren't all Kentucky horsemen friends?—for a little t�te-�-t�te about their curious behavior in the hectic hours after word leaked out that Dancer's Image had been replaced as winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby. The tenor of the brief hearing was pretty well captured in this exchange between Assistant State Attorney General George Rabe, who was representing the commission, and Trainer Doug Davis Jr.:
Rabe: "Did you bet on the race?"
Davis: "Yes, I bet $5 on Forward Pass."
Rabe: "So did I."
Davis: "Well, we didn't collect, did we?"
It was Davis who testified previously that on Monday, May 6, he informed the trainer of Dancer's Image, Lou Cavalaris, that his horse had been discovered to have won the race under the influence of Butazolidin. It was also Davis who, after talking with Cavalaris in a Louisville motel, collaborated with the veterinarian who treated Dancer's Image, Dr. Alex Harthill, in the now-famous "salting" scheme. And it was on this scheme—its origin, purpose and execution—that the commission met to quiz Davis and Harthill last week. As explained by the two men, first at the Churchill Downs' stewards' hearing May 13-15, and again before the commission last week, the story goes this way:
Davis, a big, boisterous man who is popular among Kentucky horsemen, had his string of horses stabled at the Downs in a barn next to Barn 24, where Dancer's Image was in residence and where Harthill maintains a laboratory. On the afternoon of May 6, Davis saw security agents from the track and the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, Inc. "shaking down" the stall of Dancer's Image. He was told by Cavalaris' assistant, Robert Barnard,. that Dancer's Image had tested positive. Unable to reach Cavalaris, who was visiting farms in central Kentucky, Davis left an open phone call for him at the Brown Suburban Hotel.
Cavalaris finally returned the call, heard the news from Davis, and hurried over to Davis' room at the Standiford Hotel. According to Davis, Cavalaris arrived "in a very emotional state...professing his honesty, pacing up and down the room, at times crying, beating his fists on the table." Then, said Davis, Cavalaris twice asked him if he thought Harthill could have given Dancer's Image some of the medication, either by mistake or on purpose. "By this time," Davis says, "I was pretty convinced that Mr. Cavalaris was hunting someone...to share the responsibility." And, Davis added, if Harthill "wasn't elected, he was damn sure nominated."
So Davis thought up the scheme that was labeled last week by his own attorney, Millard Cox, as "phantasmagoria." Davis said he proposed to Harthill that they go out to Barn 24 and doctor the feed of Dancer's Image with a white substance, ostensibly Butazolidin but actually aspirin. This would be done in the presence of Cavalaris and Barnard. The idea was that it would provide the reason why the drug had been found in the horse: someone—unknown—had put it in the feed before the Derby. The thinking of Davis and Harthill was that if Cavalaris and Barnard were guilty, they would go along with the scheme, only to be exposed by Harthill and Davis. If innocent, however, Cavalaris would report the "salting" immediately, and then Harthill and Davis could get off the hook by showing they were only using aspirin. "My motive was to protect my friend Alex," said Davis. Said Harthill, "We didn't want to frame this man, we just wanted to test him."
How Cavalaris reacted to the scheme is not easily discernible. Cavalaris testified at the stewards' hearing that when he found out what was going on he told Harthill, "I don't want nothing to do with this, Doc." However, Davis told the commission, "We wanted to give this man a chance to be dishonest, which he did readily." The Louisville Courier-Journal quoted Davis as calling Cavalaris "a damn liar."