In its efforts to assure the public that the sport can manage its own affairs efficiently, racing's establishment has had a spotty record, at best. The mishmash resulting from the drugging of Dancer's Image before the Kentucky Derby—a mystery no closer to solution than the day the deed was done—is only the most recent case in point.
A generation or so ago, before racing had become a multimillion-dollar sport-industry and while The Jockey Club still enjoyed dictatorial powers over all licensees, an infringement of the rules could lead to a man being banned for life, with no appeal possible. Now with what seems to be dreary regularity, more of the sport's major decisions are being made in courts of law than by horsemen. And at conventions of the National Association of State Racing Commissioners, such as the one held in Los Angeles last month, more time is spent in debate over permissive medication, pension plans for officials and the unionization of jockeys than on matters affecting the huge public stake in racing.
In the 32 states where pari-mutuel wagering on Thoroughbred horses is legal, each governor has the responsibility of appointing qualified men to serve as racing commissioner or as members of what some states call horse racing boards. These boards and commissions, in turn, are supposed to choose qualified officials, i.e., stewards, patrol judges, paddock judges, etc. to run the programs at the 100-odd tracks in the U.S.
When political appointees or good friends of management wind up in high places in racing it is time to question the motives of the governors themselves, all of whom are very much aware of exactly how much their states benefit from taxes produced by the sport. Are the governors and their racing commissions picking the most qualified men?
?In Illinois, Governor Richard B. Ogilvie has appointed Timothy P. Sheehan, former Cook County Republican chairman, to the $15,000-a-year job of secretary of the Illinois Racing Board. Owner of two business firms in Chicago, Sheehan is also 41st Ward Republican committeeman. "I'm taking the job with an open mind, particularly because I have no past connection with racing," he says.
?In Rhode Island, Governor Frank Licht has appointed Frank Rao the state steward. Rao, who is 70, is a former member of the Providence City Council and a former Democratic state chairman.
?In Arkansas, Governor Winthrop Rockefeller has appointed Chester Lauck, a partner in a public-relations firm, as a placing judge at Oaklawn Park. Lauck was once known as Lum on the radio show Lum and Abner.
?In Massachusetts, Governor Francis W. Sargent has appointed Mike Holovak, former head coach and general manager of the Boston Patriots of the AFL, to be a member of the Massachusetts Racing Commission. In the early '40s, Holovak helped pay his college tuition by working as a mutuel clerk at Suffolk Downs, and his appointment to the commissioner's job was, said Governor Sargent, to "raise the reputation of horse racing in the commonwealth."
?In Florida, Andy Gustafson, former football coach at the University of Miami, was named last year to the position of steward representing the Florida State Racing Commission at Tropical Park, Hialeah and Gulfstream. Gustafson, who rode the wheelhorse in a field artillery outfit and says he didn't much like it, moved into the stewards' stand with no previous experience other than being a longtime patron of the sport. A close friend of the owners of the Miami tracks, Gustafson says, "I've been a steward watcher for two years before becoming one. I admit, there is no such thing as instant experience, and this is no simple job. Still, you don't have to be the brightest man in the world. Good judgment and common sense are most important."
Well, maybe. But it is difficult to explain why men who casually go racing a few times a year wind up with jobs that should rightfully be given to any one of a dozen qualified horsemen waiting in the wings. Today, while most commission chairmen have some racing experience, many of their own colleagues have barely learned the sport's ABC's. Thus, when the commissions approve neophytes for important jobs on the racetrack itself they are only compounding an already distasteful situation.