AILING GOLDEN GOOSE
Harness racing is under siege. Four top trainer-drivers in New York were denied stall space after a suspicious race at Yonkers Raceway on June 7, and last week the steward there was relieved of his duties after an investigation into the race. Incident after incident is shaking public confidence in the sport. As the onetime country fair pastime grows ever larger and more lucrative, its ability to govern itself has not kept pace.
A glaring example of this occurred recently at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania. Driver Gaston Guindon was suspended for driving an odds-on favorite "with a design to prevent his winning." In simpler English, that means the authorities felt Guindon deliberately lost the race. How long a suspension was he slapped with? Life? Ten years? No, Guindon was set down for 30 days and soon after was driving at Batavia Downs in New York State. Hoof Beats, the U.S. Trotting Association's own magazine, called the slap-on-the-wrist punishment "madness" and wondered about some 60 other suspensions at Pocono.
Even as all this was going on, the New York State Harness Racing Commission approved Roosevelt Raceway's proposal to introduce a superperfecta, a race in which bettors try to select the first four finishers in order. Betting payoffs on the "superfecta" can be huge, as much as $30,000. Tracks, thoroughbred and standardbred both, love outlandish payoffs because they generate huge publicity—and hopefully, though not always, increased attendance, increased betting and increased revenue. But big-payoff races also attract the schemers and fixers, and these are not all lovable Guys and Dolls types in snap-brim hats and white-on-white ties. Drivers (who can bet on themselves, even in superfectas) can read those $30,000 figures on the tote board as well as anybody.
Yet, despite warnings from people like Edward Hackett, executive vice-president of the USTA, too many harness racing people are choosing to ignore a trend that could destroy their sport. As Hoof Beats has said, "Somewhere along the line someone is going to have to show some guts."
WHERE EAGLES DARE
This isn't a knock at Miss Ohio, who breezed home first in the Miss America Derby last Saturday, but environmentalists feel that rightfully the winner's crown should have gone to Miss South Dakota. In the talent competition, Miss South Dakota dressed up as a bald eagle, presumably one facing extinction, and intoned, "I am the scapegoat of technology, Homo sapiens, the industrial revolution. I am the shadow of all that are going and have gone before—the brontosaurus and the whooping crane. Yes, I am the bald eagle." In the background a tape softly played America the Beautiful.
Caused quite a flap.
TEXANS AT BAY
Steam is beginning to hiss from the upper reaches of Houston's Astrodome, near where the high-rent skyboxes—$2,400 for the football season—are. The wealthy Texans who buy up the luxurious boxes each year (if you want, you can stay in a private room behind your box, have a small cocktail party and watch the game on closed-circuit TV) have been told by the Astrodome management that they can no longer bring their own food in. Instead, they must buy their party vittles from the Astrodome concessionaire. Sixty pieces of fried chicken, delivered to the box, cost $22.50. Fifty Gulf shrimp go for $30. A more modest cheese-and-cracker tray is $15, and an urn of coffee is $7.50.