Racing people say Bobby Byrne's stories of wholesale fixes of horse races are wildly exaggerated, which may be. A man can say a lot of things to a House investigating committee that he could not say in a court of law, and the widespread publicity the hoodlum's unsubstantiated remarks have received does not mean they should be accepted as unquestioned truth.
But neither does it mean, as racing seems to feel, that Byrne's testimony should be ignored, that nothing at all has happened and that racing is as pure as water from a mountain stream. The sport likes to boast that it polices itself, and perhaps it tries. But laxity at tracks like Churchill Downs, where the specter of the 1968 Butazolidin Derby still hovers, the questionable behavior of certain veterinarians, the chicanery involved in the sale and resale last year of Jim French, the indictment of former Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois for illegal activities relating to racetracks, the proven instances of tranquilized horses, found both before and after races—these glaringly demonstrate that all is not sweet innocence at the nation's tracks.
The first thing to correct is the threat of fixed races. The best way to do this is to test chemically all horses in all races. Some racing people say this would be prohibitively expensive because of the extra personnel and equipment needed. An efficient system of prerace testing of all horses that has been in effect for several years at a few harness tracks costs about four times the postrace method. It seems a reasonable price. Concerned track operators should look into it and maybe spend less time developing bingo bets like the superfecta and twin double, which attract the Bobby Byrnes the way dirty stables do flies.
At least one track is trying to police itself, however eccentrically. At Philadelphia's Liberty Bell last week 7,760 fans were startled and amused to see through their binoculars a jockey with his pants down. A few minutes before the first race, Lonnie Ray was ordered by Manley Stampler, enforcement director of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, to drop his drawers, open his shirt and take off his helmet and boots. After no battery or other illegal device was found on Ray, he dressed again, remounted a 3-year-old named Little Marlin and rallied from 11th place to win the six-furlong event.
Ray said he had never used a battery, would not know how to use one, and had never been in any trouble before. He was incensed and told his lawyer to sue the track "for all I can get."
Joseph Lecce, state racing commission chairman, said the investigators had a reason for their suspicion but could not reveal it. "We've got a hell of a job to do and a lot of things to do," he added. "We aren't very popular. If we don't do the job, we're at fault."
A reasonable argument, but Nick Jemas, national managing director of the Jockeys' Guild, was right when he suggested that when a commission wants to frisk a jockey, it should take him to closed quarters.
It is still a few years away, but promoters and computer ticket officials are beginning to talk about a time when ticket prices will be permitted to float on a free market, like gold or stocks. Of course, this is the way scalpers run their ticket industry now, so it is nothing terribly revolutionary. The free ticket market will come to the Broadway theater first, where "twofers" (two tickets for the price of one) to a dying show are even now an indication of a falling market. If it works on Broadway, its move into sports, especially in big expense-account cities like New York, will not be far behind. By 1980 or so there might be ticket brokers calling their clients and saying things like "Sam, I think we ought to get into that Wednesday night Cub game at Shea. I can get you some at 9? and Seaver is supposed to go. But I think we ought to unload all your Giant-Eagle stuff. The long-range forecast is rain, so let's bail out there. We got in at 7? and it's up to 12 now. And we'll keep the short position on all Yankee games."