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The New York harness-racing scandal, which was announced with a flurry of subpoenas and staggering charges three weeks ago, has simmered down to a teapot-size tempest. If the charges are true, the quiet is distressing and we hope the investigators are sticking to their business. But if they are false, a lot of people have been irresponsibly smeared.
Leaks from federal investigations indicated that "almost all" superfecta races at three New York tracks between December 1972 and April 1973 had been fixed and that the fixers had made more than $2 million. This would indicate that about 100 races over the four-month period had been tampered with, an astonishing accomplishment even for the most skillful of crooks. Such blanket fixing of races would be totally at variance with the normal hit-and-lie-low pattern of fix attempts discovered in the past.
Apparently, the charge of fix was made after it was learned that an itinerant horsetrader was having unusual success betting the superfecta during the December-April period. A skillful handicapper, he was said to have boasted of his friendship with some of trotting's top drivers and trainers. Apparently, too, he was employing "ten percenters" to make his bets and cash his winning tickets. He was willing to pay them 10% of what they collected in order to spread his winnings around and avoid big income tax payments. This is illegal, and investigators looking into it also found instances of false ownership of horses and other serious irregularities. But thus far they have produced no concrete evidence of a fixed race. This seems a far cry from three weeks ago, when "almost all" superfectas were fixed. It also suggests that headline-seeking publicity is not the best way to uncover chicanery and catch crooks.
The telecast of the King-Riggs showup (it certainly wasn't a showdown) drew a huge audience, as ABC-TV gleefully reported almost as soon as Riggs jumped the net and began talking about a rematch. The overnight Trendex, as the tube people say, indicated that as many as 60 million people watched at least part of the fun. An estimated 22 million homes were tuned in. This is considerably fewer than the 26.7 million that had the Super Bowl on last January, but because of the far greater interest women had in the tennis match than in the football game it is reasonable to assume that more people were watching per home. So ABC is justified in boasting.
However, the network did not bother to take much public notice of the complaints that poured in. Quite a few people got fed up with the incessant and often pointless commentary of the nonstop mouths that were describing the event, and they were annoyed, too, with the way the cameras ran frantically around trying to get a shot of every actor and actress at ringside, even cutting away from the action on court to make sure all the hams were properly baked on camera (much of it ABC's own ham; Blythe Danner and Ken Howard, for example, star on guess-what network). A cursory check revealed that ABC outlets in New York and Chicago, which reach 15% of ABC's entire audience, received almost 2,000 complaints during the show. Project this, the way TV loves to project other figures, and it means that more than 10,000 complaints were received across the country, which is a lot of booing.
Over to you, Howard. Or Rosie. Or whoever is hogging the mike and pointing the camera.