When Johnny Campo, a prominent trainer, appeared before the Detroit grand jury, he was asked why—-whether or not he understood what subsequently happened—he sold horses that were then placed under "straws," or secret owners, and used to fix races, as all Ciulla's horses were used.
Ciulla says he had a close connection with Campo. They had hit it off early when Campo sold him Eligible, one of Elmendorf Farm's 3-year-old colts, for, Ciulla says, "only $1,000 if I'd put him down for $5,000 of the 'play' on the first race I did." Ciulla delivered. Eligible had impressive breeding—he was by Lucky Debonair, the 1965 Kentucky Derby winner—but sore feet, so Ciulla says he sold him for $8,000 at Sportsman's Park and had the jockey pull him in the next race. "We watched the suckers bet their lungs on Eligible until the stewards detected an erratic betting pattern and delayed the race," Ciulla says. "We stalled our bets, the race went off, and the money we got—even though the perfecta paid only $84—must have filled a grocery bag."
The Illinois Racing Board says it still has an "open" file on that race—the fourth at Sportsman's Park on Nov. 18, 1974. "We had a tip before the race that something wasn't right, and there were 14 federal and state agents at the track," says Bill Masterson, the Racing Board's secretary. "But we never were able to prove anything."
Perhaps the most satisfactory deal Ciulla pulled began when he paid Campo $26,000 for Spread the Word, a sound gelding who had run well in New York. He says he and Campo listed the price on a fake bill of sale (which named another person as owner) as $15,000 in order to lower the value of the horse when he raced. "Even Campo insisted that I'd never pull off my plan," Ciulla says. "My plan was to make Spread the Word a counterfeit $3,000 horse."
The plan was long range. At Rockingham, Ciulla had Spread the Word pulled so he ran 18 lengths behind mediocre horses. Then at two-week intervals he arranged to have the horse finish seventh and ninth at Rockingham. For the next two months Ciulla had Spread the Word work out at a half-mile training track outside North Reading, Mass., where no clocker could see how well the horse could really run.
After a claiming race at Penn National in which Spread the Word finished fourth, Jockey Carmen Pizzi came down from New England to hold the horse at Garden State, Ciulla says. According to Ciulla, Pizzi followed orders and held Spread the Word to a sixth-place finish. In the next race Pizzi jerked Spread the Word at the gate and then rushed him enough for another sixth-place finish.
Eight months had now gone by, and few bettors would risk a wager on a horse with a past-performance record reading "outrun," "eased" and "no factor." On Saturday, Feb. 8, 1975, Spread the Word was to run at Garden State against horses valued at $3,000 to $3,500. Ciulla says he told Pizzi, "We're turning Spread the Word loose. But don't take the rail or split horses and risk disqualification. Lay back fairly close, then at the three-eighths pole just circle the field." Ciulla says that Kevin Daly arrived early at the Rickshaw Inn across the street from the track for the $4,500 needed to pay off riders on three of the other six horses in the race. Ciulla reasoned that Spread the Word could walk past the three horses still "live," but he wanted to cover every angle. He sent his Jersey runners to Aqueduct and brought in 10 runners from New York and two more from Philadelphia. Now there would be 12 fresh faces at the windows, spaced discreetly and buying 1,200 "box" combinations built around No. 3, Spread the Word, and the three other live horses.
In Ciulla's circles, true success in a fix comes not from how much money is bet at the track but from how much you can bet with the bookmakers. Certain bookmakers, that is. "You don't sting the mob guys' bookies," Ciulla says, a lesson he learned at 23 when he took the Boston wire rooms for $28,000 on fixed races. The mobsters didn't just compel Ciulla to return the money; he says he had to pay a $50,000 fine. The Boston mobsters were so intrigued with Ciulla's skills, he says, that they wanted in. A New York mob figure, Fat Tony Salerno, a prominent member of the Genovese family, booked bets for Ciulla. Last week Ciulla testified in New Jersey that he also placed bets with Bob Martin at the Churchill Downs Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas, with Elliot Price, now at the Riviera Hotel casino, with Artie Sellman, an executive at the Dunes, and with Mel Golden, who worked at the Tropicana, as well as with others.
Spread the Word was ready to go. Telephone records show that Ciulla phoned a bookmaker in Las Vegas. He also called several partners in the Boston area who then sent bets out across the country. Ciulla says he told the Las Vegas bookie, "Start at noon and bet me as much money as you can across the board on Spread the Word with any bookies around the country not tied into the New England mob guys." Just before post time, the Vegas bookie called back to report, "All I can get you down for is $30,000 across." Ciulla believes he was stiffed. "Las Vegas people had to know that I only played fixed races," he says, "and so they'd bet mostly for themselves and claimed they could only get me down for a ham sandwich."
At 5:18 on Feb. 8, 1975 it was time to grab the binoculars and look out the wide windows of the third-floor Rickshaw Inn banquet room. Glancing at the latest flash on the Garden State mutuel board, Ciulla saw that the odds on Spread the Word had dropped to 6 to 1. Obviously bookies around the country were getting nervous and laying off money at the track to protect themselves.