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GROUNDS FOR REFORM
The blatant conflicts of interest that exist among top management at the Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans continue to sow controversy. When we last looked at the situation (SCORECARD, March 23), Bob Roesler, executive sports editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, had been barred from the press box after reporting that Dr. Alex Harthill, a veterinarian and a paid consultant to Fair Grounds President Joseph P. Dorignac Jr., had been in the practice of protecting the boss' interests by posting himself at the claiming box and trying to prevent Dorignac's horses (35 of which he races at his own track) from being claimed; there also were accusations that Harthill, who gained national publicity as the vet for Dancer's Image when it won the Kentucky Derby with a prohibited pain-killer in its system, was practicing at the track without a license. Roesler further reported that the track's three stewards had taken no action when Beau Rit, a Kentucky Derby-bound horse (he finished 13th at Louisville) was found to have traces of a forbidden drug in its system after winning a big race at the Fair Grounds. Two of the stewards had been appointed by the Fair Grounds management, which made it noteworthy that Louis Roussel III, who trains Beau Rit and whose wife owns the horse, is the track attorney and owner of a company that holds 20% of the track's stock.
Recent events only reinforce the feeling that something is seriously amiss at the Fair Grounds. During a court hearing last month, two jockeys testified that they had accepted cash from a third to finish out of the money in a race at the Fair Grounds last Valentine Day. Despite these admissions, one of the jockeys, L.J. Durousseau, who had appeared in court in Roussel's behalf, was allowed to race at the Fair Grounds the next day. An Orleans Parish grand jury is looking into the race-fixing allegations. Meanwhile, New Orleans Civil District Judge Steven R. Plotkin recently held Roussel and three track security men in contempt for barring an alleged "undesirable" from the track in defiance of a court order.
The 10-member Louisiana Racing Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the state's five tracks, is involved in conflicts of its own. Chairman Albert M. Stall and three other commission members run their horses at state tracks and until recently, the commission occupied offices in a bank owned by Roussel's father. In hopes of dispelling "a cloud of public doubt and suspicion," Louisiana Governor Dave Treen last month asked all the commissioners to resign, an invitation that only one of them has so far accepted. Three weeks ago the state ethics commission interpreted existing state law as forbidding 1) racing commissioners from running their own horses at Louisiana tracks and 2) any owner from running his horses at a track in which he has an interest of 25% or more.
Welcome though this ruling was, some state legislators are pushing for laws that would not only explicitly abolish the conflicts of interest but would also prevent officials from transferring ownership to relatives as a way of getting around such a prohibition. The Fair Grounds is the only Louisiana thoroughbred track at which members of top management run their own horses, and the presidents of the state's other tracks all favor the reform legislation. Louisiana Downs President Vincent Bartimo points out that he owns a prize filly but doesn't run her at his track because, "I think it's a conflict of interest. As president I am in complete charge of the track. Even if nothing is wrong, it looks bad."
THE KING & HIS COURT
Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the king of Bhutan, is the fourth Druk Gyalpo, or Dragon King, of his line. He's not too bad from the foul line, either. The ruler of the remote Himalayan kingdom shoe-horned between India and Tibet is a basketball freak who simply can't get enough of the game. The 25-year-old monarch got turned on to hoops while attending school in England, and he hones his skills by watching videotapes of NBA games that are sent to him, along with balls and sneakers, by the Bhutanese Mission to the United Nations. And according to Steve Nycum, he's the best player in his country.
Nycum, a 6'9�" Californian who played college ball in the early '70s at Texas Tech and Chapman College, recently completed a one-year stint as the country's basketball coach, for which job he was personally recruited by the king. During his stay Nycum played center for the Royal Bhutanese Army team, which scrimmaged nearly every afternoon with a team consisting mainly of the king and his royal bodyguards at an outdoor playground in Thimphu, the nation's capital. The captain of Nycum's team, and the king's cousin, was a puckish, playmaking guard named Paljore Dorji, or "C.J.," the head of the country's highest court. The initials stand for Chief Justice or, to some, Court Jester.
Nycum describes the 5'9" king as a shooting guard—which sets him apart, of course, from both point guards and palace guards. "He has a great spinning hook shot and whirls around like the old Earl Monroe," Nycum says. "But his outside shot is his best weapon." The king's presence on the court, Nycum continues, has more than once intimidated opposing players, who appear reluctant to foul royalty. Nycum also says the monarch used to travel a lot with the ball but has pretty much corrected that deficiency, no thanks to Bhutanese referees, who have been reluctant to blow the whistle on him. The refs are also hesitant about calling fouls on the king, Nycum says, adding, "If they don't call a foul and he thinks he's committed one, he'll sometimes throw the ball out of bounds and lecture the refs sternly."
But the king doesn't shrink entirely from exercising the royal prerogative. His Majesty plays with the sleeves of his kho, a traditional robe-like garment, wrapped rakishly around his waist, a getup that goes nicely with his Pro Keds. The length of the royal games seems to be determined by a sort of divine intervention. "The king lets everyone know when it's halftime," says Nycum. The king also signals that the end of a game is nearing by saying "five more buckets."