Sometime soon, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board will render a most important judgment when it decides what to do about the licenses of jockeys Angel Cordero Jr., Jorge Velasquez, Eddie Maple, Mike Venezia, Jaime Arellano and Marco Casteneda and former riders (now trainers) Braulio Baeza, Heliodoro Gustines and Jean Cruguet.
All were accused of fixing races in New York State in the mid-'70s, during the trial of ex-jockey Con Errico, who was convicted in federal court in 1980 on a racketeering charge. Last week the New York board concluded three weeks of highly publicized and long-overdue hearings. Though the proceedings were hampered by the death in 1976 of a prospective key witness, the short memories or unlikely naïveté about ways to manipulate races of witnesses who testified, and the board's inability to call still others from outside the state, certain facts were made obvious: Nearly a score of New York races were fixed with more than a million dollars in ill-gotten "winnings" going to mob-connected gamblers. The tooth fairy didn't fix those races.
It was also obvious that if self-described "Master Fixer" Tony Ciulla had not charged in this magazine (Nov. 6, 1978) that, through intermediaries, he paid jockeys, including some of the aforementioned, to rig races. New York's racing Establishment might well have swept the suspect races under the rug.
In fact, Ciulla, who's a participant in the Federal Protected Witness Program and whose testimony in race-fixing trials in four states over the past three years has led to 62 indictments, 23 convictions and 16 guilty pleas, says he thought so little of the New York proceedings that he refused to appear at them, unless he was paid $100,000. "But these hearings are a whitewash," he told The New York Times last week. "If there's a case, the Government should be indicting people. If they don't have a case, then why is the board going through this exercise unless it wants to make a big show of being on the up and up, shaking their heads and then sweeping the whole thing away?"
Nonetheless, the racing Establishment now seems to have run out of rug. The board has the authority to revoke or suspend state racing licenses, and the hearings produced possible grounds for such action. While it's uncertain what the board will ultimately do, one thing it can't do, and maintain even a scintilla of credibility, is fail to act. Any suspensions, of course, can be contested in the courts by the jockeys and trainers. But would they be contested? The word along the backstretch is that the last thing the accused jockeys want is to have their activities scrutinized by the courts.
NAME THAT TUNE
The organizers of a recent track meet in Gateshead, England, in which the host country, Scotland, Italy and Ethiopia competed, had the best of intentions, but that hardly mattered to the Ethiopians. After a few bars of the Ethiopian national anthem were played, the 30 members of that nation's team stalked angrily off the track. Meet officials scratched their heads until they were told the reason. The anthem they had chosen was the one first played at the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930. The Emperor was deposed by the Ethiopian military in 1974 and, not surprisingly, so was the anthem. The meet's public address announcer tried to soothe the Ethiopians' feelings by saying, "We have played the wrong national anthem and we have done the young Socialist Republic of Ethiopia a great discourtesy." After much rummaging around, another recording was found that sounded quite different, but it turned out to be an alternate version of the same anthem.
Now the announcer tried a different tack. "May we have a few moments of silence for the Socialist Republic of Ethiopia," he said. But that didn't bring the athletes back out, either.
Finally meet organizer Andy Norman entered the Ethiopians' dressing room and asked Manager Nigussie Roba, "Will you bring your team out on the track and get them to sing the anthem to us?"