On the basis of courtroom testimony, official investigations, telltale betting patterns and the confessions in this magazine of convicted master fixer Tony Ciulla (Nov. 6, 1978), it is generally accepted that a score or more of races involving at least nine jockeys were rigged at New York State thoroughbred tracks in the mid-1970s. But only one person, ex-jockey Con Errico, has been convicted as a consequence of such wrongdoing, and no further criminal proceedings appear likely. The impasse was caused by bungled law-enforcement work, refusal of key witnesses to cooperate and the do-nothing approach of racing officials, who seemed blithely uninterested in pursuing leads back when the scandal broke.
Last week the New York Racing Association, which runs the state's three major tracks—Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga—made clear that doing nothing is still very much its policy. More than half the races suspected of having been fixed in the '70s were those designated as trifectas, in which bettors try to pick the first three finishers in a race in order, and the NYRA's 23-member board of trustees acknowledged that situation by unanimously passing a resolution opposing such "triples" because of their "appeal to those who would operate outside the law." While concluding that the sport's "best interest" would be served by abolishing trifecta betting, however, the board said it wouldn't take such action because of the "potentially drastic financial effects" it would have on the tracks and on state and local tax revenues. The NYRA was saying, in other words, that it couldn't afford to do what it felt was the right thing.
The decision to choose profits over integrity has disturbing implications. Although the trustees tried to imply that the number of fixed races at New York tracks has been relatively low, the proportion of fixed trifecta races has been shockingly high; trifecta betting occurs only in the ninth race in New York, and during one period in late 1974 and early 1975, 10% of all such races at Aqueduct, the statistical equivalent of 22 games during a single NFL season, are believed to have been rigged. Given that degree of crookedness, horse racing ceases to be a sport in which the true athletic abilities of horse and jockey are showcased and in which bettors can hope to use their smarts to pick winners, and becomes instead a kind of lottery in which the odds are heavily stacked in favor of cheaters. The NYRA's appallingly cynical inaction thus comes as fair notice: Let the buyer—or in this case, the horseplayer—beware.
HOW SILLY CAN YOU GET?
Let it be recorded for posterity that as a show of union solidarity in the NFL Players Association's current collective bargaining dispute with management, players on both teams gathered at mid-field before the start of last week's Oilers-Saints exhibition game and shook hands. The same thing happened at 11 other NFL games. Take that, owners.
VERY SILLY INDEED
Let future generations further take note that the NFL Management Council wasn't about to suffer those handshakes silently. Citing a rule prohibiting pre-game fraternization, the council announced that it was advising clubs to fine rival gladiators who pressed the flesh at least $100 each. Take that, players.
THE PITS OF THE WORLD, YEAH, YEAH
John McEnroe is No. 1 in the Association of Tennis Professionals' world rankings, No. 5 on the World Championship Tennis list and No. 32 on this week's Billboard Top 100 LPs chart. The tennis star with the punk look and the operatic lungs has joined doubles partner Peter Fleming, tennis pal Peter Rennert and a number of roadies, hangers-on and rock notables like Jimmy Buffett in an ad hoc backup group that performs with Glenn Frey, a lead singer with the now-disbanded Eagles, on a song on a newly released album called No Fun Aloud. The song is called Partytown. Mac and the rest of the backup group have just one line, but they repeat it over and again: "Yeah, yeah." Or, rather: "YEAH, YEAH." Loud and clear. That's Mac's accustomed volume, as any number of linesmen and umpires can attest.
McEnroe's gig took place last April. He happened to be sitting in the office of Irving Azoff, an L.A. rock entrepreneur who handles his exhibition matches, when Frey, another of Azoff's clients, called on the phone. "Glenn was putting out an SOS to Irving that he needed some people for a song he was recording that night," says Larry Solters, an Azoff associate. " Irving asked John if he'd like to try it." McEnroe, whose not-so-secret fantasy is to be a rock star—he plays the guitar and has jammed in concert with the rock group Santana—jumped at the chance. That night, clad in a tight T shirt, faded jeans and tennis shoes, McEnroe became an official member of the Monstertones, the backup group which, with a shifting cast of characters, used to perform on Eagles albums and was now being more or less reconstituted by Frey.
"The first thing John said was, 'Do I sing or do I yell?' " says Solters. "And Glenn said, 'If you can sing, sing. If you can't, yell.' So he yelled." Frey, a sports nut—and hockey superfan—who never goes anywhere without his Converse All Stars and an NHL schedule, was only too happy to have Wimbledon Mac—not to be confused with Fleetwood Mac—participate in the recording session. As Solters, whose conversation sounds like a succession of pop song lyrics, puts it, "Most rock stars wish they were pro athletes, and most pro athletes wish they were rock stars. They run in the same circles and have similar lifestyles. With both, the clock is always ticking. The highs are high; the lows are low. Sometimes you're hot; sometimes you're not. It's life in the fast lane." Now that No Fun Aloud is hot—Billboard accords the album a "bullet," meaning it's rising fast on the charts—will Mac be asked to perform again with Frey? Replies Solters, "John can scream for us anytime."