Lawrence Baker Sheppard of Hanover, Pa. is a lean, large-eared 58-year-old whose face has the color and skin the consistency of old saddle leather. This is entirely appropriate for a man who has been a horseman all his life, president of the U.S. Trotting Association for six years and who owns the Hanover Shoe Farm, largest horse breeding farm in the country.
Sheppard is also president of the $12-million-asset Hanover Shoe manufacturing and retailing company and a man of immense patience, a trait undoubtedly developed in long hours of trying to persuade a restive colt to trot instead of run. The other day, after considering the matter for two years, Sheppard threw patience out the window and started a war. With battle lines already sharply drawn, it is a conflict that, before it runs its course, will involve several state governments and everyone else connected with this fast-growing, billion-dollar sport of harness racing.
Sheppard's opening gun consisted of two letters to George P. Monaghan, New York State Harness Racing Commissioner, in which he asked what action had been taken toward eliminating seven "undesirables" from the list of stockholders of Roosevelt, Yonkers and Batavia Downs raceways, three of the largest trotting tracks in the country. The term "undesirables" was not Sheppard's. Three years ago, a so-called Moreland Commission, appointed by then Governor Tom Dewey, had investigated New York's trotting tracks and found that a considerable number of stockholders and officials (including the seven) were ex-convicts, professional gamblers or had acquired their stock under questionable circumstances. The commission uncovered a great deal more it felt was wrong with the operation of the tracks and submitted a long list of recommendations for corrective action before it went out of business. George Monaghan, as a member of the commission, had concurred in the unanimous vote for the recommendations. And what Lawrence Sheppard wanted to know was what had he done about them—with special reference to the seven undesirable stockholders.
In a sense Sheppard's letters were largely rhetorical. Each year, when the tracks submit applications for licenses to the U.S. Trotting Association, they must list their officers and stockholders, so Sheppard knew very well that all seven still held their official positions and still owned their stock. He now obviously wanted others to know.
For George Monaghan, the questions were not rhetorical; he had to answer them.
1) Forcing the undesirables to sell their stock involved tricky legal questions which he had been working on for two years.
2) In making his decisions to allow two of the undesirables to stay in harness racing, he had consulted with his former Moreland Commission colleagues and they had agreed that "justice was done."
On the first point, State Attorney General Jack Javits (who would normally be consulted on legal questions involving state agencies) claimed that Monaghan had never sought his advice until Sheppard's letters were released to the press.
On the second, the three other former Moreland commissioners told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED they had not concurred in Monaghan's decisions.