- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It was into this deplorable and unruly mess that a group of wealthy and respected men voluntarily stepped in 1891. Headed by Pierre Lorillard, owner of New Jersey's Rancocas Farm, the group was at first known as the Board of Control, but three years later, under the leadership of James R. Keene, it set itself up as a more representative organization and was, on February 10, 1894, incorporated in New York as The Jockey Club. The model chosen on which to pattern the operation of the new Jockey Club was The Jockey Club in England, which since 1750 had been in absolute control of the sport in Britain. Its self-appointed, or extra-legal, power encompassed a great deal of territory, ranging from a nationwide control of licensing to the prescription of rules for racing, and, naturally, enforced discipline to see that The Jockey Club's rules were not abused. The Jockey Club's aims were set down in very positive language:
"First: To establish a firm authority over all racing upon all the Associations' courses which may come under its control.
"Second: To punish offenders against accepted racing laws.
"Third: To protect the interests of the public and thereby insure its confidence and support.
"Fourth: To maintain and disperse exact justice in respect to all questions pertaining to racing...."
John Hunter, one of the owners who had originally helped organize the Board of Control, was elected the first chairman of The Jockey Club and upon his resignation shortly thereafter he was succeeded in 1895 by August Belmont, The Jockey Club's first influential and powerful leader. Since Belmont's "reign" the club has had but three other chairmen: Frank K. Sturgis, William Woodward Sr. and the present chairman, George D. Widener. From the very beginning these men, who had chosen to assume the tremendous responsibilities of managing a growing sport, ruled with a firm hand. The tracks that chose to align themselves with Jockey Club jurisdiction—which included all New York tracks at a time when New York was the unchallenged focal point of national racing—were allotted racing dates by The Jockey Club, had their officials appointed by The Jockey Club stewards and also had their cases heard before Jockey Club stewards, who acted, in effect, like a Senate committee of racing, ready to investigate and cope with any problem that came up.
The great challenge
To be effective The Jockey Club often had to be tough, and much of the antagonism against it grew from rulings which sometimes seemed undeservingly severe. Any habitual "bad boy" was ultimately ruled off for life, and many a part-time bad boy received the scare of his life. One such scare resulted from an incident in 1942 at Aqueduct. Eddie Arcaro had a score to settle with a Cuban rider named Vincent Nodarse who had shut him off at the start of a race. Arcaro went after his foe and did everything he could to put him over the infield fence. Nodarse survived but Arcaro very nearly didn't. Called before the stewards—who were experimenting at the time with a tape recorder for jockey hearings—Arcaro stormed into the room yelling, "I'd have killed that Cuban son of a bitch if I could!" Chairman Woodward and Steward Marshall Cassidy were so horrified at what they heard that both were in favor of ruling Eddie off the race track for life. As it was, he did a year on the ground before Woodward, in receipt of a letter from Arcaro's contract employer, Mrs. Payne Whitney, in which the owner of Greentree Stable beseeched leniency for her favorite jockey, finally consented to lift the sentence. Recalling the circumstances of thecaserecently Mr. Widenerremarked, "I will always believe that the year Eddie had on the ground was what really made him. In the years since then he has become not only a great rider but also a credit to the sport and a man who respects the authority that any honest sport must have."
The absolute authority of The Jockey Club was, to be certain, challenged from time to time, but the club's position was nonetheless secure until the great challenge of 1949: the celebrated Fink case. Jule Fink, a member of a group known as the "speed boys," was denied an owner's license by The Jockey Club on the ground that he was an associate of bookmakers. It wasn't the first time an owner had been turned down, but it was, as it turned out, the first time The Jockey Club had crossed swords with anyone possessing Fink's indefatigable tenacity. Working with a lawyer thoroughly acquainted with corporation law, Fink succeeded in proving that The Jockey Club's self-granted "right" to issue occupational licenses was an unconstitutional usurpation of authority. So, suddenly, after half a century of what amounted actually to unlimited power, the club now found itself detached from one of its strongest arms.
If The Jockey Club had not possessed many other desirable attributes, the Fink decision might have killed it. Actually, the club shifted smoothly from a directional to an advisory role. In New York, for example, all occupational licenses are now issued by the three-man Racing Commission, a politically appointed body which nonetheless relies heavily on Jockey Club counsel. Whereas The Jockey Club also once wrote, rewrote and revised the Rules of Racing, the task has similarly fallen to the Racing Commission, which still, however, calls on The Jockey Club for approval before making its rulings final. A most harmonious feeling exists between The Jockey Club and the Racing Commission today (as there likewise is between The Jockey Club and racing commissions in states other than New York). The New York State Racing Commission still hasn't seen fit to issue an owner's license to Jule Fink, although, as Chairman Ashley Cole was saying the other day, "if he applied again now, I for one would be perfectly willing to grant him a license—on the grounds that I think he's learned his lesson and has been kept out long enough." Fink, meanwhile, is a regular at New York tracks, where he usually sits with former Racing Commissioner Herbert Bayard Swope. Fink also finds time to write a Saturday racing column in the New York Journal-American.