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It's a Slow Track for Racing : Sport of Kings Is Beset With Problems, Weak Management

February 11, 1985|BILL CHRISTINE | Times Staff Writer

Pine Tree Lane, a 3-year-old filly who had never raced, was entered in the sixth race at Aqueduct on Jan. 23.

Running against other 3-year-old maidens, Pine Tree Lane was listed at 10 to 1 in the morning line by one of the handicappers in the Daily Racing Form. Other than her modest bloodlines, there was no information on her in the Form--no races and in this case not even a workout.

In New York, betting stops before the last few horses are loaded into the gate. Seconds before that, a large amount of money was bet on Pine Tree Lane, dropping her odds from 11-1 to 9-2.

Breaking from the No. 10 stall, Pine Tree Lane broke quickly, established an early lead in the six-furlong race and coasted to victory by almost two lengths.

There was widespread grumbling by fans at Aqueduct over the late betting on Pine Tree Lane. The reverberations carried as far as California, where one of the Santa Anita stewards, Pete Pedersen, discussed the race.

"It was surprising to me that the horse was even allowed to run, considering she had no published workouts," Pedersen said. "Our policy here is to insist on three published workouts before a first- time starter is allowed to run. We're firm about this."

Stewards at Aqueduct have since issued a new regulation requiring three published workouts for every first-time starter. But this did little to mollify the fans who had seen the appearance of a betting coup a few days before.

The Pine Tree Lane incident was especially surprising because both the owner, Ted Sabarese, and trainer, John Parisella, have good reputations. Sabarese's stable has been ranked on the national purse list and Parisella's Fight Over finished third in last year's Preakness.

Coup or not, incidents such as the Pine Tree Lane race do nothing for public confidence in racing, a sport already hurt by waning fan support.

Other factors that seem to be shaking public confidence include:

--The lack of uniform medication rules and no standard practice nationwide of allowing the public access to information on whether a horse has been treated with drugs.

--The poor quality of management at the majority of tracks, something that has helped lead to a decline in attendance.

--The lack of qualified officials, which has led to the use of former jockeys who have major racing violations in their past.

--The growing influence of people who are merely in it for the money and are not "horse people."

Even the racing industry has given subtle indications that the industry is having problems.

In 1972, racing began giving an Eclipse Award of Merit to the person who had made considerable contributions to the sport. Among the first winners were breeders John Galbreath and Edward P. Taylor, jockey Steve Cauthen and racing official Jimmy Kilroe of Santa Anita.

But after Bill Shoemaker was honored in 1981, the award was vacant for the next two years. "You mean to tell me that nobody's done anything in racing to deserve that award the last two years?" said Kent Hollingsworth, editor of The Blood-Horse magazine. "We've got nobody we can give the award to?"

Indeed, the sport is changing.

John Nerud, the Hall of Fame trainer and now president of Tartan Farms in Ocala, Fla., says he regularly hears about something funny going on in racing.

"People who aren't close to the sport think it's dishonest," Nerud said. "They think a trainer is a fellow in a plaid jacket who steals chickens at night. And they have some good reasons, because the game is changing. More and more, your owners are just money people, and they're looking to get rich in a hurry."

But Morris Alhadeff, president of the Longacres track near Seattle and president for the last two years of the Thoroughbred Racing Assn., a group of most of the major tracks in the United States and Canada, believes the public's perception of racing has improved greatly in recent years.

Says Tom Gentry, a Kentucky breeder who once owned a horse in partnership with former President Carter:

"I may be naive, but I don't think there's much funny business going on. There hasn't been a major scandal in several years. Years ago, I guess, a guy could sneak a horse in from San Luis Rey Downs (a training center just north of San Diego) and make a score, but I don't think that happens anymore."

The last major scandal crested in 1978, when Tony Ciulla, a confessed fixer of hundreds of races, implicated some of New York's best jockeys. Although a few of the riders were ruled off--including Jose Amy, who returned to his native Puerto Rico, and Jacinto Vasquez, whose one-year suspension for offering a bribe to another jockey ends Feb. 24--the only New York conviction was that of Con Errico, a former jockey found guilty of racketeering.

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