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It Seems Everyone Has a Lasky Story

June 13, 1998|BILL CHRISTINE

There are a lot of Mike Lasky stories out there. Lasky races Hot Wells, who was fourth in the Arkansas Derby and the Preakness, then scratched the morning of last Saturday's Belmont Stakes because Lasky hadn't applied for a New York owner's license.

Ray Kerrison, a columnist for the New York Post, tells one that's pretty messy. In the early 1980s, Andy Beyer of the Washington Post wrote an unfavorable article about the Baltimore-based Lasky, who under the name of Mike Warren has been selling the names of so-called hot horses to customers for years.

Kerrison said that Lasky, furious about the column, sent someone to the Belmont Park press box with orders to plaster Beyer with a fruit pie. Beyer ducked, and the messenger splattered the innocent Kerrison.

"I finally got some revenge at the Belmont," Kerrison said. "Back then, Lasky didn't even have the courtesy to pay the dry-cleaning bill."

I have a Lasky story too. Before his people were throwing pies, I worked for the Thoroughbred Racing Assns., a trade group that among other things ran the Eclipse Awards writing contest, an annual exercise that honors the best stories about racing.

One year, four of the six judges had voted, and the story that appeared to be the winner was a diary about a Lasky-run junket to the Arc de Triomphe. Pierre "PEB" Bello, the Daily Racing Form caricaturist, and Eddie Arcaro were the celebrity guests who accompanied dozens of fans to Paris.

The trouble was, we had removed headlines and bylines from the writing entries so the judges theoretically wouldn't know whose stories they were reading, and the office staff had lost the identification sheet. For days, we thought we were going to have a nameless winner.

I told Fred Grossman, editor of the Racing Form, about my embarrassment. "Call Mike Warren," Grossman said. "He ought to know who made his trip and wrote about it."

It was around Christmas, and Warren was vacationing in Aspen, Colo., when I caught up with him. I identified myself, explained about the diary of the tour and told him my problem.

"How do I know you're not working for the TRPB?" Warren peevishly said. The Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau, a national security arm of the Thoroughbred Racing Assns., had long been interested in Warren's suspicious touting operations.

I assured Warren that I wasn't fronting for the TRPB. I explained to him that it would be good publicity for his tour if this article won an Eclipse Award.

"Tough," he said. "I'm not interested in helping you." Then he hung up.

I called Grossman again.

"Give me that number in Aspen," he said. "This guy's in to us for a lot of back advertising money. He'll talk to me or be sorry he didn't."

A day later, Grossman called back and told me that Warren said that somebody named David Heckerman had written the diary. I didn't tell Heckerman the story until years later. He didn't win after all; the votes from the remaining two judges came in and they made an Eclipse Award winner out of another writer.

I thought about Warren at the time: This must be a guy who's really got something to hide. In 1982, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, which supervises racing in the state, denied Warren/Lasky an owner's license. In issuing its denial, the board said:

"Mr. Lasky is a professional tout engaged in the activity of touting."

Lasky's appeal of the decision was denied by the Supreme Court of New York. Had Lasky applied for a license to run Hot Wells in the Belmont, a hearing would have been required, and there was no time for that last weekend. Racing has reciprocity rules between states, but despite New York's position, Lasky has been licensed to run his horses elsewhere, including in Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Maryland and Delaware. Hot Wells is running Sunday for Lasky in the $150,000 Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park.

Whatever Lasky, 53, wins on the track might not be his later. He was the founder of the Psychic Friends Network--the one that featured Dionne Warwick on television--and his bankrupt company has filed for protection from creditors in Maryland. In another case, a Baltimore judge has ruled in favor of a bank that charged Lasky with fraud after he obtained more than $6 million in loans and credit lines.

It would appear that Hot Wells needs to do a lot of winning just to get his owner even.

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