Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Plot Thickens in Florida

Yesterday we posted what may be the beginning of a long story about a race fixing scandal emerging in Tampa and Miami, and which may well impact other far-flung jurisdictions before long.

Since yesterday's posting, another jockey has been excluded from Calder Race Course in the wake of what Tampa Bay Downs and Calder managements will only characterize as an "ongoing investigation" by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau. With the ejection of jockey Jose Bracho from Calder yesterday, the current body count stands stands at nine, two at Calder and seven at TBD. Although these "exclusions" are not (technically) disciplinary actions, TBD and Calder have announced their intentions to honor each other's exclusions, a highly unusual action that might come back to bite them later if the jockeys in question aren't ultimately found guilty of wrongdoing. Legally, it's one thing to exercise your perogative as a land owner in feudal Florida to eject someone from your property without cause, but it's quite another to conspire to deny someone the right to earn a living in interstate commerce, which is what horse racing has become since the advent of simulcasting. This could get really interesting.

Another juicy development in the case yesterday came from the entrance of retired jockey Herbie Rivera into the fray. Rivera, a former steward at both Tampa Bay Downs and Great Lakes Downs in Michigan, has just become a regional representative for the Jockeys' Guild, and will be the Guild's lead man in defending and restoring the honor of any and all excluded jocks.

Rivera, quoted in the Thoroughbred Times, has confirmed what has been rumored around the backside at Tampa for weeks: that TRPB investigators from Michigan visited Tampa recently to question jocks and others about possible irregularities at Great Lakes Downs, and that the Florida investigations and exclusions resulted from a cascade effect of the Michigan probe. Three of the seven Tampa jocks currently excluded were in the rider standings at Great Lakes at the end of its race meet in November.

Will Minnesota, Indiana and other jurisdictions where the excluded jockeys ride in the summertime enter the investigations? Or have they already? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Scandal Breaking at Tampa Bay Downs?

Sometime before this afternoon's racing program, Tampa Bay Downs management took the remarkable action of banning seven prominent members of its jockey colony from the grounds.
Among the seven jocks barred from the property, three, T.D. "Terry" Houghton, Derek Bell, and Joe Judice were leading riders at previous TBD race meetings. The others excluded were Jorge Bracho, Luis Castillo, Jose H. Delgado, and Ricardo Valdes.

There must have been quite a scramble for replacement riders, as Houghton was slated to ride nine of the ten scheduled races and Judice four, while four members of the "gang of seven" were all scheduled to appear together in the fouth race.

Tampa Bay Downs management refused meaningful comment on the matter, saying only that their action was related to an ongoing investigation at the track by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB). Is this the beginning of a race-fixing scandal? No one can be certain yet, but this incident comes on the heels of two equally mysterious happenings:

At the beginning of the Tampa meet, Terry Houghton's longtime agent, Frank Garoufalis, known far and wide as "Frank the Greek", was excluded from participation, without explanation.

Last week Miami's Calder Race Course banned former leading rider Rene Douglas, also without explanation.

Rumors flew through the Tampa grandstand this afternoon, many surrounding possible FBI involvement in the investigation and reputed compliations of phone records of jockeys, bookies, and others, and connections to an earlier race-fixing case at Great Lakes Downs in Michigan. There was also plenty of talk of more exclusions still to come, both in Tampa and Miami.

We'll have to wait and see, but I hope that rumors will not be the only source of information we have. Too often the Thoroughbred industry's hard-hitting investigative reporters fail to penetrate past track management's press releases when it comes to controversial issues. Let this time be the exception.