Tainted Vote

By Bill Christine
When I mentioned to a colleague that I was taking on the Racing Hall of Fame again, he tried to dissuade me. “That’s too easy,” he said. “That’s not shooting fish in a barrel; that’s shooting a guppy in a teacup. Pick on somebody slightly harder, like President Bush, or Britney, or Frank Stronach.”

“No,” I told him. “It’s time for the Hall of Fame again.”

“But over the years you’ve cataloged all that’s possibly wrong with that outfit,” he insisted. “Not having Pat Day on the ballot. Announcing the winners in a phone booth. Putting out sloppy bios on the nominees. Bollixing the voting rules. Fiddling with the eligibility rules. Holding an election and nobody wins. Expanding the electorate to include everybody but five hotwalkers at Fairmount Park. You’ve picked ’em to the bone. You’re already an established curmudgeon. Close the file and move on.”

“Not on your beeswax, buster,” I said. “My Hall of Fame ballot came the other day. It was like opening a can of worms instead of an envelope.”

“Did they include Mister Ed on the ballot?”

“It looked like the usual packet,” I said. “A cover letter from chairman Ed Bowen; the ballot; bios of the candidates; PPs for the horses. But also included were testimonials for four nominees. You could have knocked me over with a shadow roll.”

“Testimonials?” the other said. “You mean—kind of like cheerleading?”

“You could say that,” I said. “Jay Hovdey of the Daily Racing Form raving about Best Pal. Russ Harris of the New York Daily News did two pages on Mom’s Command. Bill Nack, formerly of Sports Illustrated, championed John Veitch. Jay Privman of the Form backed another trainer, the late Bob Wheeler.”

“So?” said my colleague, who was turning into a DA—a devil’s advocate. “All very good candidates.”

“Sure,” I said. “But there are 13 nominees, and only four testimonials.”

“Maybe they left out the rest.”

“I’ve asked around,” I said. “There were only four testimonials.”

“The other nine nominees will have to fend for themselves,” the DA said.

“You and I are going in the wrong direction,” I said. “It’s unethical for the Hall to be sending out info that compromises the vote. Hovdey and the others should boost their favorites on their own time. Their opinions shouldn’t be circulated to the voters, with a Hall of Fame letterhead.”

“Did you talk to these guys?” the DA asked.

“None of them disagreed with me,” I said. “Hovdey and Privman said that the Hall’s bios can be so flimsy—and inaccurate—that they wanted to be sure Best Pal and Wheeler got their due. None of the guys knew what was going to happen with the testimonials after they were submitted. Nack said he asked the Hall for addresses of the voters, so he could send out his testimonial privately, but they refused to comply.”

“Anybody else riled up?”

“I called Mike Pegram. He raced Silverbulletday, who’s on the ballot with Mom’s Command in the female horse category. He said all four fillies—Silverbulletday, Mom’s Command, Inside Information, and Sky Beauty—deserved enshrinement, and it was too bad only one would be elected. He said that racing is very political, and very screwed up, so why should the Hall of Fame be an exception. In Pegram’s opinion, now the whole election is ‘tainted.’ Then he said: ‘Opinions die; facts are forever.’ ”

“Don’t you ever get tired of, pardon the expression, whipping a dead horse?” the DA questioned.

“Sometimes, but the Hall of Fame ought to stop sending out testimonials.”

“And if they don’t?” the DA asked.

“Perhaps it’s a wrong-headed idea that will catch on,” I said. “Just in case, I’m drafting a testimonial for Invasor, to be sent out in December with the Horse-of-the-Year ballots.”

-(Bill Christine is an Eclipse Award-winning Turf writer who covered racing for 24 years for the Los Angeles Times.)