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Horse Racing : 3 Racing Board Members Should Resign

Leslie Liscom is as diligent a commissioner as the California Horse Racing Board has had in recent years.

Rosemary Ferraro, the mother of a trainer, the owner of horses and also a commissioner, has worked tirelessly on the board’s medication committee, which handles the stickiest problems in racing.

Ray Seeley is--well, he’s Ray Seeley, a man for whom there is no mold.

Seeley, the senior commissioner on the seven-member racing board, understands racing as well as any of his colleagues, but he’s more known for his salty, blatant manner at board meetings. While the other commissioners don’t even pack cap pistols, Seeley travels with a blunderbuss.

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Despite their qualities--Liscom’s honesty, Ferraro’s dedication and Seeley’s hard-boiled tenacity--all three need to resign from the board. California racing is experiencing its most trying time, and the sport can’t afford to be under the jurisdiction of three commissioners whose effectiveness has been seriously eroded.

Even if a Sacramento judge had ruled in their favor during a conflict-of-interest trial the other day, there was some question whether Liscom and Seeley should have continued serving on the board. Unwittingly or not, they had painted themselves into a corner, Liscom because he works for an insurance firm that does more than $1 million in business with Hollywood Park, Seeley because he’s a free-loading tenant with a motor home on property that belongs to Hollywood Park’s sister track, Los Alamitos.

Even if the judge had somehow found justification for these situations, the public’s perception of Liscom and Seeley wouldn’t have changed. How could they be objective in matters pertaining to Hollywood Park, even if they insist they are?

Ferraro, whose mistake was taking a meal or two too many in Hollywood Park’s turf club, seems to have been caught in the undertow. The judge called her “naive,” but she has overstepped the state rules for public officials just the same.

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Liscom, the board chairman, and Seeley appear to be impervious to their conflicts. The judge said that Liscom is doing “what any layman should know he shouldn’t do.”

After hearing the judge’s verdict, Seeley said that he was still “going to see this through,” which means that his many critics won’t find him going out the door willingly.

Besides medication issues and what will be a long-running series of hearings about trainers whose horses have tested positive for cocaine, California racing has the albatross of Hollywood Park, which is out of money, out of friends and out of interest in making a home for the so-called lesser breeds, quarter horses and standardbreds.

At any given racing board meeting, adjournment would come a couple of hours sooner if there weren’t some Hollywood Park problem on the table. A shareholders’ revolt against Marje Everett, the nine-lives matriarch of racing, is inevitable, and the board will be caught in the cross-fire.

Five years ago, when Santa Anita objected, on antitrust grounds, to Hollywood Park’s buying Los Alamitos, the board couldn’t decide how to rule and Seeley, then the chairman, cast the tie-breaking vote that permitted the sale.

There is never a good time to have a conflict of interest, and this time is particularly inappropriate. Racing can’t be properly governed by commissioners whose decisions will be forever questioned.

Fans were able to say happy birthday to John Henry and goodby to Super Diamond in the same breath this week.

Both geldings raced until they were 9-year-olds, John Henry running his last race in 1984 and holding the career earnings record until Alysheba broke it last year.

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Fourteen years ago Thursday, Once Double foaled John Henry at Golden Chance Farm in Kentucky after her mating with Ole Bob Bowers. John Henry now lives not far from there, at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

Super Diamond, who became the first 9-year-old since John Henry to win a major race when he finished first in the San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita this season, came out of Sunday’s Santa Anita Handicap with a serious ankle injury.

Trainer Eddie Gregson didn’t have to wait for the X-rays to make the retirement decision. Super Diamond, who finished last on a hard track Sunday, has had physical problems for most of his career. Super Diamond ran just 37 races--compared to 83 for John Henry--and won 16, earning $1.4 million. Eventually he will be sent to where he started, the farm of Roland and Ramona Sahm at Rancho Santa Fe.

Howard Crash, one of the owners of the recently retired Cutlass Reality, is happy that more than two dozen mares have been booked to his stallion, but he was not so pleased as he tried to bet the Florida Derby at an Off-Track Betting shop in Manhattan last week.

Crash was trying to bet the winner, Mercedes Won, but before leaving the window he noticed that the clerk had given him another horse. At a race track, the mistake is easily corrected--the clerk reverses the ticket through the scanner and the bet is canceled.

But at OTB, Crash had to wait while the clerk found her supervisor to change the bet, and by that time the betting had closed. All Crash got was a refund.

After his impressive debut as a 3-year-old at Gulfstream Park last Saturday, Easy Goer has become less of a bargain at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. Easy Goer’s Kentucky Derby odds have dropped to 9-5 in the future book.

Houston, despite having only two career starts--both wins--is a distant second choice at 8-1. Is It True, also unraced this year, and Music Merci are 10-1, and at 15-1 come Mercedes Won and Trapp Mountain, although Mercedes Won’s handlers say they won’t run the Florida Derby winner in the Kentucky Derby.

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If you think that Open Mind can join Winning Colors as the second straight filly to win the Kentucky Derby, the odds are 150-1. Open Mind, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last year, won her fourth straight Sunday by taking the Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream.

Horse Racing Notes

Robbie Davis, making his first riding appearance since his horse fatally trampled Mike Venezia at Belmont Park last October, had two mounts Wednesday at Santa Anita and finished third and fourth. . . . In Sunday’s $200,000 Santa Anita Oaks, Kool Arrival’s three-stake winning streak will be challenged by at least six other 3-year-old fillies. . . . Chris McCarron rode Pay the Butler to a second-place finish Tuesday in the Pan American Handicap at Gulfstream Park. Mi Selecto won by 11 lengths and Sunshine Forever was scratched when rain forced the stake off the grass.

Two of the also-rans in the Florida Derby--Traskwood and Feather Ridge--bled internally during the race. . . . Gene, the 6-year-old gelding who was purchased for $150, made it two for two this year with an allowance win Sunday at Tampa Bay Downs. Gene has now won five in a row, is 22 for 47 lifetime and has earned $74,000.

The Breeders’ Cup is likely to announce soon that there will be a regular rotation for future race days. Churchill Downs, Belmont Park and Southern California are cinches to be included, but Florida’s status depends on how the races are received in November at Gulfstream Park. . . . Joe Hirsch’s new book on trainer Horatio Luro is notable for at least one reason. It includes a picture of a young Charlie Whittingham with hair.


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