Delta Downs, carved out of a swamp, often is so foggy the crowd that wouldn't know if Lady Godiva pranced by the grandstand.
They certainly couldn't see how jockey Sylvester Carmouche stole the 11th race on Jan. 6--if he did.
No one saw much of anything that night because the southwest Louisiana track resembled the set of a 1940s Sherlock Holmes movie. You know. Basil Rathbone takes one step off a curb and disappears in pea soup.
The Louisiana Racing Commission, after two hearings, decided that nine horses took their step off the curb but that only eight crossed the finish line.
Carmouche, commissioners opined, must have pulled up Landing Officer and waited for the others to make the circle before joining the race in the final turn.
The commissioners couldn't come up with another answer. They voted 7-1 to ban the jockey from tracks for 10 years.
"As my mother used to say, you spilled the milk. I don't know how you did it. But I know you did it," Commissioner Jeffrey Kallenberg told Carmouche last week.
If a state court upholds the commission, Carmouche will join ranks with Rosie Ruiz, stripped of her 1980 Boston Marathon title for resting her feet by taking a subway to the finish line.
Carmouche, rail-thin and seemingly puzzled by the fuss, attracted to the hearings a flock of reporters unaccustomed to his world.
The color was sure there: Jockeys so thin you wanted to pull out a couple of bucks and buy them their first meal in a month. Then you hesitated because their cowboy boots alone cost more than your suit. Sprinkled among them were tall, willowy blondes who made you wish you had pressed the suit. They were friends of the jockeys.
The crowd was intense, muttering that things looked bad for Sylvester.
Circumstantial evidence didn't help him any.
The commission watched the race tape taken in front of the grandstand. There were some real neat color shots of fog. At least three commissioners counted eight horses the first time and nine the second.
So many people were jammed around the small television set that reporters were on their hands and knees, peering between legs to get a view. Two of the blondes were in front of the TV.
James Bradford, the only commissioner who dissented, said that perhaps Landing Officer was running too fast for the camera to catch him.
After all, the horse won by 24 lengths, just 1 1/2 seconds off the track record, he noted.
His colleagues weren't impressed. Landing Officer had five victories in 53 races and was the 23-1 long-shot.
The event was a $2,500 claiming race that doesn't draw any Secretariats.
The defense said Landing Officer had one other real good victory a few years ago.
The track vet found it difficult to give Carmouche benefit of the doubt. The horse wasn't breathing hard and the leg bandages were clean when the vet made a check 10 to 12 minutes after the race.
A horse needs up to 25 minutes to cool down after a mile race, said the vet, who added that he had never seen a horse finish a race with clean bandages.
The defense said the horse had enough time to cool down between the race's end and the check by the vet. The vet didn't think so.
Carmouche appeared to be as puzzled as the commissioners as they threw various questions at him. He glanced sideways at his attorneys, but they weren't looking back.
How could he know he was fifth or sixth early on but couldn't remember when or how he passed all the others?
"It was so foggy, I was just watching where I was going. All I know is I rode the whole race and I win."
A commissioner said that a pony boy was stationed at the point on the backside where Carmouche said he went to the outside rail and that he didn't see Landing Officer.
"Not all the way to the outside. I went way to the outside."
The one commissioner who kept suggesting that Carmouche could have easily run the whole course had a frustrated look as the jockey answered the questions.
He suggested a five-year suspension but wouldn't go along with 10.
"It ain't right," Carmouche complained. "I know I ain't did it."