Defense lawyers for four people charged with fixing a race at the Finger Lakes Race Track said in opening arguments today that the government has no proof that the outcome of the race was illegally engineered.
James Napier, lawyer for jockey Joseph Badamo, derided racing officials as "mind readers" who had no way of knowing how the horse in question, Shine Please, should have run in its maiden race in September, 1989.
"Shine Please hasn't won one race in 1990 despite four attempts," he said. "In short, there will be no evidence that Shine Please is the next Secretariat, capable of winning any race when he is asked."
In a May, 1990, race at Finger Lakes, Napier said Shine Please bolted and behaved in a manner similar to the way it ran in the eighth race on Sept. 26, 1989, when it finished fourth at the track south of Rochester.
Federal prosecutors contend that on that date, Shine Please and another horse, Congress Park, were part of a scheme to defraud bettors.
"I'm trying to show that anybody that bet on these two horses got cheated," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Charles Pilato before the jury selection phase of the trial began Monday.
The defendants in the case are the horses' trainer, 51-year-old Michael Ferraro; Shine Please's jockey that day, the 26-year-old Badamo; Edward Babcock, 46, Ferraro's brother-in-law and another trainer at the track, and Ferraro's ex-wife, Patricia Ferraro, 50.
In the race in question, Shine Please started strongly but went wide before Badamo dropped his whip. The horse finished fourth. Congress Park never left the starting gate.
The government has accused Michael Ferraro, Badamo and Babcock of conspiring to prevent Shine Please from winning. Patricia Ferraro is accused of placing "extensive exacta wagers" on horses other than Shine Please and Congress Park.
Under federal law, Pilato only needs to show that there was a "scheme to defraud"; not that someone benefited or how someone benefited.
Badamo, whose license was revoked after a state investigation into the race, has contended that Shine Please was a "rogue" horse that was uncontrollable.
It was subsequently revealed that at least part of the case against the four was developed during an FBI probe at the race track that involved a horse owned by the bureau and a trainer who was actually an undercover FBI agent.
If convicted, each of the defendants could face a maximum prison sentence of five years and fines of up to $12,000.
Michael Ferraro is charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and mail fraud, while the others are charged with conspiracy and wire fraud.