They Fixed It, Were Broken : But Convicted Maryland Jockeys Have Started Over as Trainers
A unique paperweight sits on Paul Berube’s desk in the offices of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau in Elkton, Md. Laminated in the top is a parimutuel ticket from the ninth race on Feb. 14, 1975, at Bowie Race Course, a track that is a training center for horses now.
The numbers on the $18 trifecta ticket on Berube’s desk are 2, 8 and 12. The actual 1-2-3 finish of that race were horses numbered 8, 12 and 2, but since the ticket on Berube’s desk was a “box,” it was a winner anyway.
Through an intermediary, six jockeys who rode in that Valentine’s Day race at Bowie bought 38 “box” tickets like the one Berube has on his desk. None of the six horses they rode finished better than sixth in the 12-horse field. The entire field never changed position all the way around the track.
The win odds, which are not related to betting on the trifecta, on the first three finishers were 5-1, 7-2 and 47-1. With the favorites finishing off the board, a trifecta with horses at those odds would have been expected to pay about $2,000. But this Bowie trifecta paid only $927.30.
A clerk at window No. 108 had sold the 38 tickets. The brother of one of the jockeys in the race went up to that window, plopped a rumpled wad of mostly small bills on the counter and said, “Box the 2-8-12 for me 38 times.”
Shortly after the race was over, that clerk, noting the unusual betting pattern, alerted Berube, who was then a Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau field agent assigned to Bowie. Within minutes, Berube was in the office of Al Karwacki, the Bowie general manager, asking that the track not cash any of the tickets pending an investigation. Karwacki moved quickly with the order, but two of the tickets were cashed.
Having heard that the FBI was joining the TRPB in the investigation, two of the jockeys--Eric Walsh and Ben Feliciano--burned the remaining 34 tickets. The two tickets that were cashed became evidence seven months later. A weeklong federal trial led to the conviction and imprisonment of four of the jockeys in the race that became known as “the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” Two other jockeys were not charged because they agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Last month, on Preakness day at Pimlico, two of those “St. Valentine’s Day” jockeys--Feliciano and Luigi Gino--saddled horses. Feliciano saddled a colt that won an allowance race. Later, A multiple stakes winner trained by Gino ran fourth in the $150,000 Maryland Budweiser Breeders’ Cup Handicap.
In the early 1980s, there was a furor here when Gino, Feliciano and Jesse Davidson, a third convicted jockey, reapplied for licensing with the Maryland Racing Commission. They didn’t want to ride. They merely wanted to be licensed to exercise horses.
The late Herman Cohen, co-owner of Pimlico, was adamant about not accepting them in any capacity, but the track’s lawyers said that if the commission approved the licenses, Pimlico would not be able to exclude them. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, a leader of the New York Jockey Club and a president of Pimlico before World War II, called Chick Lang, then the Pimlico general manager, and urged him to oppose the licensing.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard Eric Walsh’s name mixed up in that,” the late Art Rooney said several years ago.
Rooney owned the Pittsburgh Steelers, operated a farm and racing stable in Maryland and frequently used Walsh to ride his horses.
Walsh, who was 35, was the most successful of the convicted jockeys, earning about $200,000 per year. On May 1, 1976--the day of the Kentucky Derby--Walsh killed himself, after having failed in two previous attempts. He told friends that he couldn’t face the likelihood of going to prison.
None of the jockeys was imprisoned for long, however, and Davidson was sent to a minimum-security institution in Pennsylvania where G. Gordon Liddy, one of the Watergate figures, was also doing time.
“Liddy was a famous guy in there, all right,” Davidson once said. “But I think I was more well known than he was.”
Berube, now president of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, which has jurisdiction over more than 50 tracks, including Hollywood Park, Santa Anita and Del Mar, is racing’s most visible enforcer. Although his doggedness led to the conviction of the riders, who were believed to be the first jockeys convicted under a federal sports bribery statute, Berube avoids rehashing the Bowie affair.
“It’s behind all of us,” Berube said. “There’s nothing to be gained by dragging it out again.”
Gino, 52, was born in Italy and joined his father in the United States when he was a teen-ager. They lived near Garden State Park, in New Jersey, and that’s where Gino was introduced to the track.
Reluctantly, Gino talked about the Bowie race. Two of his three daughters are married to jockeys, Mario Pino and Alberto Delgado, and Gino is a fit 123 pounds, not much over riding weight and a trainer able to exercise four or five of his horses a day.
“We made a mistake,” Gino said. “But we were found guilty of a worse mistake. When I got out (of prison), I felt like going into the woods and hiding. But I knew I had a family to support, so I kept working--any kind of job I could get.”
Before he was relicensed, Gino worked as a flagman on a construction crew.
“I was putting food on the table,” he said. “But this is the greatest country in the world, letting me come back after what happened.”
The jockeys had argued in court that instead of orchestrating the race, they had bet on horses that Gino handicapped. Jockeys are permitted to have bets made on horses they ride, providing they don’t bet on other horses to finish ahead of them in a race.
Had all the tickets been cashed, the payoff on the $684 bet would have been $35,237.
Davidson had been the national riding champion in 1965. Called “the king of the half-milers,” he rode winner after winner at the bullring tracks in Maryland and West Virginia.
In 1986, Davidson made his only Kentucky Derby appearance, riding Southern Appeal to 13th place at Churchill Downs. Injuries led to his retirement, and now, at 55, he is not in good health. Friends say that he must undergo dialysis treatments three times a week.
A Pimlico trainer who declined to be identified told a story that involved him and one of the “St. Valentine’s Day” jockeys a few years before the Bowie fix.
“I was running a horse at the old Liberty Bell track,” the trainer said. “A guy came up to me in the paddock about 15 minutes before the race and handed me an envelope with $1,000 in it. ‘Keep your horse off the board and that’s yours,’ he said. It ticked me off, and I told him to take a hike.
“A few minutes later, the jock comes out to get on the horse. The jock says to me, ‘Was some guy out here with an envelope?’
“I said, ‘Yeah, and I sent him on his way.’ Then the jock said, ‘Well, he come up to me with that $1,000 about an hour ago, and I didn’t know what you wanted to do. So I sent him to you.’
“The horse ran last. The jockey and I drove home to Baltimore with hardly any gas in the tank, wondering if we’d make it back. Didn’t have more than a few bucks between us. We could have finished last for $1,000, but we finished last for nothing.”