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Racing's Con Artists Profiled In Ashforth's Ringers And Rascals

14 April 2004

"Racehorses have been drugged to go slower and drugged to go faster. They still are," says David Ashforth in his fascinating new book, Ringers & Rascals (280 pages, paperbound, $16.95).

"Sometimes, trainers have simply instructed jockeys not to win; sometimes jockeys have taken the initiative themselves." Ashforth cites the extraordinary record of one of the most crooked jockeys of our time-Australia's Pat Sullivan, who, in the 1950s, confessed he had "pulled, coped, or used batteries or sinkers (lead-lined aluminum horseshoes designed to slow a horse down) on more than 300 of his 1,043 mounts.

He was disqualified by the Australian Jockey Club for two years.

One of the most audacious fixes occurred in 1898 when "a group of conspirators invented an entire race meeting which bookmakers allowed betting on-the twist was that although the newspapers printed results-no races were ever conducted, although payoffs were listed and bookmakers lost money.

The term "ringer" means a horse dishonestly substituted for another (it originated in the United States during and years following the Civil War when many thoroughbreds were "parted from their papers" the authors says). Later, these papers were sometimes used to provide other horses with valuable credentials. Those horses were said to have been "rung in," and were known as "ringers."

In this country, after World War II, there were so many ringers used by con men, it prompted the newly established Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau to "promote an identification system based on tattooing horses' lips." Since 1999, every racehorse foaled in Great Britain and Ireland has had a microchip injected into its neck.

Ashforth's book contains a detailed description of how races were fixed because of shoddy industry procedures on checking on jockeys and horses and outlines how organized crime had great impact on the patterns of fixes,

In 1971 for example, a horse named Rule Away actually competed under three different names and won each time-twice in New Jersey (at Atlantic City and Garden State), once in Massachusetts (Suffolk Downs). He won two more races under another name running at Narragansset.

In 1977, a horse supposedly named Lebon went off at 57-1 in the last race at Belmont. When it won, the cash-in $50 window at the track was "one deep." The player, who turned out to be a veterinarian named Mark Gerard, had $80,000 in winning tickets to collect. That race and a subsequent investigation into horse-switching was to become one of the biggest scandals in the history of American racing.

In 1984, it was Australian authorities' turn when a horse named Fine Cotton, under the colors of the Waterhouse family, appeared with several million dollars wagered. Originally at 33-1, the horse's odd dropped to 7-2. It won by less than a head. Minutes later the scam was exposed when the horse being led from the track was identified by bettors as a ringer, and the track began to investigate. The whole story--with arrests, investigation, suspensions and an embarrassed Australian betting industry--is highlighted in great detail by Ashforth.

If you enjoyed John McEvoy's Great Horse Racing Mysteries, Ashforth's fine history of criminality on the track will continue to feed your curiosity about the possibility of future chicanery. The author is a senior reporter and columnist with the Racing Post in Great Britain.

Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com