Two months ago the Humane Society of the United States received at its Washington, D.C. headquarters an anonymous letter from an employee at the Water-ford Park Race Track in Chester, W. Va. It said, in part, "Since they, the management of Waterford Park, have been putting pea gravel on the track instead of sand, we have treated 600 to 1,000 eyes this year for dents, cuts, ulcers and blindness. Today the veterinarian removed the 31st eye of a thoroughbred in 1978."
Field investigator Marc Paulhus, assigned to the case by the society, spent 10 days in West Virginia collecting witnesses' statements and evidence, much of it in clandestine interviews with trainers afraid to speak out for fear the track management would retaliate by denying them stall space.
On the basis of Paulhus' work, the Humane Society and its lawyers decided that the practice of using pea gravel on the track at Waterford Park may well constitute a continuing pattern of violation of the West Virginia anticruelty statutes, and the society threatened to seek prosecution under West Virginia's criminal statutes if the practice were not discontinued.
The owner of Waterford Park is a billion-dollar conglomerate called the Ogden Corporation. The corporation replied to the Humane Society by saying, in essence, that a horse hit in the eye with gravel is better off than one hit in the eye by dirt clods and stones, as happens on other surfaces at other tracks, and that, therefore, "we continue to feel our racing surface is in the best interest of the horse."
Dr. Dean H. Peterson, who was a Waterford Park veterinarian for four years and who removed about three eyes a year while he was there, says, "I think the track conditions are such that they cause more eye injuries than other surfaces would cause. I've heard a lot of trainers talk about boycotting the entry box, but they're too poor. A guy trying to train 10 broken-down horses and having problems getting his owners to pay their bills can't afford to boycott."
John Shryock, a trainer, recently spoke to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Demmie Stathoplos about racing at Waterford. Digging the toe of his boot into the deep layer of gravel at the rail on the far turn at Waterford Park, he said, "It's awful. I used to train here, but I left and went to New Orleans because of this surface. My daughter's riding in this race here. She's a 16-year-old apprentice jockey. Name's Debbie. She's been riding here one week and she's gone through 21 pairs of goggles. They get all scratched and pitted from the gravel. She comes home with red marks all over her body, her arms and legs, from being hit by the gravel. It's the worst track we've ever been on."
The track's manager, Howard Graham, assessed the efforts of the Humane Society as follows: "I think they're a shyster outfit, and I think they're strictly after publicity, and I don't want to honor them by getting into any debate with them."
Fortunately the debate is already on, and it would seem to be a debate that warrants as much publicity as it can get.
ONLY A GAME
A colleague of ours was recently invited to play golf at Long Island's Piping Rock Club with James Van Alen, the 76-year-old innovator who gave tennis the tiebreaker and who is currently campaigning to have the game's scoring system changed to "no-ad"—first player to win four points wins the game. With all this in mind, our man was not entirely surprised when he was told by Van Alen that he could use only one club, plus putter, for his round. Van Alen's rules are simple enough: the player hits two balls off the tee with his club—in our colleague's case, a six-iron. He selects the better shot and hits two more until he has reached the green. From there in he putts only one ball.
Although purists may shudder, our man, who has played a lot of golf in his time, came away remarkably refreshed. The 18 holes had taken less than two hours and, with only two clubs to carry, he had needed neither caddy nor cart. His mood was cheery, the Van Alen format having eliminated the worst shots, and he had hit some of the best irons of his life, probably, he theorizes, because he was never tempted to overswing as he might have with a driver.
Van Alen's game is not golf, but our colleague didn't mind. He says that when he uses 14 clubs and one ball it isn't necessarily golf either.
Apprentice jockey Kathy Antus, 21, broke her maiden, as they say, in the first race at Commodore Downs in Erie, Pa. a couple of weeks ago. The winner, Marget Lea, who paid $4.60, is owned and trained by Kathy's father, J.L. Hammer, a furniture-store owner from North East, Pa., who says that his "boy" "is a very good rider."
The family celebration had hardly begun, however, when Larry Antus, 23, the third-leading rider at Commodore and Kathy's husband of three years, rode Money Cash ($7.80) to victory in the second race.
As far as anyone knows, it was the first time a husband and wife had ever ridden a daily double. The happy coupling paid $22.20.
STATE OF MIND
It has been said that there are three seasons in Texas—football, spring football and recruiting. A survey published by Pro, the NFL's magazine, supports the notion. More NFL players (179) were born in Texas than anywhere else. California is second with 151 and Ohio third with 95. But here's a fact to conjure with: twice as many NFL players were born in Poland as in Nevada. Green Bay's Chester Marcol and New Orleans' Rich Szaro, both placekickers, are from Poland. Oakland's David Humm is from Las Vegas.
"If you can remember where the Kansas City Chiefs originated, or San Diego's Chargers, or recall the AFL New York original nickname—or Oakland's—then you will survive in the G.F.L." So says, in slightly confusing prose, the weekly Gnus of the Gnational Football League, which arrives in a plain brown envelope with a Santa Rosa, Calif. postmark.
The eight northern California teams of the GFL—Tiburon Hot Tubs, Walnut Creek Weasels, San Mateo Critical Rays, Humboldt Crabs, etc.—held a draft of NFL players during the summer to establish 15-man rosters, and each week during the season the club "owner" sends his starting lineup—one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers and a kicker—to the commissioner, Mike Carey, a former University of San Francisco sports information director who lives in Sebastopol. The winners of the weekly GFL "games" are determined by the scoring of each team's six starters in NFL play that week.
According to Commissioner Carey, a typical GFL game was the season opener between the Big Plum Buckeyes (now the Big Plum Pits) and the Sonoma Geysers (now the Sebastopol Escargot). The Geysers appeared to be on their way to a narrow victory over the Buckeyes thanks to Dan Pastorini's two touchdown passes against Atlanta and Chuck Muncie's two touchdowns against Minnesota, even though Rafael Septien had missed two field goals in Dallas' 38-0 win over the Colts. But, when one of Pastorini's touchdown passes was belatedly ruled a lateral, instead of the Geysers winning 41-38, the Buckeyes came out on top 38-35.
Within minutes of the decision, Rank Link, a disciple of Woody Hayes and general manager of the Geysers, kicked in the mailbox of his opposite number on the Buckeyes, thereby forcing the commissioner's office to take a stand against the "criminal element" surfacing in the GFL.
Trades are frequent in the league and they are reported weekly in the gnusletter. For instance, last week: "When the Escargot had lost Bob Griese, Doug Williams and Pastorini to injuries, it sent Chuck Foreman to the Walnut Creek Weasels for Dan Fouts, whereupon Foreman rewarded his new team with a Monday night touchdown against the Chicago Bears that helped the Weasels nip the Critical Rays, 15-9."
It could develop into the gnational pastime.
Long Beach State Coach Dave Currey winced as Cornerback Scotty Byers made a tackle near the bench in a game against Southwest Louisiana. The hit was so crunching that Byers' helmet popped off and flew down the field. Currey rushed toward his player to see if he was hurt.
"What's your name?" the coach shouted anxiously.
"Who wants to know?" replied Byers. Currey sent him back in.
A New York tout sheet is offering fans the pro football picks of a 10-year-old named Jamie the Greek.
In spite of federal investigations piled on million-dollar slander suits and misappropriation on top of misappropriation, the mess surrounding the Ali-Spinks fight in New Orleans (SI, Oct. 2) has a certain absurd quality that keeps it from attaining full scandal status.
The latest development, reported last week by WVUE, ABC's New Orleans affiliate, adds another layer. The company known as Louisiana Sports, Inc., which bought from Top Rank, the promoter, the rights to the live gate plus certain ancillary rights, and which was thought to be owned equally by four men—Jake DiMaggio, Phillip Ciaccio, Don Hubbard and Sherman Copelin—now appears to have had a fifth owner. According to WVUE's report, Charles Roemer, the state commissioner of administration, was given 10% ownership. The absurd part is where that 10% came from.
Don Hubbard, one of the four supposedly equal owners, is said to have had, in fact, an extra 10%, which he was granted for additional promotional work he had done. Hubbard, says WVUE, sold his extra 10% to a Monroe, La. businessman named Morris Carroll for $175,000, then gave $150,000 of that amount to Roemer and kept $25,000 for himself.
Carroll, the previously silent partner, is talking now, up to a point. He told WVUE that, yes, he bought a 10% share, and, yes, the amount was $175,000 and, no, he has not made a dime back on his investment and, no, he has no idea where or to whom his money went. The point at which Carroll stopped talking was when WVUE asked him how he became involved with Louisiana Sports, Inc. in the first place.
Roemer, the state official, is talking for only so long as it takes to say, "Not true."
OUT OF BOUNDS
Cheerleaders, clad and unclad, were an item on the agenda at the NFL owners' meetings in Chicago last week. Tighter screening methods to weed out undesirables, and contractual restrictions on off-field conduct such as posing nude for national magazines were suggested, but the gist of the discussion, said Pete Rozelle, was that cheerleaders should remain the concern of the individual clubs. "We adopted a hands-off policy," was the way Rozelle put it.
The NHL is trying out a rule during its exhibition season that requires all players not involved in a fight to go directly to their benches. Of course the rule is being ignored, which means that after every fight every team gets a bench penalty. In a recent Buffalo-Montreal game, rookie Forward Cam Botting served four Buffalo bench penalties, prompting a TV man to announce, "Botting is Buffalo's designated sitter."
THEY SAID IT
•Eddie Lewis of the 49ers, discussing his position: "Playing cornerback is like being on an island; people can see you but they can't help you."
•Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota quarterback, on being booed for failing to engineer a Viking touchdown: "I've been playing this game for 18 years and I haven't yet figured a way to get into the end zone when you're on your rear end."
•Mareen (Peanut) Louie, tennis player, on why she is turning pro at 18: "I hate homework."