The Kentucky State Racing Commission's meeting room in Lexington has this warm, down-home, Southern comfort air about it, so that any second you expect Colonel Sanders to walk in with a chicken leg in one hand and a bourbon and branch water in the other. The walls are paneled and there is thick green carpeting, a long conference table and a fireplace beneath a portrait of Nashua. Here last week the commission invited in a couple of friends—aren't all Kentucky horsemen friends?—for a little t√™te-√†-t√™te about their curious behavior in the hectic hours after word leaked out that Dancer's Image had been replaced as winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby. The tenor of the brief hearing was pretty well captured in this exchange between Assistant State Attorney General George Rabe, who was representing the commission, and Trainer Doug Davis Jr.:
Rabe: "Did you bet on the race?"
Davis: "Yes, I bet $5 on Forward Pass."
Rabe: "So did I."
February 17, 1969
Davis: "Well, we didn't collect, did we?"
It was Davis who testified previously that on Monday, May 6, he informed the trainer of Dancer's Image, Lou Cavalaris, that his horse had been discovered to have won the race under the influence of Butazolidin. It was also Davis who, after talking with Cavalaris in a Louisville motel, collaborated with the veterinarian who treated Dancer's Image, Dr. Alex Harthill, in the now-famous "salting" scheme. And it was on this scheme—its origin, purpose and execution—that the commission met to quiz Davis and Harthill last week. As explained by the two men, first at the Churchill Downs' stewards' hearing May 13-15, and again before the commission last week, the story goes this way:
Davis, a big, boisterous man who is popular among Kentucky horsemen, had his string of horses stabled at the Downs in a barn next to Barn 24, where Dancer's Image was in residence and where Harthill maintains a laboratory. On the afternoon of May 6, Davis saw security agents from the track and the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, Inc. "shaking down" the stall of Dancer's Image. He was told by Cavalaris' assistant, Robert Barnard,. that Dancer's Image had tested positive. Unable to reach Cavalaris, who was visiting farms in central Kentucky, Davis left an open phone call for him at the Brown Suburban Hotel.
Cavalaris finally returned the call, heard the news from Davis, and hurried over to Davis' room at the Standiford Hotel. According to Davis, Cavalaris arrived "in a very emotional state...professing his honesty, pacing up and down the room, at times crying, beating his fists on the table." Then, said Davis, Cavalaris twice asked him if he thought Harthill could have given Dancer's Image some of the medication, either by mistake or on purpose. "By this time," Davis says, "I was pretty convinced that Mr. Cavalaris was hunting someone...to share the responsibility." And, Davis added, if Harthill "wasn't elected, he was damn sure nominated."
So Davis thought up the scheme that was labeled last week by his own attorney, Millard Cox, as "phantasmagoria." Davis said he proposed to Harthill that they go out to Barn 24 and doctor the feed of Dancer's Image with a white substance, ostensibly Butazolidin but actually aspirin. This would be done in the presence of Cavalaris and Barnard. The idea was that it would provide the reason why the drug had been found in the horse: someone—unknown—had put it in the feed before the Derby. The thinking of Davis and Harthill was that if Cavalaris and Barnard were guilty, they would go along with the scheme, only to be exposed by Harthill and Davis. If innocent, however, Cavalaris would report the "salting" immediately, and then Harthill and Davis could get off the hook by showing they were only using aspirin. "My motive was to protect my friend Alex," said Davis. Said Harthill, "We didn't want to frame this man, we just wanted to test him."
How Cavalaris reacted to the scheme is not easily discernible. Cavalaris testified at the stewards' hearing that when he found out what was going on he told Harthill, "I don't want nothing to do with this, Doc." However, Davis told the commission, "We wanted to give this man a chance to be dishonest, which he did readily." The Louisville Courier-Journal quoted Davis as calling Cavalaris "a damn liar."
The commissioners, headed by Chairman George Egger, asked Harthill and Davis whether they thought their roles in the "salting" constituted "improper conduct." Last June 4, Harthill and Davis were two of six men cited by the commission to show why their licenses should not be suspended or revoked because of the "salting" scheme. The others cited were Cavalaris, Barnard and Attorneys Arthur Grafton and Ned Bonnie, who allegedly disposed of some of the "salted" feed on the morning of Tuesday, May 7.
"If I had to do this over again...I keep thinking of it as a matter of self-preservation," said Harthill. "I was impulsive and we panicked, more or less."
Davis was more positive. "Under the circumstances, I would not then and do not now consider it improper conduct."
Commissioner Stanley Lambert asked whether, if the same situation came up again—here everyone chorused "God forbid"—they would do the same thing again.
"What do you think, Doug?" asked Harthill.
"Yes," said Davis, "because I thought I was bringing this man [Cavalaris] out in the open."
As they did with Davis, the commissioners also asked Harthill if he had bet on the race, particularly on Dancer's Image. "No, I bet on Iron Ruler," Harthill said. "You couldn't give me a ticket on him [Dancer's Image]. Sore as he was, you couldn't have printed tickets and given them to me." Harthill did say that on the Sunday morning after the Derby he asked if he could buy a service from Dancer's Image for $5,000 when the horse was sent to stud, and was told that he could. Did he still have that option, the commission wanted to know? "What do you think?" replied Harthill.
In presenting his case to the commission, Attorney Cox said, "I find it difficult to find a rule these men have violated...If they have injured anyone, they only injured each other or themselves." The hearing lasted three hours and 20 minutes, and four days later—last Friday—the commission announced its decision:
Harthill and Davis were given the choice of being suspended for 30 days or paying a fine of $500 (they chose to pay the fine.) Since they were cited by the commission for "improper conduct detrimental to the best interests of racing," the penalty constitutes the merest slap on the wrist for the offense. It is even lighter than the one given Cavalaris; if Cavalaris had been treated similarly, he would have been able to participate in preparing his horse for the Preakness that followed the Derby.
While it is commendable that the commission undertook to investigate the bizarre salting scheme, the decision answers none of the significant questions that arose after the Derby. All the commission has found is that none of the principals—Cavalaris, Barnard, Hart-hill, Davis—is guilty of anything more serious than poor judgment. At the same time, by upholding the findings of Chemist Kenneth Smith, the commission declares that Dancer's Image was illegally drugged when he won the Derby.
So the questions remain: Who drugged Dancer's Image? How? When? Why? At this moment the commission does not plan—nor, apparently, does it feel obligated—to investigate those questions. A charitable view is that the commission is awaiting the result of Peter Fuller's appeal from its findings about the drugging. Fuller, the owner of Dancer's Image, will ask Judge Henry Meigs of Kentucky's Franklin Circuit Court to overturn the commission's decision on the basis that Smith's tests were inconclusive, unscientific and worthless. The appeal is a precedent in racing history—never before has a chemist's test been challenged. But some knowledgeable horsemen, impressed by the detail and volume of Fuller's case, believe Judge Meigs will rule for him.
On one count, at least, the sport should heed the words of Arthur Grafton: "Is it bad for racing for a horse to win the Derby under a cloud? Of course it is. Is it bad for the winner of the Derby to be deprived of that great victory on evidence that is questionable or uncertain? Of course it is. The public should feel when this case is over that neither one of these results has been reached...Only then will racing be able to hold up its head again in Kentucky."