Out of the morning mist shrouding the barns at Saratoga loomed the figure of FBI Agent Jim Glavin and two members of the New Jersey State Police. "Hi there, we'd like to talk to you," Glavin said to Edward Sweat, a groom mucking out the stall next to Riva Ridge.
All last week Feebies, Jersey troopers and gumshoes for the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau were investigating racing's latest cause cél√®bre, the drugging of Riva Ridge, winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont and prime contender for Horse of the Year. In Washington, Representative Claude Pepper of Florida was making noises about a congressional inquiry. The reason for all the sleuthing and politicking was the Aug. 5 running of the Monmouth Invitational in New Jersey in which Riva Ridge ran a disappointing fourth. Last week, to all sorts of consternation, Mrs. John Tweedy of Meadow Stable announced that laboratory tests she had ordered the day after the race revealed that her horse had been given a tranquilizer. What made Mrs. Tweedy's announcement genuinely sensational was that she made it in Saratoga at the climax of the traditional race meeting that is supposed to represent all that is gracious and elegant in the sport. The announcement of the drugging, some felt, was akin to dropping a bird in the punch bowl at the Turf Writers Ball, and, as one horseman complained of Mrs. Tweedy and her French-Canadian trainer, Lucien Laurin, "Why didn't they just keep their mouths shut? The public already thinks the sport is riddled with larceny."
No sooner had Mrs. Tweedy made her charge of what she called "an outrage" than up popped Bob Presti, the shadowy character whose hidden ownership of Jim French and other horses prompted a scandal last fall (SI, Nov. 1). Presti claimed that Jim French had been drugged when he was the favorite in the 1971 Monmouth Invitational, and he said his lawyers would sue Monmouth Park for $2 million. "That was a tank race, too," Presti said of the 1971 Invitational. "They definitely got to Jim French. He came out of the race waddling like a duck. His head was down like the horse Lee Marvin rode in that movie, Cat Ballou."
Many racegoers tended to dismiss Presti as irresponsible, but Penny Tweedy is something else. Meadow Stable, started in 1938 by her father, Christopher T. Chenery, a utilities tycoon, is the very essence of the Establishment. There were horsemen who felt that Riva Ridge never really had a chance at Monmouth, drugged or not, because the horse had too much taken out of him winning the Hollywood Derby on July 1. For that race Riva Ridge had to fly cross country, the track was as hard as a pool table and the race was a sprint from start to finish. Moreover, Riva Ridge was topweighted at 129 pounds. It was a very difficult race, "probably the hardest he's ever won," concedes Mrs. Tweedy. When Riva Ridge returned to New York a horseman who saw him thought the animal looked "crabbed" with sore muscles. Several days before going to Monmouth, Riva Ridge worked five-eighths of a mile at Saratoga in the very slow time of 1:02 over a track that was lightning fast. Mrs. Tweedy, who watched the workout, admits she was not impressed. As she puts it now, "I thought it was less than some of his best work." When she asked Lucien Laurin about it, the trainer explained that Riva Ridge would have worked much faster had he been wearing his blinkers.
September 3, 1972
At 5:30 Thursday evening, Aug. 3, Riva Ridge left Saratoga by van for the 250-mile trip to Monmouth Park, and Laurin says, "He was as sharp as a tack." The Meadow Stable van was driven by Sweat, the groom, and George (Charlie) Davis, the exercise boy. It arrived at Monmouth at 10:30 p.m. and Riva Ridge was put in the stakes barn. Sweat and Davis slept nearby while a night watchman guarded the stable. There is now some debate over whether or not the watchman fell asleep on the job Friday night. Sweat and Davis say they woke to find the watchman asleep, but Keene Daingerfield, state steward for New Jersey, says that Mrs. Tweedy, who voiced the charge, may have misheard racetrack talk about another guard, since fired, who fell asleep at another post. In any event, the track veterinarian who examined Riva Ridge at Monmouth the morning of the race felt he looked all right. State Veterinarian Dr. John Spurlock says the horse showed no physical signs of being tranquilized and could not have run as he did had he been drugged.
Laurin, who flew down Saturday morning with Mrs. Tweedy, says he first noticed that Riva Ridge was not himself in the paddock. Why didn't Laurin scratch the horse? "It's damn hard when a horse is 1 to 5," he says. "A test shows nothing, and you look like a fool." Mrs. Tweedy also thought Riva Ridge unusually subdued. "In the post parade he usually radiates vitality," she says. "I didn't know what to think. What crossed my mind more was that he was ill."
According to Laurin, Riva Ridge gave a lackluster performance in the race.' 'He usually has speed," Laurin says, "but I noticed Ronnie [Turcotte, the jockey] was trying to hustle him, and usually that isn't necessary—our horse goes at the same clip all the time." Riva Ridge finished six lengths behind the winner, Freetex. After the race, Laurin says Turcotte told him, "I can't give you any excuses. He was dead on his feet." Laurin was unable to find anything wrong with Riva Ridge at the time because "he looked like any horse after a race, dull."
That night, on the return flight to Saratoga with Mrs. Tweedy, Laurin recalls, "I said, 'There has to be something wrong with the horse. In the morning we'll get a blood test and a urine test.' I thought maybe he had a virus."
On Sunday morning at Saratoga, Laurin and Mrs. Tweedy spoke to their veterinarian, Dr. Mark (Mike) Gerard, who says, "Mr. Laurin and Mrs. Tweedy were talking about how Riva Ridge had behaved and run, and Mr. Laurin was saying that in all his years of racing he had never seen a horse so listless and dull. He's an animated horse, usually. As Mr. Laurin went on, it occurred to him, he said, 'My God, maybe someone had gotten to him.' He turned to me and said, 'Can you take a test of the urine and blood and find out if anything was given?' Mrs. Tweedy was nodding her head, concurring in his line of questioning to me. We planned to take a blood and a urine when the horse was due in before lunch in the van. I thought I'd have an hour to get ready. I sent one of my men to pick up a container for the urine. The horse came before the container came back, and he got in a stall and urinated. So we missed the sample." Still, Dr. Gerard took a number of blood samples. He airmailed some on Monday to Dalare Associates, a recognized testing laboratory in Philadelphia, and he sent a specimen of blood serum from Riva Ridge to the Saratoga Hospital for analysis. Also on Monday, he received a urine sample, and he airmailed that to Dalare.
Before sending the samples to Dalare, Dr. Gerard called Dr. James Brewer, veterinarian for the New York State Racing Commission, and said, "A very good horse trainer thinks his horse was tampered with. Could you arrange for an official test?" Dr. Brewer refused—correctly, in Dr. Gerard's opinion—on two grounds: 1) the matter involved the New Jersey commission, not New York's, and 2) the samples lacked "integrity" in that the horse had not been under the direct control of a veterinarian since the running of the race.
Dr. Gerard did not get final testing results from the lab until Aug. 15, 10 days after the race. Mrs. Tweedy, who notified authorities then, did not make announcement of the findings until last week because she was asked to let the investigation get under way without publicity.
The blood and urine samples analyzed by Dalare were positive, showing trace amounts of phenothiazine or a derivative thereof. Phenothiazine itself is a worm medicine for horses, but its chemical base can be altered to make various tranquilizers, such as promazine, sold by Wyeth Laboratories, for instance, under the trade name of Sparine. Dr. George Jaggard of Dalare, who conducted the tests, suspects that the drug involved in the Riva Ridge case was promazine or Sparine, but he did not have enough blood or urine to analyze to make identification positive. Under whatever name it is sold, oral promazine is readily available at almost any thoroughbred drug supply house without prescription.
The Saratoga Hospital examination revealed no infection in Riva Ridge, but there was an abnormal amount of nucleated red blood cells and icteric serum with a reddish rather than normal yellow tinge, indicative of a breakdown of red blood cells. "There is a host of different toxins that can break down red blood cells," says Dr. Gerard. "An overdose of phenothiazine as worm medicine can do this. Whether a phenothiazine-based tranquilizer can do it, I don't know. The horse got something—I don't know when. I've worked for Mr. Laurin since 1958, and he's had favorites get beat and never felt that someone got to the horse. But a drug was in the horse, and I know of no way it got there."
After the laboratory results came back, Dr. Gerard took periodic blood tests of Riva Ridge, and he reports the horse's blood is now back to normal. Last week the insurance company requested that an EKG be done to see if the drug had affected Riva Ridge's heart. The EKG disclosed the heart to be strong and healthy.
At present there are two major theories about the drugging of Riva Ridge. The first is that Riva Ridge was tranquilized at Monmouth so he would lose the race. Tranquilizing horses so they will lose, especially favorites, is nothing new. The practice reached almost epizootic proportions in harness racing two years ago, and knowledgeable thoroughbred authorities report that tranquilizing is increasing in flat racing outside New York. Yet there were no signs of a betting coup on the Monmouth Invitational. The odds on Riva Ridge continued to drop until the mutuel windows closed, while the odds on the winner, Freetex, went up from 10 to 1 to 11 to 1. When the fix is in, the reverse occurs.
The other theory is that someone close to Riva Ridge, perhaps with no sort of evil intent, gave him the tranquilizer after the race so he would have an easy trip back to Saratoga. Laurin explodes at this notion. "This horse has been all over, and he never had a tranquilizer in his life!" he exclaims. "He's a better shipper than I am." Of the groom, Edward Sweat, Laurin says, "He's my No. 1 man, and I'd bet my life on him." (There is also the possibility that Riva Ridge got a nibble after the race from the feed tub of a horse who had been routinely tranquilized.)
Convinced that Riva Ridge was drugged, Laurin believes the fourth-place finish at Monmouth should not count against him in the voting for Horse of the Year. Yet there are horsemen who say that Laurin is using the lab results as a convenient alibi for losing with an out-of-shape Riva Ridge and that the Horse of the Year honor really belongs to Paul Mellon's Key to the Mint. Beaten by Riva Ridge in the Belmont, Key to the Mint has since come on strong, winning the prestigious Travers and the Whitney at Saratoga. Despite this, Laurin insists that Riva Ridge should be picked as Horse of the Year. "I certainly do," he says. "If we're not, I don't think we'll ever go back to the Derby." According to Laurin, Riva Ridge may run in the United Nations Handicap or the Discovery. These are curious races in which to enter a candidate for Horse of the Year. Key to the Mint, by contrast, is almost certain to run in traditional championship races like the Jockey Club Gold Cup or the Woodward.
No matter which is Horse of the Year, it is unlikely that the Riva Ridge drugging case will be solved. "There was such a time lag," says Mrs. Tweedy. "We contacted the FBI 10 days after the race, the day we got the report. I'd be surprised if there was any trail left to trace then."
Even so, there are conclusions to be drawn. The New Jersey Racing Commission has already acted on one of them, ruling that a beaten favorite, as well as the winner and any other horse designated by the stewards, is to be tested. In New York, Riva Ridge automatically would have been tested both as the fourth finisher and as the beaten favorite no matter how far down he had finished.
Also, the Riva Ridge case underlines the need for the institution of pre-race testing, the only way for commissions to guarantee that horsemen and the betting public are getting a fair shake. As Mrs. Tweedy says, "I'm sure that if someone is determined to get to a horse, no security can guard against it completely. I don't think supertight security is going to be as effective as pre-race testing. I hope this case will be another reason they will consider it."