GIVING HORSEPLAYERS A WORKOUT
As most horseplayers know, the Daily Racing Form's past-performance charts include recent workout clockings as well as race results. But an alert horseplayer, Jerry Sirabella, a businessman in Franklin Square, N.Y., has discovered a pattern of errors in the workout entries that can make it easier for track insiders to profit unfairly at the expense of the average bettor.
Sirabella documented for SI that the workout clockings the Form publishes each day in a long list frequently don't make it, as they're supposed to, into the past-performance charts. He first became aware of this in May, when a 58-1 shot named Amadandy won a race at Belmont Park. Sirabella remembered that he'd seen an impressive time credited to the horse in the Form's workout list a few days earlier. Sirabella found that the horse's name had been given in the list as I'm A Dandy and that the workout wasn't published in Amadandy's past-performance chart on race day. Since then Sirabella has come up with more than two dozen other instances of horses that won or placed at long odds at New York tracks and whose past-performance charts had workout omissions. The odds on many of these horses surely would have dropped had their recent workouts been published in the charts; even when clockings are unexceptional, the mere fact that a horse has worked out can be a handicapping plus.
What all the horses had in common was that their names had been misspelled on the workout lists. For example, on July 31 a horse identified as Trio's Lark was listed as having turned in a fast workout. Trios Lark (no apostrophe) won three days later at Saratoga and paid $54.80. The fast workout didn't appear in her chart. Similarly, Darcys Boby reeled off a swift three-furlong workout on July 23; no reference to that workout appeared in Darcy's Baby's past-performance chart when he won 18 days later, at 4-1. There's also the case of a 17-1 shot named Intransic Sailor, who finished second in a race at Aqueduct on Jan. 16. The pari-mutuel betting on that race prompted a New York Racing Association investigation because the payoff for the exacta (in which the first two horses must be picked in order) was $67.20, while the return for the quinella (the first two horses in no special order), which should be less, was $116.60. The investigation turned up a big exacta bet by one bettor but no wrongdoing. What the NYRA didn't learn—but Sirabella did—was that a horse identified as In-transient Sailor had logged a workout two days earlier that wasn't mentioned in Intransic Sailor's past-performance chart.
The Form's editor, Fred Grossman, declined to discuss the errors. But he did outline the newspaper's procedures: a computer is used to enter horses' published workouts into their past-performance charts. When the computer is unable to match a name on the workout list with that of any registered horse, indicating a possible misspelling, staffers try by other means to clear up the discrepancy. This can take a week or more. Because the horse has often already raced, the information by this time is useless.
There's no indication that the misspellings and omissions are anything other than honest errors. Nevertheless, readers clearly have reason to be skeptical of a current Form ad campaign promising "complete, accurate, reliable, all-inclusive [and] informative" workout data.
IS COKE ITS OR THEIRS?
Frederick Koch, father of Bill Koch, the 1976 Olympic silver medal winner in cross-country skiing, has spent his lifetime suffering people who mispronounce his name. Every time it happened he told the offender, "No, no, Coke is it."
Finally, last November, in a fit of exasperation and with no small amount of whimsy, he legally changed his name to Coke Is It. Which was fine with everyone except the folks at Coca-Cola Company, who feel strongly that Coke Is Theirs because Coke Is It is the firm's advertising catch line. Naturally, the lawyers got into it, and there was a wire-service story the other day that Coke and Mr. It—that's his last name now—had negotiated a settlement allowing the latter to keep his new handle as long as he doesn't use it commercially. However, the parties agree that there is no settlement, and It says, "They just want me to disappear. They don't want any threats to their little beverage." Coca-Cola refuses further comment, making clear that in its eyes, Mr. Coke Is It.
PUT A LID ON IT
The Silverdome, which was closed after a fierce winter storm ravaged its roof, is the butt of a joke making the rounds in Pontiac, Mich.: Did you hear that Pontiac is coming out with a new car? It's called the Silverdome. It's a convertible with no Pistons.
COLD WAR GAMES
Among the more superfluous additions to the sports scene this year is Uncle Tug, the world's first electronic tug-of-war machine. This Rube Goldberg-like contraption consists of a red, white and blue drum with rope extending out either end and fitted with a rotary switch. As contestants heave, a towering light board depicting Uncle Sam, arms upraised and fists clenched victoriously, gives a high-tech readout that tells you who's ahead.
The inventor, Jack Barringer, who has an electronic dart board and a mechanical log-rolling device in the R & D stage, came up with the red, white and blue motif as an afterthought. He says he wanted to "capitalize on the patriotic fervor and competitive spirit sweeping America."
He'll get his chance April 4, when a Soviet wrestling team meets an American side in Ames, Iowa, Barringer's hometown. The grapplers are scheduled to give Tug a go. Soviets to the left, Yanks to the right, no doubt.
Mike Schmidt has discovered that the booing endemic to sports fans in the City of Brotherly Love may be congenital. The Phillies' third baseman recently pulled up beside a school bus to see if his daughter Jessica was on board. While he was casually chatting with the bus driver, the kids began chanting, "Choke! Choke! Choke!"
"That's your Philadelphia fan in the making," said Schmidt.
SHORT ON TALENT, LONG ON CHUTZPAH
All Zach Lieberman ever wanted to do when he grew up was play pro hoops. And so he practiced eight hours a day, forwent a normal adolescence and slept with a basketball for 15 years. The problem is, Lieberman never quite grew up. The U.S. International junior, who just hired an agent—Paul Silas—and is about to go hardship, is 5'2½".
Lieberman's career stats with the Soaring Gulls of the San Diego school are strictly from Lilliput: He hit only 29.9% of his shots from the floor, but then he took only enough to average 3.1 points a game. Besides, Lieberman's forte is ball handling: He had 167 assists, though they were perhaps vitiated by his 171 turnovers. Nevertheless, he does have a pro offer, albeit from the Washington Generals, a team that hasn't beaten its lone opponent, the Harlem Globetrotters, in 14 years. Says Lieberman defiantly, "With my style of play, I should be on the Globetrotters."
THE WORLD OF MR. DIZ
Mr. Diz, a rumpled railbird who died recently in Baltimore at the age of 66, was such a famous horseplayer in Maryland that three racehorses and a $35,000 stakes were named with him in mind. But he periodically swore off playing the ponies. "I got 27 reasons," he would blare in his big, homestretch voice. "Twenty-seven bona fide reasons. Number one is, you can go broke."
Mr. Diz had a thing about numbers: "I've been in 24 states and 22 countries. I was in nine campaigns in World War II. There are only seven honest people. There used to be 10, but three died." He never revealed their identities, though. "I took an oath," he explained.
Sired by an East Baltimore cantor, Mr. Diz started life as Frank Rosenfeld. At 12 he ran away from home to work a guess-your-weight scale on the carny circuit. Later on he just worked Baltimore.
His loopy nature quickly earned him the moniker Dizzy. But John Steadman, a sports columnist for the Baltimore News American, renamed him. "Everyone deserves respect," says Steadman. "That's the reason that I started calling him Mister."
You could usually find Mr. Diz hanging out at the federal courthouse, where he dispensed street wisdom. He also put in celebrity appearances at such important municipal events as the Turtle Derby, the Frog Jumping hop and the mayor's Hog-Calling Contest.
But his real element was the track. It was there that a colt once introduced him to carrots. "I been feeding him them," Mr. Diz said. "So one day I was a little hungry and tasted one. They're great!"
Mr. Diz's body looked like a second helping of mashed potatoes. Every morning he'd roll it into half a dozen sweaters and overcoats with as many badges and buttons pinned to the lapels. His favorite button read MR. DIZ, FRIEND OF KIDS.
He also befriended slow horses, betting them with money scrounged from his host of acquaintances. "I still owe $210,019.57 to my backers," he once said. "The list I got is 93 pages long."
A Pimlico executive was so touched by Mr. Diz's spending habits that he named a filly in honor of the man. Unfortunately, Almost Broke left her owners feeling just that. But she had a younger cousin, distinguished by four white feet. "Handicappers said any colt with all them white feet wouldn't never do nothin'," said Mr. Diz. "So they named him Mr. Diz."
Naturally, the equine Mr. Diz won $327,000. "What can I say?" its namesake said with a shrug. "I was born on the wrong side of the track."
THEY SAID IT
•Frank Glieber, CBS Sports announcer, upon seeing network college basketball analyst Billy Packer's multihued sports coat: "Who shot the couch?"
•Pat Williams, general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, on 260-pound rookie power forward Charles Barkley: "Charles joined my family for a day at the beach last summer, and my children asked if they could go in the ocean. I had to tell them, 'Not right now, kids. Charles is using it.' "