LAUREL -- Arnold Heft took advantage yesterday of his experience as a National Basketball Association referee in making a pitch that appeared to help win a purse for one of his racehorses.
Heft, 71, hasn't refereed since 1961. But when he began to talk about the need for consistency in making decisions, it fit perfectly with the thinking of six members of the Maryland Racing Commission who voted to reverse a stewards' decision and elevated Heft's horse, Tacoboy, from fifth to fourth in a race here Oct. 6.
It was a unanimous decision by the commissioners, who studied videotapes of the fourth race. But when Heft later tried to argue for a fine of the stewards -- just as NBA commissioner Maurice Podoloff used to impose when an official was late for a game -- the retired referee drew a rebuke from one of the commissioners, who said that Maryland enjoyed a fine group of stewards, despite the reversal.
Heft had come to the hearing expecting his trainer, Jerry Robb, and jockey Greg Hutton to testify. But because Heft was listed in the charge letter and because he was not accompanied by an attorney, Heft had to present the case.
Heft, who pitched one year for the Baltimore Orioles of the International League and was a part-owner of the Baltimore Bullets before they moved to Landover, is a wealthy sportsman. He has a one-third interest in the Capital Centre and is involved in a construction business.
His racing silks are black-and-white stripes, similar to a referee's shirt, and he frequently talks about the NBA.
"We had to be consistent," he told the commissioners. "If you called plays a little different than someone else, you had to do it all the time.
"But this decision in the race is not consistent with others these stewards make. There was a horse in front of mine, and he crossed over in front. The other horse was too close and should have been disqualified. I read the rules, and they say the other horse should be disqualified, not my horse."
The stewards originally had ruled that Tacoboy had interfered with Jole Son, ridden by Mark Johnston, and placed Heft's horse fifth. The commission ruled yesterday that Tacoboy had been interfered with by Full Colonel, ridden by Carol Bradshaw.
Heft's horse was restored to fourth place. The commissioners now must consider whether to move's Heft's horse up another notch, ahead of Full Colonel. Such an attempt would have to come later, because Full Colonel's owner, trainer and jockey were not asked to attend the hearing yesterday at Laurel.