Will Laurel drop Hoover race? Tribute to race fan seems safe for now

February 14, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

History has not been kind to J. Edgar Hoover.

Was he addicted to gambling and bet on fixed races arranged by the Mob?

Was he so corrupt that his name will be expunged from FBI headquarters in Washington?

If so, would Laurel-Pimlico track operator Joe De Francis scrap the stakes race annually run in his honor?

The 21st running of the J. Edgar Hoover Handicap is scheduled for Laurel Race Course on March 21.

Instead of honoring a legend, is the race now an embarrassment to the Maryland Jockey Club?

Hoover, who served as director of the FBI for 48 years under eight presidents, was also known for a long time as Maryland's No. 1 racing fan.

He frequented Pimlico, Laurel and Bowie race courses for 50 years, usually in the company of his longtime companion, assistant FBI director Clyde Tolson.

Snowden Carter, longtime turf writer for The Sun, recalls that at one time there were even a couple of popular horses running at local tracks named Director J. E. and Clyde Tolson.

But in a couple of recently published books, and on the PBS news show "Frontline," which aired Tuesday, a number of charges and tabloid-type indiscretions were reported about the late FBI director.

Chick Lang, former Pimlico general manager, was a friend of Hoover's and is the man who named the Maryland stakes in his honor.

"Racing owes Hoover a debt of gratitude," Lang said. "He genuinely liked the sport. When he'd come out to Pimlico, he sat in the Members Club, and I'd get a call saying, 'The director is aboard.'

"One time, he gave me a tie clasp with a miniature pair of handcuffs on it. He told me -- laughing -- that if I didn't pick better horses [for him], next time he'd bring a pair that fit

me."

De Francis said he saw part of the "Frontline" show and hadn't really thought about changing the name of the J. Edgar Hoover Handicap.

"I guess if some facts came to light, we would," he said. "When my father bought these tracks, the [Hoover] race came with them. It's been around for a long time. At this point, I just don't know what we'll do."

Changing federal tax laws

State lawmakers in Annapolis last week expressed puzzlement over the fact that racing leaders haven't tried harder to change federal tax laws that have hurt the horse racing and breeding industries.

Both thoroughbred and harness officials appeared before legislative committees to ask them to broaden simulcasting powers, which would allow state tracks to take bets on a massive array of out-of-state electronic races. The simulcasts are needed to supplement dwindling live cards caused by a shrinking horse population.

"Is anyone doing anything nationally to try to reverse the 1986 Tax Reform Act? Is anyone doing anything to keep this industry from drying up?" asked Del. Tyras Athey, D-Anne Arundel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

On the Senate side, legislators kept up the same line of questioning.

"Have any of you officially contacted Maryland's congressional delegation for help?" asked Sen. James C. Simpson, D-Charles County. "Or do you think they don't have the clout to do anything?"

Sen. Tom Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, said that Florida's boat-building industry, hurt by a damaging luxury boat tax, has been successful in repealing that tax, and wondered why a strong horse racing lobby couldn't do the same thing.

"All you have to do is drive up to northern Baltimore County and see the number of farms closing down," Bromwell said. "Slowly, those tax laws are picking away at the industry and all we are going to have left are simulcast parlors. It is a legitimate concern."

De Francis said he returned from the recent Thoroughbred Racing Association's convention in Los Angeles and expressed the same sort of dismay to the national organization of track owners.

"Instead of meeting somewhere like California or Florida, where a lot of executives can play golf, I suggested we have the 1994 convention in Washington," De Francis said. "That way, instead of socializing with each other, we can go to Capitol Hill and meet with legislators and lobby to get these things done. We will be where the power is. Racing should have one of the strongest lobbying organizations in the country, and instead we have almost no voice."

The American Horse Council currently represents the entire horse industry. Officials are reluctant to say it, but many think the AHC is poorly funded, inept and woefully inadequate at representing racing interests. Instead, the organization throws up its hands and says nothing can be done while the racing industry suffers.

De Francis said the TRA executive committee is holding a three-day retreat in Dallas next month to discuss these issues.

"It's time there is more unity and more national planning and I think a lot of people have to come to realize it," De Francis said. "I just hope it's not too late."

Miscellaneous

Bills proposed by Sen. Idamae Garrott, D-Montgomery, to increase state taxation on horse racing bets were voted down last week by the Senate Finance Committee. . . . The Maryland Racing Commission is considering a random drug-testing program that will include all personnel that come in contact with a horse, such as trainers, grooms and hotwalkers, but not owners. . . . The number of Maryland horses winning on the tough Florida winter circuit continues to grow. Not only have the Bill Donovan runners, such as Lost Leaf, Jacody and Code Blum, won but so have Jo Lo's Joy, Baron Matthew and Land Grant. Even old Slew of Bills recently won at Gulfstream Park for Baltimore County trainer, Chuck Cole.

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