HOW TO FIX A HORSE RACE
When the eight jockeys went to the post that afternoon at Fort Erie they all knew the race was crooked but not which horse Swabby Swartz, thief turned master mind, had designated to win. The explosion that followed revealed double-crossers double-crossed, it blew some of the riders right out of racing for life and sent two men to jail
A BONUS-LENGTH FEATURE
DN THE world of larceny and the dreams of its inhabitants a unique and glittering place belongs to the fixed horse race. In theory a fixed horse race offers a swifter, simpler and safer means of gain than any form of skulduggery yet invented. It may take months to float a crooked stock promotion; the actual running of a horse race, crooked or otherwise, seldom lasts more than two minutes. A bank robbery, besides the hazards of execution, creates getaway problems and frequently pays off in hot money which is difficult to spend. To escape with their loot, the engineers of a fixed horse race need only walk, in a dignified and unhurried manner, to the nearest pari-mutuel wicket or to the business premises of their favorite bookmakers. In most forms of crime it becomes known eventually that a crime has been committed; the victims of a fixed horse race seldom realize that they have been victimized by anything more sinister than the unlucky end of an honest gamble. Moreover a man who undertakes to fix a horse race is not playing for small stakes. Through legal pari-mutuels, Canadians last year wagered more than sixty million dollars on their ability to pick the winners of horse races and through illegal handbooks they wagered perhaps twice as much again, and it is from this torrent of restless cash that the man who manages to eliminate the gLiesswork from the picking of winners can expect to claim his rewards.
Thoughts similar to these must have been caressing the adventurous mind of a Toronto thief and gambler named Harry Swartz when, in July 1951, he conceived and directed the most ambitious program of fixed horse races in the history of the Canadian turf. In a lordly run of triumphs that began at the half-mile race track in Fort Erie, Ont., on July 4 and ended at the same track twenty-one days later, Swartz successfully fixed four races, tried to fix at least three others and with his accomplices reaped a profit which has been estimated at be-
tween one and two hundred thousand dollars. In the process he also accumulated the eighth prison term he has been called on to serve during his thirty-six years a three months’ sentence as a common cheat imposed in a Welland, Ont., court last June. Later, his chief confederate received a similar sentence. A punishment less simple, and perhaps infinitely more costly, had already been imposed on the ten jockeys, most of them still in or barely out of their teens, who had accepted bribes from Swartz to lose while riding horses they were ostensibly riding to win. The jockeys, along with one owner who had co-operated in Swartz’ enterprises, were suspended for life by the Ontario Racing Commission, the supervisory body which discovered their guilt. The ruling means that none of them will ever be permitted to earn his living on a race track again; few of them are trained or equipped to earn more than the barest of livings elsewhere.
The Swartz empire collapsed, ironically, in the same moment in which it came closest to achieving the perfect crime. Even with human corruption at the advanced stage of development it had reached in the jockeys’ quarters at Fort. Erie in 1951, the definitive, foolproof fixing of a horse race is not an easy task. In an eight-horse race one honest jockey can defeat the ends of seven dishonest rivals. Up to the time of his masterpiece, in the third race on July 25, Swartz had never succeeded in fixing all the jockeys in any single race and hence in his three previous coups there had been a tiny, uncomfortable element of chance.
THE FIX IN PREPARATION
Swabby Swartz alone knew what horse would win when he set the machinery of the fix in motion. It would have hurt the odds if the jockeys he paid to lose had been sure who else was being paid to lose. In the notorious North Drive race at Fort Erie, he bribed one jockey himself and had his lieutenant and two sub-lieutenants heeled with cash to use in bribing seven others.
Johnny Perron, whom Swartz did not really trust but had to go along with because of his good contacts with the riders, made arrangements personally with the jockeys who rode the Number 3, 5 and 7 horses. He instructed his two junior fixers to get to the other four and then report back.
Using Swartz money supplied or promised by Perron, George Thompson, left, and Phil Marchese each approached two riders. For Thompson there were no complications. But one of Marchese’s men, Zakoor, refused to “take” and the other, Nash, turned his $300 over to the Ontario Racing Commission.
Six of the eight riders who went to the post in the North Drive race were later ruled off the turf for life, along with four more who had taken Swartz’ money in other fixes. The agreed price to pull a horse ranged from $150 to $400 plus a further $100 in mutuel tickets. The ring broke up in a welter of double-crosses and triple-crosses and some of the broken riders, while admitting they were parties to the coup, swore they received no cut. Keane, who pulled the favorite, was paid off in tickets too hot to cash. He burned the whole $500 worth in his kitchen sink.
In the third race on July 25, however, Swartz had ample reason to believe that he had at last attained the crooked gambler’s Eden, an eight-horse race in which seven of the jockeys had accepted bribes to lose and the eighth had accepted an insurance bribe to make certain of winning. Moreover, Swartz engineered this feat with such dexterity that' until a few moments before they left the paddock, not one of the jockeys knew which horse had been designated to win. This important precaution, arising out of Swartz’ well-founded suspicion that his accomplices were no less reluctant to doublecross him than he was to double-cross them, deprived the jockeys of the opportunity to bet on the winner and thus lower the odds which Swartz could expect to receive from his extensive betting operations on and ofT the track.
The third race at Fort Erie on July 25, 1951, is now known familiarly as the North Drive race, in honor of the thoroughbred which Swartz selected to be shooed home therein. It is a race well worth studying in some detail for, thanks largely to the endless inquisitiveness of the Ontario Racing Commission, it offers perhaps the most copious and revealing mass of information available anywhere on the anatomy of the fix and the mentality of the fixer.
By the eve of the North Drive race, three weeks of careful use had brought Swartz’ techniques and instruments to a high pitch of efficiency. He had ironed out the early bugs in his methods of approaching the jockeys whose mounts he desired to lose. For those who consented to “take” horses for him he had worked out a sliding scale of fees beginning at one hundred and fifty dollars a horse and averaging three hundred dollars a horse. He had found a happy solution to the apparently insoluble problem of a jockey who wouldn’t be bribed. When he ran afoul of an honest jockey he bribed the jockeys riding against him and bet the honest jockey’s mount to win. This practice had worked gratifyingly well. On July 4 a jockey named Dick Buisson had ridden a Swartz-nominated winner named Fred L. at odds of five to one; on July 7 Johnny Kowalyk had ridden another named Oxford Don at four and a half to one; and on July 23 an astonished Eric Barber had found himself bounding home eleven lengths ahead of his field aboard a five-and-a-half-to-one shot named Saucers. In no case had the winning jockey been fixed, but in each case the jockeys Swartz considered most likely to beat him had been.
Swartz did not attend to all these arrangements in person. As a chronic criminal he had a clear appreciation of the value of a front, even though he had usually operated as a loner. (At the age of sixteen he already had one theft and one jailbreak to his credit. Later he was sentenced three times more for theft, twice for assault and once for wounding.)
Some of the evidence given to the Ontario Racing Commission by the jockeys he had bribed suggests that Swartz himself was a front, bankrolled and directed by two Toronto bookmakers and a Toronto stockbroker. There is no proof of this. But whether or not the structure of the ring included an echelon above Swartz, there is no mystery about the echelons below.
His senior lieutenant was a former Toronto racerider named Johnny Perron. Perron had never been a very successful jockey and as he began to put on weight he ceased to be a jockey al. all and became in turn a not very successful exercise boy and a not very successful jockey’s agent. In his twentysecond year, a nice-looking young man with a thick shock of black glossy hair, he drifted south, made some contacts at a bush-league Florida race track
called Sunshine Park and, at least according to the legends which preceded him back north, succeeded in fixing a few races on his own initiative.
How and when Perron and Swartz first met is not known, but by the time the one-hundred-and-fortyseven-day-long Ontario racing circuit had moved to Fort Erie that summer, they were in full rapport. Perron did not have access to the jockeys’ room and a week before the blowup he was denied access to the track, on general suspicion—but he knew most of the jockeys and where they hung out. Acting as Swartz’ front, he soon organized three subfronts of his own. These were jockeys Bobby Wankmueller, George Thompson and Phil Marchese.
In healthier surroundings all these three might have lived out their lives without getting into serious trouble. To the experienced Perron, on the lookout for men he could use, each must have looked in his own way like the answer to a prayer. Wankmueller was loud, boastful and cynical. Thompson was weak and frightened. Marchese was a crafty schizophrenic, whose power to distinguish right from wrong was highly uncertain.
Wankmueller, a thin saturnine twenty-two-yearold from Pawtucket, R.I., already had become the hero of one immortal legend of race-track duplicity. In the fall of 1950, while he was riding at Dufferin Park in Toronto, he persuaded a Kitchener bookmaker to whom he frequently supplied tips that a mount of his named Carispat could not. possibly lose. On Wankmueller’s urging, the bookmaker gave the jockey three thousand dollars to bet on Carispat. Wankmueller kept the money and then to make sure that Carispat didn’t win and also to provide an unassailable explanation for its failure to win he deliberately fell off the horse as it left the starting gate. Wankmueller was to deny the story later before the Racing Commission, although he had previously told it, as gospel truth, to several of his fellow jockeys, among whom he assiduously courted a reputation as a planner of big, illicit deals. At least as far back as 1950 he had repeatedly fired the imaginations of various colleagues by sidling up to them and whispering things like: “A
man can talk to you, can’t he?”, “You can’t make no money ridin’ ” and “Would you take two hundred dollars to get a horse beat?”
George Thompson, the second of Perron’s front men, was short of build, round and bland of face, and painfully uncertain of himself and his future. At twenty years of age his best years as a jockey appeared to be behind him. He had begun riding three years earlier as an apprentice and with the help of the weight allowances granted apprentices had made a promising and prosperous start. But he was injured in a spill and when, shortly after his recovery, he lost the apprentice allowance, riding fees and winners became painfully scarce. To complicate his problems, a West Indian rider had introduced him to marijuana while he was riding in Bermuda in 1948, at the age of seventeen, and he found the habit hard to break. To complicate his problems further, he married in 1950 at the age of nineteen a girl with whom he was very much in love and whom he was now having difficulty in supporting. Early in the Fort Erie meeting Perron, who knew he was worried about money, introduced him to Swartz and Swartz loaned him two hundred and fifty dollars with no explicit strings attached. But Thompson knew he was in the bag from that moment on. “I was scared to death of Perron and Swabby,” he was to tell the commission later. Another time, in a tortured attempt at self-analysis, he cried: “Once you fake their money you’re no
good for anything else.”
Marchese, the other contact man in the jockeys’ room, had a flexible though by no means nonexistent conscience, plus a natural talent for scheming. A dark-eyed, Roman-nosed nineteen-year-old from New England, he was riding mainly for an owner named Opperman. When, as he had been more than once in the early days of the Fort Erie field manoeuvres, he was approached to pull one of Opperman’s horses he responded with the virtuous declamations of a Rover Boy. At least twice he won on horses of Opperman’s after Perron had tried to bribe him to pull them and had instructed other jockeys in the same race to interfere with him. But except when he was riding for his friend Opperman he was ready and willing to do whatever Perron and Swartz would pay him to do.
THE FIX IN OPERATION
Not until the parade to the post had begun did the riders know which horse Swartz had designated to win. “You’re on the lead!" a fellow jockey, who had been told only in the paddock, informed North Drive’s rider, John Bromby. These scenes from the official film of the race show what happened next.
A few days before the running of the North Drive race Wankmueller, the senior liaison man with the jockeys’ room, had been recalled to the United States for a meeting with his military draft board. On the evening before the race, Thompson and Marchese were alerted for duty. Perron picked up Thompson in his car in downtown Fort Erie and drove him to a stone cottage near a quarry outside town which Swartz had rented for the summer. Swartz, his darkly buxom wife, Anne, and a blond girl friend of Perron’s were already there. They drank a few beers and the three men adjourned. “They asked me to be sure to be some place in the morning where they could get ahold of me,” Thompson related later. “I said 1 would be at home.”
Perron then drove to his home in New Toronto. At this point Swartz apparently had not finally decided on the next order of business, or even whether there was going to be a next order of business. The Toronto bookmakers with whom he had placed most of his bets on the three fixed races earlier in the month were gradually drying up as a dependable source of revenue. Swartz had bankrupted two or three of the smaller ones. With the big ones he was reduced to dealing through “beards” —that is, commission agents behind whom he hid his identity—and even the big books were becoming increasingly reluctant to accept large bets from Fort Erie. Worse still, Swartz had begun to suspect that, despite all his precautions, one or all of his lieutenants were outguessing him and either betting independently on his rigged winners or touting them outside the inner circle.
With these unquiet reflections disturbing an otherwise wholesome vista, he decided to have a showdown before closing his plans for the next day. Accordingly he drove downtown, parked his car in a lot near the hotel where Marchese was staying and summoned the latter from his room.
Swartz opened the conversation on a bitter note. “We never made no money the other day,” he said, referring to the last race of the afternoon before in which Saucers had been chased home at a mutuel price of $12.80 for $2.
“You had a nice price,” Marchese said.
Swartz made a direct accusation: “You and Perron let the horse out. The books were flooded on Saucers.”
It was not necessary for Marchese to counterfeit an air of wounded right-
eousness. On Swartz’ behalf and for a personal fee of two hundred dollars he had paid jockeys Charlie Bright and Robert Atkin three hundred dollars each to pull two of Saucers’ rivals in the race under discussion, but he still hadn’t been told which horse was meant to win. Working from these clues and further deductions of his own he had concluded, just before the horses went to the post, that a horse named Milk Bottle was the designated winner. He bet fifty dollars of his own money on Milk Bottle and persuaded his favorite owner, Opperman, to do the same. Milk Bottle ran a bad fifth.
Swartz was somewhat mollified by Marchese’s recital of these events. By way of an added warning against the perils of “trying to guess on the front end,” he informed Marchese that after arranging for Charlie Bright to pull the favorite in the Saucers race, Perron had telephoned a man in Buffalo whom Bright was constantly touting and told him Bright advised a hundred-dollar bet on a horse called Mandatée). Mandateo finished sixth. As Marchese well knew, this was a particularly apt and a potentially terrible form of jest. Bright, in the phrase of another colleague, “was always buzzing around the jocks’ room trying to find out who was on the front end”; as a result of his curiosity he had once supplied a disastrously bad tip to a group of his Buffalo clients, who had subsequently invited him across the river, relieved him of his personal bankroll of three thousand dollars and beaten him up.
Swartz now offered the heady suggestion that if Marchese would string along and above all abstain from guessing on the front end he might expect an early promotion. “I want to get rid of Perron,” he said. “He’s giving me the runaround.”
The interview with Marchese evidently convinced Swartz that Marchese was dishonest enough to be trusted or at any rate not quite smart enough to he feared. He seems to have decided simultaneously that he couldn’t as yet get along without Perron. Within two hours the wheels were in motion for the fixing of the North Drive race.
Shortly before midnight Marchese, who had returned to his Fort Erie hotel room, received a long-distance telephone call from Perron in Toronto. He was to go to the track, find an owner named Todd Sharrard, who had a horse named Hemjohn entered in the third race the next day, and ask Sharrard to telephone Perron immediately.
Sharrard., who was already bedded down for the night in his tack-room next door to Hemjohn’s stall, refused to get up. When Marchese telephoned this information Perron got into his car, drove ninety miles through the night and arrived personally at Sharrard’s barn at 4.30 a.m. Ft was still dark and Perron, who had been barred from the track and would have been refused admission by the night watchman, had some difficulty in establishing contact. He finally aroused Sharrard by reaching through the slat fence and knocking on the side of the stable with a stick.
Perron said to the sleepy horseman: “Hemjohn’s a twenty-six-point horse today. Can you get him beat?” The numerals referred to the overnight handicaps in the Daily Racing Form, which rated Hem john as the day’s most probable winner. It was because of the horse’s exalted chances of victory that Perron was now paying its owner the unprecedented courtesy of soliciting his co-operation in having it pulled; never before had he and Swartz considered it necessary to operate above the level of the riders. But they had never tried to beat a twenty-six-point horse either.
Sharrard replied uneasily. “This is a bad time to be talking about such things.” Perron made a flat offer: three hundred dollars in cash and a twohundred-dollar bet on the winning horse if Sharrard would tell his jockey, Bobby Keane, to pull the horse.
“It’s quite a rough spot,” Sharrard stalled. “I don’t know if the horse can win or not.”
“Well, if you want to do business, see me later,” Perron said.
“I don’t know if 1 do,” Sharrard said. “But I’ll see you anyway.”
On a straight fiscal basis, it was not an attractive proposition which Sharrard had been offered. If he allowed Hemjohn to run and the horse ran as well as the form indicated it would, Sharrard’s end of the purse would be eight hundred and twenty-five dollars, probably as much as he could expect to salvage for himself after cutting up the proferred bribe with his jockey. Nor was it an attractive proposition from the point of view of the jockey, Bobby Keane. Keane, a hard-bitten, hardeyed Toronto youngster, had twice been reinstated after being indefinitely suspended as a rider. Now he was on his last chance and he knew it.
The alternatives to co-operating with Swartz and Perron were not entirely attractive either. Hemjohn might get beaten in an honest race, as even the shortest-priced favorites frequently do; in a crooked race he and his jockey could expect a rough trip at the very best.
The owner and the rider drove downtown together early in the morning, discussing these imponderables on the way. They still hadn’t made up their minds what to do when they met Swartz and Perron parked in a car in front of a Queen Street boarding and bootlegging house much frequented by race-track people.
Sharrard got out of Keane’s car and walked over. “Well,” Perron said, “what’s what?”
“What?” Sharrard said, postponing the decision a moment longer.
“You know what I told you,” Perron said impatiently. “Three and two. What do you think?”
“All right,” Sharrard said.
“All right,” Perron said. “I’ll see you at Eddie’s Lunch at noon.”
The solid framework of the fix, the sine qua non of the hot favorite taken care of, was now firmly in place. Of the eight jockeys engaged to ride in the North Drive race, four — Johnny Bromby on North Drive itself, Scotty Campbell on Skylark, Howie Hartley on Union Jack, and Charlie Bright on Steady Beau—had accepted bribes from Swartz and Perron before, and the problems of enlisting their assistance in the present operation were purely mechanical. A fifth, Keane, had just been bought in the package deal with Sharrard. Of the other three, Marchese had hinted on previous occasions that he thought he could do business with Willie Zakoor who was up on L’Habitant, and with Alfie Nash,
who was to ride Free Flight. Only Bobby Merchant, a promising nineteenyear-old apprentice, who was to ride Parade Call, appeared as a serious threat to the now maturing plan.
After Sharrard and Keane left them Swartz and Perron drove to the home of George Thompson, the contact man they had instructed the night before to hold himself ready for action. Their immediate purpose was to discuss ways and means of getting to the unknown quantity, young Bobby Merchant, but as the three men drove downtown they happened to see Charlie Bright on his way to the track for the morning workouts. They stopped him. Greatly as his personal relations with Swartz and Perron had deteriorated as a result of his unethical “guessing on the front end,” Bright was still willing to talk business. He came over to the car and agreed to pull Steady Beau in the third race. Swartz peeled three American hundred-dollar bills off his massive bankroll—he sometimes carried as much as fourteen thousand dollars in cash—and promised Bright that he would have another hundred dollars riding on the winner.
Bright went on his way and Swartz and Perron confided to Thompson their fears about Merchant. They thought his mount, Parade Call, might win if allowed to run. They also thought that if they tried to bribe the unsophisticated Merchant in the direct, orthodox way, he either “might not go” or — worse still—“might tell.” They gave Thompson two one-hundred-dollar bills and a careful briefing on the method they had devised to get around the difficulty.
“Johnny Sent Me With This”
It took Thompson the best part of the next two hours to find Merchant. They finally met just outside the track. Thompson, following his instructions to the letter, asked Merchant casually if he thought his mount, Parade Call, had a chance to win the third.
“I don’t think so,” Merchant said.
Thompson then announced that a friend of his had given him three hundred dollars to bet on Parade Call. He was thinking, he said, of booking the bet—that is, not placing the bet at all and allowing his friend to assume that he had. If Parade Call lost Thompson would be in three hundred dollars; if by any horrible chance the horse won Thompson would have to pay the bet himself. He wondered if Merchant would care to book half the bet. Merchant thought it over and said he guessed he would. The words bribe and pull were never mentioned, but Merchant was now in the fairly predictable position of standing to win one hundred and fifty dollars if his horse lost and to lose over a thousand dollars if his horse won. Thompson gave him one of the hundred-dollar bills and promised to split the other later (which, incidentally, he did).
Later Thompson and Perron drove together to the hotel of Howie Hartley, the rider of Union Jack. Perron gave Thompson another two hundred dollars. Thompson went in, found Hartley shaving in the bathroom, showed him the money and said: “Johnny sent me with this to get Union Jack beat.” ; Hartley, to Thompson’s surprise, said no and continued to say no for twenty j minutes. Finally Thompson said: “I have to go now. All I know is I was to leave this money with you.” He deposited the money on the sink and rejoined Perron in the car outside.
Their next call was at the rooming j house of John Bromby who, although j no one knew it but Perron and Swartz j had been elected to ride the winner. In normal circumstances it would have been considered an unnecessary expense to press money on the winning jockey, but Bromby rated special treatment. He had been paid to pull horses in four previous boat races or attempted boat races and in three of them his mounts had been short-priced favorites. In view of these heroic services, he felt justified in holding out for four hundred dollars in cash, plus a hundred-dollar bet on the winner,whose name he did not ask. After some haggling Perron agreed to these terms, payable after the race.
Some time during the next hour Perron apparently contacted one of the other jockeys, Scotty Campbell, and made a similar though slightly less handsome arrangement with him. (Of the individual approaches to the eight jockeys, the precise details are missing on only this one, for Perron has never talked and Campbell is dead.)
Earlier in the day, while Thompson was absent on the delicate mission of buying off young Merchant, Perron had set his other man in motion. Around breakfast time he met Marchese in Eddie’s Lunch, the appointment having been made during their nocturnal telephone conversation. He gave Marchese two hundred dollars and told him to give it to his bosom friend, Willie Zakoor. Zakoor was riding L’Habitant in the North Drive race that afternoon.
What follows is Marchese’s story, which is denied by Zakoor. Marchese found his friend setting out on his morning road-work and they adjourned to Marchese’s hotel room. “Here’s two hundred for L’Habitant,” Marchese said. “Two hundred!” Zakoor snorted. “That horse will gallop!” Marchese excused himself, went to Eddie’s Lunch and got another hundred-dollar bill from Perron. He returned to the hotel room and said to Zakoor: “Here’s
three.” Zakoor hesitated and said: “Are you goin’ to make anything out of this?” “I hope so,” Marchese said. “Okay,” Zakoor said and took the money.
Marchese went back to Eddie’s Lunch and recited this apparently imaginary conversation to Perron. It now appeared to Swartz’ executive officer that of the eight horses in the race, only Free Flight remained “loose”
that is, unfixed. He instructed Marchese to get to Alfie Nash, Free Flight’s rider. He authorized him to start the bidding at two hundred dollars and to go as high as three if he had to.
The negotiations with Nash were tedious, complicated and, as it was to turn out, fateful. Nash was living in a tourist cabin a considerable distance from Fort Erie and Marchese did not see him until shortly after noon, when the jockeys had begun to drift into their quarters at the track and put on their silks for the first race. The jockeys’ room at Fort Erie, as at most tracks, is rather small and cramped. The relative lack of privacy hampered Marchese in his mission and so did Nash’s apparent inability to make up his mind. Nash, a thirty-five-year-old West Indian Negro, had been around the rack tracks a very long time; long enough to learn that propositions are not entirely rare, that they are best rejected, and that to reject them too noisily can be dangerous. On at least one occasion, while riding in the States, he had been involved in a gang fight with a jockey ring with which he had refused to co-operate. On at least one other occasion, while riding at 'Toronto’s Thorncliffe track in 1949, two strangers had approached him and offered to arrange for an assistant starter to slip him a “machine”—that is, a small electric battery—as one of his mounts entered the starting gate. Although some horses run faster under the stimulus of an electric shock, this
form of encouragement is forbidden under the laws of racing, and Nash refused the invitation. A few days later, an assistant starter—apparently the same one who had been prepared to supply Nash with a battery—was discharged and that night Nash received an anonymous phone call announcing that he was “going to get his brains whipped out.” The episode confirmed his long-standing conviction that next to doing no evil, the safest courses for a jockey to pursue are to hear no evil and speak no evil.
Marchese made the first advance to
Nash while they were standing on t he veranda of the jockeys’ quarters before the first race. Nash gave no sign of moral indignation, but contented himself with a simple refusal. A4archese, as Perron had ordered, raised the ante from two hundred to three hundred dollars. Nash declined again. He liad already advised a friend of his to bet on Free Flight and if Free Flight won Nash expected to be cut in on the wager. Marchese countered this argument by offering to send a message to Nash’s friend advising him to disregard the earlier tip. This suggestion, at least,
seemed sensible to Nash. Marchese had intimated that all the other jockeys in the race were doing business and would doubtless find some means of taking care of a lone holdout during the scramble for racing room. A runner was dispatched to tell Nash’s friend to forget about Free Flight. Nash still refused to say in so many words that he planned to pull the horse, but Mai diese now felt safe in assuming that he would.
Marchese passed his belief on to I hompson, who had been sent to the jockeys’ room for the final word on Nash. Thompson drove to downtown Fort Erie again and met Swartz and Perron in the bootlegging joint on Queen Street. “Marchese says everything’s okay,” he reported.
Of the eight riders in the race, every one had now taken money or had been represented by Swartz’ agents as having taken money or as being willing to take money. Swartz’ total outlay up to this point was fourteen hundred dollars in cash, plus a thousand dollars in promises of cash and four hundred dollars in promises of mutuel tickets.
Swartz departed immediately, leaving fifteen hundred dollars with his wife to bet on North Drive through the mutuels and himself driving to Toronto to see how much more money he could place through the bookmakers.
There were still almost three hours left before the running of the race. Perron walked down the street to Eddie’s Lunch to keep his rendezvous with Sharrard. He gave the owner of Hemjohn the three-hundred-dollar first payment for having the favorite pulled and told Sharrard to let Keane know just before leaving the paddock that North Drive was “on the lead.” Keane in turn was to pass this intelligence along to North Drive’s rider during the parade to the post.
Perron went back to the bootlegging joint. Thompson was getting restive and expressed a desire to return to the track. “Swabby told me not to let you out of my sight until the race is over,” Perron said. Thompson resignedly stretched out on a chesterfield and went to sleep. At three o’clock, fifteen minutes before the race went to the post, Perron woke him up and they took a taxi to a street adjoining the track from which it was possible to look over the fence and see the horses go past just after the start and again just before the finish. It was only then that Perron told Thompson the name of the winner.
In the paddock, Sharrard was tightening the saddle girths on the twenty-six-point favorite Hemjohn and giving his last instructions to Bobby Keane. “Tell Bromby he’s on the lead,” the owner whispered.
“I don’t like this,” Keane said uneasily.
“I don’t either,” Sharrard confessed. “But we’ve gone this far. We have to go the rest of the way.”
On the way to the post Keane sidled past Bromby and said quietly: “You’re on the front end.” He called a discreet enquiry to the holdout, Nash: “Are you with us?” “Yes,” Nash replied.
The plan’s application, though somewhat lacking in subtlety, was crisp and painstaking. Bromby and North Drive had drawn the Number Three post position with Nash and Free Flight immediately inside in Number Two and Hartley and Union Jack immediately outside in Number Four. As the gate was sprung for the start Nash drove for the inner rail (fearing, he said later, that Merchant, who was inside him, would try to cut him oftif he didn’t cut Merchant off first). At the same time Hartley swerved in the opposite direction, carrying his own mount and the four remaining horses toward the outer rail. As the field jammed up on his two flanks, North Drive bounded to the front in splendid isolation. Since the race was a sixfurlong sprint and the start is allimportant in a sprint, that might have been all the help he needed to beat all his rivals save Hemjohn. The latter, in spite of the early interference he had met in his Number Seven post position, quickly drove up to third place, three lengths off the leader. Keane tugged desperately on the reins and as they rounded the first turn, the favorite was running fourth, out near the middle of the track with his neck bent almost
double. When they entered the stretch, well and hopelessly beaten, Keane gave the horse his head and went ostentatiously to the whip. They finished fourth, three lengths behind North Drive, which led every inch of the way and beat the second-place Skylark by a long neck and the thirdplace L’Habitant by two and a half lengths.
Perron and Thompson, the fixers, remained beside their cab outside the track, viewing these happy events through the fence. As North Drive bounded by on the way to the finish, Perron yelled happily: “Let’s get out of here!” They re-entered the cab and drove back to the bootlegger’s downtown.
The jockeys’ reactions were somewhat more complex. Bright, the malcontent who was usually willing to sell out but seldom satisfied with the price, brushed past Marchese on the way back into the jockeys’ room and growled: “Them guys got all the
money.” Bromby reminded Marchese that he still had some money coming. Keane’s presentiments of disaster were partially fulfilled when he was called immediately to the stewards’ stand and suspended for sixteen days for an “unsatisfactory” ride on Hemjohn. Nash quietly told Mrs. Babe Burkhardf, the trainer of Free Flight, that be had been offered but hadn’t accepted a bribe to pull the horse. Mrs. Burkhardf. advised him to report the matter to the stewards.
After the races had ended for the day, the distribution of the spoils continued, the procedure strongly suggesting that there was some honor and also some dishonor among those concerned. Keane went to Sharrard’s barn, where the owner gave him one hundred and fifty dollars in cash and reassured the suspended rider of the beaten favorite of bis partnership in the two-hundreddollar bet on North Drive still due from Swartz and Perron.
Marchese later told the commission that Perron gave him three onehundred-dollar bills which he took to Scotty Campbell’s home and left in his fellow jockey’s palm after shaking hands on the doorstep. (Campbell, who was killed in a spill a few weeks later, denied the story until his death.) Marchese said also that he passed three more one-hundred-dollar bills to Bromby under a table at Eddie’s Lunch. (Bromby admitted his part in the fix, but denied he received his promised payment.)
There were far more unusual incidents than these in the bizarre drama of the payoff. Marchese, supplying an ending to the story of his attempts first to involve and then to doublecross his best friend, Zakoor, read the following priceless bit of dialogue into the Racing Commission records:
I said: “I got the worst deal. I gave three hundred dollars to you and three hundred dollars to Bromby, so I am six hundred dollars behind, out of my own pocket.” It was so sad to Zakoor that he gave me the three hundred dollars back. I tried it on Bromby, but it wouldn’t work. I told Zakoor about this, but Zakoor said: ’Bromby wouldn’t give Christ a prayer if He was starving to death.’ ”
The two-hundred-dollar straight bet which Sharrard and Keane had been promised in addition to their three hundred dollars in cash would have been worth $1,730. When Sharrard accosted him later in the evening of the race, Perron promised to leave the promised mutuel tickets at the owner’s rooming house in Toronto. Perron actually did deliver a bundle of North Drive tickets—thirty-three five-dollar place tickets with a cash value some twelve hundred dollars below the agreed amount. .Sharrard, a relative sentimentalist, decided that Keane, having been thrown out of work by his temporary suspension, would need the money worse than he himself needed it. Accordingly he arranged for Keane to pick up the entire thirty-three tickets. Keane took them back to his home and sat in the kitchen with his wife, staring glumly at them and wondering whether, being already under suspicion, he dared try to redeem them. Finally he put them in the strainer in the sink and lighted a match to them.
Keane’s hunch that the tickets were hot was eminently sound. They had been part of a bet of $2,100 dollars on North Drive made just before post time by Swabby Swartz’ wife, Anne, and a friend named Mrs. Alice Trudeau. This bet had interested the law at two levels and for two reasons. It represented almost exactly half of all the money bet on North Drive at the track and it was made entirely in American funds. William Baker, a private detective employed by the track, was already aware that Mrs. Swartz had been making, and cashing, some spectacularly large bets during the earlier days of the Fort Erie meeting. When he saw her and her friend moving toward the sellers’ windows, he followed at a discreet distance and after they had placed their wagers he instructed the mutuel department to make a note of the serial numbers on the tickets.
The RCMP, who maintain details at all Canadian mutuel plants on behalf of the federal government, were chiefly interested in the fact that Mrs. Swartz and Mrs. Trudeau had that much American currency. At that time Foreign Exchange Control Board restrictions on the possession of American money by Canadian citizens were still in effect. S. B. Pratt, the officer in charge of the RCMP detail, issued orders that he was to be notified as soon as the Swartz-Trudeau tickets were presented for payment.
This was not to occur until two days later. Mrs. Swartz—whose spectacular plunges began to leak out and make her an overnight sensation in the press as “the mysterious Lady in Black”-— prudently refrained from reappearing at the track herself but the handbagful of tickets she had bought on the twenty-fifth were presented to the cashiers on the twenty-seventh by three other people. Alice Trudeau showed up in person with the six hundred dollars’ worth of tickets she had bought herself. She was paid off in full at the equivalent of $17.30 for each $2 win ticket and $5.80 for each $2
place ticket, as were the three men who presented Mrs. Swartz’ tickets, but the alerted RCMP promptly impounded the proceeds—a total of $8,731.85 in American funds. (The money was returned to Mrs. Trudeau and the three men after the Foreign Exchange restrictions were withdrawn, some months later.)
Amid these storm warnings, Swartz and Perron disappeared. The same day the tickets were seized, jockey Alfie Nash went formally before the Racing Commission and told under oath what he knew of the fix. The other jockeys were called in one by one. On the first trip around each of the dishonest ones denied everything. But the honest riders, who had managed to remain in a slight majority in spite of the incessant pressure to cut themselves in on the sure things, began to talk. Wankmueller, Thompson, Marchese and a few of the prominent members of the jockey ring were arrested for perjury and under further questioning they began to come clean. Their testimony established that of the seven races in which the fix was in, it succeeded in four and backfired in the other three; once the horse that was fixed to win injured itself coming out of the gate and finished last; another time a horse whose chances were considered so slim it wasn’t worth arranging to have it pulled finished first at thirtyseven to one; another time a jockey whom Thompson had been given money to bribe let his horse run and won by a length. The jockeys’ testimony also established that, during their twenty-one-day fling, Swartz and Perron got to at least ten riders and paid out bribes totaling approximately ten thousand dollars.
Swartz Switched Ilis Plea
Swartz remained in hiding for five weeks and then gave himself up voluntarily. Perron was still being sought vainly by the police a year after the ring broke up, and the knowledge that his chief accomplice was not available to testify may have had something to do with the apparent aplomb with which the swarthy, thickset Swartz entered the prisoner’s dock at Welland, Ont., to face trial last June on one count of conspiracy to defraud and another of conspiracy as a common cheat. He pleaded not guilty to both charges, but as the trial neared its end he switched his plea to guilty on the second charge, and the Crown withdrew the first and more serious charge. He was sentenced to three months in jail and fined one thousand dollars. Shortly after the Swartz trial was over, Perron surrendered to the police. His trial last January followed exactly the same pattern as Swartz, and he received the same sentence and fine.
Coming out of court the day Swartz was sentenced I tried to get a rundown on what had happened in the intervening year to Swartz’ friends, the jockeys. I was particularly interested in the ones who had participated in his tour de force, the North Drive race. Nash, of course, is still riding. So is Willie Zakoor, whom the Racing Commission refused to convict on the unsupported testimony of his schizophrenic pal, Marchese. Campbell is dead; ironically he was riding Hemjohn in the spill that killed him. Bromby was driving a truck, as was young Merchant. Bright departed for his home in Idaho shortly after the “break” and, except for a brief appearance before the Racing Commission, hasn’t been in Canada since. Keane was working on a farm. Marchese was in a factory in Detroit and Thompson was driving a taxi. ★