09/22/2005 11:00PM

Case raises questions on weight procedures

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Jose Santos aboard Lion Tamer after the 2004 Cigar Mile, a race cited in the weight case.

The indictment accusing two New York Racing Association officials of allowing jockeys to ride overweight has called into question the imprecise and sometimes casual procedures used to account for proper weights before and after a race.

In the indictment, NYRA's clerk of scales, Mario Sclafani, and his assistant, the Hall of Fame jockey Braulio Baeza, were charged with 291 counts of tampering with a sporting event, falsifying business records, conspiracy, and grand larceny.

The case, which is being prosecuted by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, was brought before a grand jury in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the indictment was unsealed Wednesday. It contends that on 67 occasions in a six-month period in 2004, Sclafani, 48, and Baeza, 65, allowed five jockeys - Robby Albarado, 32; Heberto Castillo Jr., 36; Jose Santos, 44; Ariel Smith, 23; and Cornelio Velasquez, 36 - to ride at least seven pounds over their assigned weights and in at least one race, 15 pounds overweight. The jockeys were named as unindicted co-conspirators. None was charged with a crime, a spokesman for Spitzer said, because the jockeys' behavior did not constitute "repeated and persistent" criminal acts.

Sclafani has pleaded not guilty, and Baeza will be arraigned on Oct. 6. Both face a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. With the exception of Castillo, all the jockeys have either through their agents or personally denied that they rode overweight in any of the races.

On Friday, several racing officials questioned whether prosecutors made allowances for safety equipment carried by riders and the fact that riders typically weigh anywhere from three to seven pounds more after a race than before it. The procedures of accounting for weights vary from state to state and sometimes from racetrack to racetrack within a state, depending on different rules and how strictly they are enforced.

According to two clerks of scales and a retired jockey who gives advice on riders' issues, those differences do not show up on the clerk's official weight sheets, which are filed with the racing office. Those sheets appear to represent critical pieces of evidence for the prosecutors, who say the sheets are the basis for the charges of "falsifying business records."

Paul Larrabee, a spokesman for Spitzer, would not comment Friday on whether prosecutors took the allowances into account.

"We are quite confident that the evidence will show that riders were significantly overweight when they were riding," Larrabee said.

Larrabee also would not comment on the specific amount of overweight for any one race, but said that in all the races the jockeys would have been at least seven pounds overweight. Larrabee said that prosecutors had "significant surveillance evidence," but would not comment on whether that evidence included videotapes of scale readings.

Todd Greenberg, the attorney for Sclafani, said he was prepared to argue that Sclafani had "no criminal intent" in recording the weights, in part because it is standard practice in racing to subtract weight from the scale reading.

"We deny each and every allegation," Greenberg said. "These charges require criminal intent. My client did not have any. And I think the customs and the prior practices in the jockeys' room will be a big part of our argument."

According to the racing officials, the clerk of scales typically subtracts the weights of helmets and safety vests - which are required equipment in all jurisdictions - before and after a race from the official weight and will many times give allowances for any dirt, water, or sweat that a jockey and his equipment will pick up during a race. In addition, in many jurisdictions, riders carry more equipment to the scales after a race than before, and that weight is also subtracted from the official post-race weight.

"Let's say a guy checks in with 115 pounds, and that's without the helmet and the jacket," said Victor Sanchez, the clerk of scales at Calder Race Course in Miami. "You're going to expect him to come back 118 or 119 because now he's got the jacket and helmet, and he's carrying the saddle girth which soaked up a lot of sweat plus his pommel pad and saddle, and if it's muddy, then you've got all that dirt and water, and that stuff is heavy. You still mark 115. That's just logical."

The retired jockey, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his close ties to riders, said that the practice of subtracting weight from the scale reading is standard because no riders are put at a disadvantage.

"The clerk does it for every rider," the retired jockey said. "If it's two pounds for the vest and helmet for the first guy off the scale, it's two pounds off for the next guy. If it's five pounds because it's muddy, it's five pounds all the way down the line. Everyone is treated the same."

The 67 incidents of overweight named in the indictment cover 59 races - with two jockeys riding in eight of them - between June 23, 2004, and Dec. 5, 2004. In nine of the races, the riders were assigned 120 pounds or more. At a minimum of seven pounds overweight, that means the jockeys would have weighed 127 or more, or at least 11 pounds more than what any of the jockeys claimed was their regular riding weight.

New York's rules do not allow anyone to ride if they are five pounds overweight or more.

Two of the races in the indictment stand out. On Aug. 19, in the sixth race at Saratoga, Smith closed in deep stretch on Command Center to finish third in a maiden special weight race at odds of 13-1. In that race, Smith was assigned 123 pounds. The indictment would appear to contend that Smith rode at 130 pounds or more.

Sanchez, who weighs Smith regularly at Calder, called the 130-pound weight "impossible."

In the other race, the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 27 at Aqueduct, Santos rode Lion Tamer, the 12-1 fourth choice in a field of eight, to a win under 115 pounds, rallying from last place. The assigned weight was one pound below Santos's regular riding weight. Two races earlier, Santos also rode at 115 pounds, finishing last in a field of seven at odds of 42-1. But that race was not named in the indictment.

Larrabee said that in the case of the Cigar Mile, Santos's ride was an example of why prosecutors charged Sclafani and Baeza with grand larceny, because they allowed Santos to get the ride despite his being overweight.

"In that instance, you're looking at a rider who should have been disqualified, and yet he made tens of thousands of dollars in earnings," Larrabee said. "He took that ride from someone who could have made weight."

Jockeys in the case

The jockeys cited for riding overweight. None has been charged with a crime.

Ariel Smith11524
Robby Albarado11517
Heberto Castillo Jr.11612
Cornelio Velasquez11510
Jose Santos116 4