05/17/2002 12:00AM

FBI nabs two in '98 ringer case

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MIAMI - Brothers Kelly and Emmett Winter were indicted Friday on conspiracy and fraud charges for running a ringer at Calder Race Course and Philadelphia Park in 1998. The two defendants were arrested by the FBI on Friday in Florida and New Mexico following an investigation that began in September 1998.

According to the authorities, the Winter brothers, using a counterfeit foal certificate, ran an experienced horse named Forty Two, a two-time stakes winner at Sunland Park, under the name Almost Impossible, an unraced 3-year-old gelding, in a maiden race, the 11th, at Calder on July 17, 1998. Almost Impossible was 12-1 in the morning line but opened as the prohibitive betting favorite before finally drifting up to 4-1. He won and paid $10 after overcoming a rough start and beating 8-5 choice Hill Wisdom by one length.

Emmett Winter was listed in the track program as the owner of Almost Impossible. Joaquin Schafers was listed as the trainer. Schafers was not named in the indictment. According to the U.S. attorney's office, the Winters made a profit of approximately $300,000 from wagers made on Almost Impossible.

Investigators said the Winters attempted the same scam six weeks later at Philadelphia Park, running Forty Two under the name Swing a Tune. The plot was discovered when an official at Philadelphia Park noticed a discrepancy between Forty Two's tattoo number and the number in the mare book.

Schafers said he had no idea the horse he saddled as Almost Impossible at Calder nearly four years ago was a ringer.

"I met Emmett Winter through his stepbrother, Floyd, a blacksmith in Tampa," Schafers said Friday. "I got the horse about six weeks before the race. When I worked him about two weeks before the race, he popped out of the gate like a rocket, like he'd been doing it all his life. Their explanation was that the horse had run and won races at the bush tracks of New Mexico, but those races were unrecognized at parimutuel tracks.

"I brought money down to bet on the horse. I figured with no published works and being by nobody out of nobody he'd be 20-1. When I walked out of the paddock, I looked at the board and he was 2-1. I was so shocked at the price I didn't even bother to bet him."

Schafer said he split the winner's share of the purse, $4,080, with Floyd Winter, as his compensation.

"I was surprised when they took the horse away from me shortly after the race," said Schafer. "They said they were taking him up north to run again, and I told them to let me know when he was entered because I wanted to bet. I first became suspicious of the whole deal when I got a call telling me Almost Impossible wasn't going to run, but that I should bet Swing a Tune at Philadelphia Park."

Ken Dunn, president of Calder, said: "We believe we have a system in place here to protect the integrity of the sport, but whenever you have a business where so much money is involved there are always people trying to find a leak in the dam and trying to do something unsavory. When a situation like this surfaces, we feel as much a victim as anyone else."

The indictments were announced in Miami by Guy A. Lewis, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Hector M. Pesquera, a special agent for the FBI; and Paul Berube, president of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau.