The leading jockey at Playfair Race Course accepted a stipulation Monday that amounts to a lifetime ban in the state of Washington.
Scott Bergsrud, three-time defending riding champion here, will no longer be licensed to ride at any race track in the state following opening day of a hearing at the state attorney general’s office in Spokane.
Implicated by the Washington Horse Racing Commission in a race-fixing scheme at Playfair in November 1993, Bergsrud appeared Monday but did not testify.
Bergsrud left the hearing with his attorney, Mark Vovos, without comment.
Jockey Darren Parker, also named in the state’s investigation into race-fixing at Playfair, threw in the towel as well.
“They didn’t admit to the charges,” said Eric Mentzer, assistant state attorney general. “They stipulated that they would no longer be licensed in Washington.”
The state agreed not to pursue further legal action in Bergsrud’s case, Mentzer said.
Parker’s attorney, Carl Oreskovich, said Parker’s decision was financially motivated.
“All we agreed to was the surrender of the license,” Oreskovich said. “Frankly, my guy denies the allegations. He was looking at substantial costs and it didn’t make sense to him. I would have liked to try the case. I felt we had a good chance of prevailing. It would have been nice to vindicate him.”
“We believed our case was overwhelming, and so did they (the jockeys),” said Mary Tennyson of the attorney general’s office in Olympia.
The racing commission suspended Bergsrud, Parker and four others on June 27. Bergsrud and Parker were quickly reinstated by court order.
Parker was injured early in the season, but Bergsrud had another championship year.
Jockeys’ agent LeRoy Nelson, also charged in the investigation, said he would testify today that he had nothing to do with fixing races.
“I don’t know the details of what Parker and Bergsrud worked out,” Nelson’s attorney, Pat Stiley, said, “but apparently they are prepared to acknowledge that they participated in some sort of race-fixing scheme.
“Mr. Nelson suspected something from the beginning. We want to boil it down to whether LeRoy was a participant in it. His posture is that he is not.”
The investigation focused on former thoroughbred trainer Dale Norwick of Pasco, who last week was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to murder in an unrelated case. Norwick, investigators say, paid certain jockeys to restrain their horses in trifecta races at Playfair in November 1993.
The racing commission’s mutuels inspector, Mike McLaughlin, identified what he called an “extensive wagering pattern” that excluded horses ridden by Masters, Jones, Bergsrud and Parker.
Parker, Bergsrud and two other jockeys, Jeff Jones and Tim Masters, were named as Norwick’s accomplices.
Masters and Jones also will no longer be licensed to ride in Washington.
Masters, investigators say, admitted to a Washington State Patrol detective that he was paid $500 by Norwick for restraining his horses in four 1993 races.
According to the racing commission’s report last June, Jones and Masters said that Bergsrud’s participation was confirmed in a conversation the two riders had with Bergsrud in the jockey’s room shower at Playfair.
Bruce Batson, executive secretary of the racing commission, said, “We met our responsibility. It brings a satisfactory closure to what has been an extremely unfortunate situation.”
Nelson again proclaimed his innocense and vowed to fight to retain his license as a jockey’s agent.
His lawyer, Stiley, testified that prior to the end of the 1993 season Nelson suggested to Playfair director of racing Ted Martin that the FBI be brought in to examine the results of trifecta races in November.
Nelson eventually “began to study what was going on and attempted to bet on what he suspected,” Stiley added.
What Nelson suspected, Stiley testified, was that some jockeys may have been holding back their mounts in certain trifecta races. Nelson began leaving them out of his wagers, Stiley said.