All's well that ends well for Baeza ... uh almost

March 18, 2008 6:00 PM
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Golden Edge by Ed Golden | More than 30 years after Braulio Baeza retired, the legendary jockey still carries himself with as much class as he did when he was in the saddle. It hasn’t been easy the last three years.

In 2004, Eliot Spitzer, crusading as a McCarthyesque New York State Attorney General, indicted then-New York Racing Association assistant clerk of scales Baeza in a probe alleging that he and Clerk of Scales Mario Sciafani allowed jockeys to carry more than their assigned weight in races. In September of 2007, Judge Jerry Scarano dismissed the case, but it cost Baeza time, anguish and money, and tarnished a distinguished Hall of Fame career.

Last week, Baeza gained a measure of revenge, although he would never see it that way.

Spitzer, who last year was elected New York’s Democratic Governor by a historic 69 percent of the vote, was caught in a firestorm when it was announced March 11 that "a federal wiretap caught him allegedly arranging to meet a high-priced prostitute in a Washington hotel."

Spitzer quickly went down in flames, resigning two days later, but in 2004, this is what he said about Baeza and Sciafani upon launching the indictment: "These two officials basically had one job to do and that was to ensure that the weight of the jockeys was recorded accurately and then disclosed to bettors. Instead, they misled the public and compromised the integrity of races run by the NYRA."

Talk about what goes around, comes around. Jaywalkers probably were looking over their shoulders during Spitzer’s watch.

But when I called Baeza at his New York home for his reaction to Spitzer’s fall from grace, Braulio wouldn’t even dignify it with a response. His new wife, the former Janis Blake, now Janis Blake-Baeza (they were married last December), however, would and did.

"My statement is, Spitzer is getting a dose of his own medicine," she said. "The devil is getting his due. Braulio wasn’t even acquitted; the case was thrown out (of court). It didn’t even go far enough to get an acquittal."

Just what these holier-than-thou politicians think they can get away with is astonishing. In a sense, the 48-year-old Spitzer, married with three daughters, is akin to Bill Clinton when it comes to hubris: the ultimate hypocrite.

It was Clinton, then leader of the most powerful nation on earth, who had fellatio performed on him in the White House by a woman other than his wife, and after denying it until he was surrounded by the posse, begrudgingly confessed, and now carries himself like he’s awaiting sainthood. In 1998, he was impeached by the House of Representatives, by the way, and later acquitted by the Senate.

Times have changed. Fifty years ago, Ingrid Bergman was a public outcast for having an affair with director Roberto Rosselini. A breathtaking natural beauty and a gifted actress, Bergman was banned from Hollywood. Persona non grata, she had to leave the country in disgrace.

That would never happen in today’s promiscuous Hollywood society, where you need a scoreboard to tell who’s sleeping with whom and what child born out of wedlock belongs to what father and mother. Unless you subscribe to the National Enquirer, of course.

Why a politician would spend $1 million to win a job that pays $100,000 a year has always aroused my suspicion. They are either a dedicated public servant or a dedicated public schmuck. Call it the power of the office.

But I digress.

Baeza, now 67, spent money he couldn’t afford fighting Spitzer’s allegations, lost his job with NYRA, and has had no viable income since.

"He’s just trying to get back on his feet, get his reputation back and trying to move forward every day," Janis said. "We’ve got some feelers out and we’re trying to decide where we want to go and what we’re going to do." Asked about a possible book or movie deal, she said, "We haven’t been approached on anything like that."

But she doesn’t expect Braulio to earn a living in racing again.

"Unfortunately, the race tracks aren’t run by horsemen anymore; they’re run by CEOs and corporations, and they were afraid of Spitzer," she said. "I don’t know how it’s going to go now."

However it goes, life will be better for Braulio Baeza. But it will never be the same.

The homestretch

Kathy Walsh has high regard for this year’s 3-year-old crop. "It’s is a well-rounded group," said the trainer of Triple Crown contender Georgie Boy, who won the San Felipe Stakes in his first try going two turns.

"I was very impressed with Pyro in the Louisiana Derby. I think he got in a little trouble again and was up closer, but it seems like he can do anything, come from way out of it or lay up closer. When he won the Risen Star, it was against a very, very slow pace and he closed out of sight. In the Louisiana Derby, he was closer to the pace, found a spot and came right on through. He looks like a real professional young horse at this time."

• Leading rider Rafael Bejarano is expected to miss about three more weeks after suffering injuries to his vertebra in a spill at Santa Anita on March 13.

• Good news, bad news: The bad news: Gas goes up a nickel a day in LA. The good news: Kids out here are learning to count by fives.

• And I’ll say this about Bob Knight on ESPN: he looks a lot better in makeup.