Jockey Stewart Elliott was sitting at a table at Freehold Raceway in New Jersey last Friday afternoon, autographing pictures of himself supplied by management of the harness track, and basking in adulation.
He was met with cheers, according to a Freehold press release, and with best wishes for a happy and healthy ride this Saturday in the Belmont Stakes aboard racing’s newest star, Smarty Jones.
Stewart Elliott now is a confirmed American sports hero, and as such — like all American sports heroes — he is forgiven much that others would find troublesome.
For one thing, Stewart Elliott filed three false applications with three different state racing commissions in recent months, and received wrist slaps from all three despite the lack of honesty. Kentucky fined him $1,000, Maryland, $25, and New Jersey, $500. The commissions did not call the applications "false." They were more polite dealing with a hero, calling them "inaccurate."
The "inaccuracy" in all three was failing to mention that he had pled guilty to a felony charge of aggravated assault in New Jersey three years ago.
It might be argued, and with good cause, that if some journeyman jockey had done this, he would have been slapped with a major fine and possibly a suspension. But not the rider of Smarty Jones. Heaven forbid!
In Kentucky, a spokesman for the racing commission said, prior to the penalty being issued, that "it could be up to a $5,000 fine, or we could suspend his license for further review." That idea was abandoned quickly with Smarty Jones in view.
The question on the Kentucky form was clear enough. It asked if the applicant had been arrested, indicted or convicted or had pleaded guilty to any criminal offense within the past 10 years. Elliott checked no, his agent said, because he did not realize the time frame was 10 years. Did he mistake it for a 1? Or a 2? If not, he ducked the truth.
None of the three states stopped him from riding, of course.
Three years before, in June 2001, Elliott pleaded guilty to aggravated assault after a fight with a friend, Alexander Kovakik, in the man’s home. He was sentenced to one-year probation and ordered to pay $13,900 of the victim’s medical bills.
It takes a lot of injuries to run up a medical bill of almost $14,000, and in this case it was easy to understand why. Elliott beat Kovakik with a beer bottle, a pool cue and a wooden stool. Elliott told reporters he was lucky he hadn’t killed Kovakik, and he was right. Even Kentucky and Maryland might have taken a dim view of that. As it was, the New Jersey racing commission reportedly refused to renew his jock’s license, but he got one in Pennsylvania.
While Elliott was winning the Kentucky Derby, a lady named Maria Albano was watching the race in the Lady’s Secret Café at Monmouth Park. She knew Stewart Elliott pretty well, and she told her story of him to sports columnist Bill Handleman of the Asbury Park, N.J. Press. She and Elliott met for a first drink in the Lady’s Secret after the races at Monmouth in July 1999. One thing led to another, and he moved into her house. They lived together and she says he abused her, and the cops visited her home more than once responding to calls of domestic violence. It was at her house that cops picked him up after he had beaten Kovakik to a pulp.
Marie Albano got a restraining order against Elliott. She lost her house, which had been in both of their names, according to her, after she put up his bail for the beating and then couldn’t make the mortgage payments after he left. She sold her house, making $729, she says, after paying off legal fees and debts. She now lives in a tiny rented bungalow.
There are hundreds of girls in Las Vegas who know stories just like this one. Marie Albano is angry. "All these people are going to look up to this man," she told Handleman, "and there’s something wrong with that. He’s no hero."