Theater of weird
plays bi-coastal

Aug 10, 2004 4:40 AM

It was a weird week.

First came the actor-turned-governor-turned actor stepping dramatically out of the mists of stage smoke in Las Vegas, with moving vans as props, exhorting the natives to flee the fastest growing city in the nation and find refuge and road rage and other exotic pleasures in his adopted state of California.

The sales pitch was about as successful as his effort to start the 16-wheeler he drove, which sputtered and stalled at first attempt.

In the East, the long awaited return of Smarty Jones to racing turned out to be a fantasy. That possibility had been signaled all along, ever since it was announced he would stand at stud when retired at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky. There was no announcement of physical damage when he was beaten in the Belmont Stakes, but as news came that he would not run in the Haskell at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, or the Travers at Saratoga in New York, or the Pennyslvania Derby at Philadelphia Park in his native state, it became apparent there was a problem.

The problem was money. When it was announced last week that he would run no more, thus robbing thoroughbred racing of its brightest star, bruises in his ankles were given as the reason, even though one of the nation’s leading veterinarians said three months of rest would cure that. It was not bruises but bucks that led to his retirement. Running and losing could depreciate his value. Smarty can earn $8 million next year romancing rather than running, and there is no way he could earn that even if he raced undefeated and helped racing’s cause. Another colorful episode in American racing has been closed.

In central New York, between Syracuse and Utica, the drama of a dying track played out with another Las Vegas twist.

Picturesque Vernon Downs ran out of dough, in debt $26 million, and some were saying that Shawn Scott, of Vegas and the Virgin Islands and other esoteric spots, emerged with a good hunk of it after his brief stint as boss at Vernon. That is unconfirmed speculation, but what was reported as fact last week by Eric Spector of California, who wants to buy the track (and with it Miracle Isle, its unlicensed racino) is that Vestin of Vegas, which holds the very big mortgage on Vernon, is giving him a hard time.

Spector’s family once was involved with Spice, which made naughty movies for television, but sold its interest in a business dispute. Eric says there was no Spice in his life, and he has applied for a license to own and operate Vernon. If he gets one, he will be the first of the last five guys involved with the place in ownership to qualify, and if he gets Vernon his life will not lack spice.

A little farther southeast in New York, at Saratoga Springs, there were weird doings at storied Saratoga Race Course.

This one involved hot dog vendors and trinket salesmen.

The city council of the town, miffed at being muscled out of a lucrative parking lot lease by the New York Racing Association, voted to allow up to 103 sidewalk vendors to take up residence with stands and tables and other implements of their trade and sell their wares at the entrance of the historic track.

They took the action after NYRA pulled the plug on a $1 a year lease it had bestowed on the city a few years ago to run a parking lot next to one of the fanciest restaurants in town, hard by the track. NYRA, with larger problems, should know you never mess with a city council, from whom all blessings flow.

In the nation’s capital, virtue won over vice.

The District of Columbia’s election board, after eight days of hearings, ruled that more than two-thirds of the 56,000 signatures that had been collected on petitions for a casino were invalid or illegal, and killed the idea. The money for the petition drive had come from — guess where? — the Virgin Islands.

Virginity, it seems, ain’t what it used to be.