Phantom Rider Sylvester Carmouche Galloped Out of the Bayou Mists—and into a Peck of Trouble
Some racehorses like a dry track; some are mudders. But last Jan. 11 the sparse crowd at the Delta Downs track in Vinton, La., discovered an entirely new specialist—the fogger. Or so it seemed, when Landing Officer, a 5-year-old bay burst out of a soupy bayou haze to finish 24 lengths ahead of the pack in a near track-record time for the mile run. But as happy backers of the 23-1 shot headed toward the pay window, the protest light went on. Two other riders said they had seen nothing of Landing Officer or his jockey, Sylvester Carmouche, as they circled the fogbound oval, and the race video revealed no more than eight of the nine starters over most of the course. In a postrace inspection, a veterinarian said that the horse was not breathing hard and that its leggings-normally turf-spattered after a mile gallop—were suspiciously clean. Stewards, asserting that Carmouche, 31, had reined in his mount and idled in the mist while the other horses ran the oval, disqualified Landing Officer.
While denying that he cheated, Carmouche nonetheless admits he was pleasantly surprised by his steed's fleetness. "I didn't know the horse was going that fast," he says. "I just wanted to get back safely." At a hearing two weeks ago, lawyers for the phantom horseman argued his case before the Louisiana Racing Commission. "He could have passed people in the fog, and they would never have seen him," says attorney Kenneth Schaffer. "One jockey thought he had won a race that night, only to discover he had come in second." But Jeffrey Kallenberg, vice-chairman of the commission, was unconvinced. "I kept waiting for their bombshell, for their Perry Mason finish," he says, "but it never happened." With a lone dissenting vote, the board barred Carmouche from racing in Louisiana for 10 years—the stiffest penalty allowed. For now, however, the 5'6" father of five, who lives near Carencro, La., is back in the saddle—at least until his appeal is heard next month. "I never did anything wrong in my life," says the 13-year veteran. "I rode the race, and I win."
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