southernmost of the Windwards, is one of those tiny Caribbean islands chock
full of sugar 'n' spice 'n' everything nice, especially spice. Nutmeg, tonka
beans, pimento, sapote, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, bay leaves, turmeric
and black pepper give the mountainous, thickly wooded island its zing. Jennifer
Hosten, Grenada's Miss World of 1970, is surely everything nice. But take a
closer look at one John Clancy, who may be observed at Langley Yachts.
Eugene Zeek, works out of St. George's, the capital city. He is 45 years old,
and he has the capital in his pocket, in two ways, having allegedly perpetrated
the greatest fraud in the long history of American horse racing—a $1 million
rip-off. "It was one of the classic cons of our time," an FBI man
ruefully concedes. "Where no extradition treaty exists, there is nothing we
can do. The extradition policy of such a nation is whatever the head man says
it is." The present head man of Grenada, Prime Minister Dr. The Hon. Eric
M. Gairy, O.L., K.G.C., F.R.S.A., J.P., shows no inclination to be inhospitable
to Clancy/Zeek. So Eugene Zeek is safe and sound. This visitor knows, having
dropped in on him last week. He was not happy to be called upon, even though it
was a renewal of a racetrack acquaintanceship. And the object of the visit was
merely to tell him how his achievement is beginning to get the recognition it
deserves—that he is becoming the man of the moment among racing fans.
Not since Newman
and Redford has a sting seemed to so amuse the race-wise. A sampling of opinion
at Garden State Park in New Jersey last week found parimutuel plungers who knew
of Zeek ready to award him an Oscar. It was "local boy makes good,"
Zeek's home base once having been nearby Cherry Hill.
They ought to put him in the Hall of Fame at Saratoga," one bettor
declared. "Anybody that can beat three tracks and a bank, I'm for
Penn National and
Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania and Laurel in Maryland are the tracks Zeek beat.
By the time Zeek was finished cashing bad checks at the three tracks between
Dec. 14 and Dec. 30, 1973, Penn National was out $407,600, Liberty Bell
$616,200 and Laurel $74,500. The other victim, probably the ultimate victim, is
the Bank of West Jersey, Delran, N.J. The bank is very angry at the racetracks.
The racetracks are very angry at the bank. And down in Grenada, secure in the
second-floor office of the yacht yard, protected from inopportune questions by
strong-looking men and a phalanx of secretaries, sits Eugene Zeek, who is not
talking to anybody. But how in the name of greed, cupidity, stupidity and
liquidity could it have happened? Sit down, friend, fill your glass, and we
will begin at the beginning. Here is how the offended parties and the
FBI—Wanted: Eugene Zeek; Armed and Dangerous—reconstruct it.
Eugene Zeek was
not a likely candidate for a Caribbean caper, a big (6'2", 250 pounds),
friendly man who trained 30 to 40 horses on the Pennsylvania-New
Jersey-Maryland circuit. "The only thing that ever made me wonder about him
was the way he seemed to have a pistol with him all the time," says a
fellow trainer. "And he lived good, even had a private plane. We just
thought he needed it to get around to the two or three tracks where he was
How good was Zeek
living? His gross income grew to more than $200,000 a year. He was the leading
trainer at Penn National in 1973, with 118 winners. He had a jockey who was
very successful on the three-state circuit, Karl Korte. He had the plane.
And he had a
habit of cashing large checks at racetracks. Every day. When thoroughbred
racing began at Liberty Bell in 1969, Zeek was there. During the summer meeting
of 1970 he cashed $180,000 worth of personal checks. This evidently aroused no
concern. Trainers sometimes need large sums of money quickly to claim or
privately buy horses.
Along came Penn
National. When that track began operating near Harrisburg in 1972 it quickly
found itself in a struggle to survive. The directors lacked experience in
racetrack management. The mutuel handle was low. When Zeek came in with a big
string of horses and a big bankroll and a story that he represented a gambling
syndicate, the Penn National people were impressed. By late 1972 Zeek was
cashing three personal checks a day at the track—every day. During 1973 the
numbers on his checks steadily increased, but the pattern was the same, indeed
it was a ritual: three big checks every day.
On May 9, 1973,
for example, the checks were for $10,300, $9,900 and $7,600, a total of
$27,800. By June 9 they were $10,200, $9,800 and $10,800, a total of $30,800.
By August the daily total was up to $39,000, in September more than $40,000, in
October $42,000, in November a shade higher. Nor, apparently, was Zeek less
attentive to his money management at Liberty Bell.