The FBI, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board and other agencies are investigating a potentially explosive racetrack scandal involving a "ringer" in a case that one tabloid has dubbed the " Belmont 'Sting.' "
Last Sept. 9 a 5-year-old import from Uruguay named Lebon made his first U.S. start in a $10,500 claiming race at Belmont. Off at 7 to 1, he finished 11th in a field of 12.
On Sept. 23 Lebon was entered in a $16,000 claiming race at Belmont. The odds were 57 to 1. One bettor, who put down his money at intervals—he kept leaving the window to check the odds board—bet $1,300 to win and $600 to show on Lebon, almost half the money that wound up on him in the pari-mutuel pool. A well-known figure at the track, he made all his bets in the grandstand, where he was less likely to be noticed than in the clubhouse, his usual haunt. After a four-length win by Lebon, the bettor collected $80,440 from a clubhouse cashier, who recognized him.
On Oct. 12 Lebon ran in an allowance race at the Jersey Meadowlands. Off at 15 to 1, Lebon finished fourth in a field of nine.
Last week the New York racing board indefinitely suspended Dr. Mark (Mike) Gerard, 43, a well-known veterinarian whose patients included Riva Ridge and Secretariat. Gerard, who had imported Lebon from Uruguay, was also identified in press reports as the big bettor in Lebon's 57-to-1 win. Also suspended was Jack Morgan, 32, the owner-trainer of the horse. The board put Lebon under 24-hour guard in Barn 59 at Belmont. The reason: "Lebon isn't Lebon, there was heavy betting by one individual, and the answers given so far have been unsatisfactory."
The stewards started action after a phone call from a Uruguayan journalist who maintained that the horse was Cinzano, a 4-year-old also imported by Gerard. Horsemen in Uruguay agreed. Although the two horses are lookalikes, Uruguayans had reason to recognize Cinzano because of differences in the white stars on the two horses' foreheads. Last year Cinzano was the best horse in Uruguay with six classic wins, including that country's version of the Derby.
New York prohibits vets from owning horses, but Gerard has been active as an agent in buying and selling horses. Last May he bought Cinzano for Top the Marc stable, owned by Joseph Taub, a New Jersey executive, reportedly for $150,000. Uruguayans say the price was actually $81,000. Gerard bought Lebon for Jack Morgan, reportedly for $9,500. Uruguayans say the price was actually $1,600. Although Lebon has been called "a piece of garbage" in the New York press, he did win his first three races in Uruguay, before losing his appetite and exhibiting a resistance to training. Uruguayans add that an elegant blonde, who identified herself as Mrs. Gerard, showed up in April saying she was Lebon's new owner and that she had bought the horse "to ride him myself and not to make him run races."
On June 11, Cinzano and Lebon were taken to Gerard's farm on Long Island. The next day, Cinzano was reported to have fractured his skull. According to Gerard, he was put down and the carcass sold to a fat renderer. An insurance company paid off on a $150,000 policy. The speculation is that the dead horse was Lebon and that the classy Cinzano raced under his name.
The Sept. 23 race had five winning $2 triple tickets in which the first, second and third horses were picked in order. Each of those tickets was worth $29,885. Len Ragozin, a noted New York horse-player who cashed in two of those tickets, observes that when Lebon ran in his first race Sept. 9, sudden heavy betting drove the odds down from 50 to 1 to 7 to 1 in the last two minutes before post time. "I think the betting coup was supposed to take place in that first race," Ragozin says.