SI Vault
William Leggett
November 14, 1977
Racing officials have been trying to answer that question and others—like where is the $150,000 corpse—since learning that a ringer ran at Belmont
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November 14, 1977

Is This Horse That Horse?

Racing officials have been trying to answer that question and others—like where is the $150,000 corpse—since learning that a ringer ran at Belmont

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How and when and why the horses were switched, if indeed they were, is still to be determined, though certain details are known. On the evening of June 3, 1977 Cinzano and Leb�n were loaded on a turboprop plane in Carrasco, Uruguay. The aircraft, which also carried six Argentinian horses, continued to Tocumen Airport in Panama City to pick up another horse named Boots Colonero, who was also consigned to Gerard. In the case of Leb�n and Cinzano, import papers show Dr. Gerard was acting as an agent in the purchase of the horses. Leb�n was bought for $1,600 in Uruguay (after being sold at public auction shortly before for $600). Gerard sold him to Jack Morgan, who had served as one of his veterinary assistants for several years, for just under $10,000. Similarly, the Uruguayan owner of Cinzano received $81,000 for his horse, and Gerard turned him over to Tenafly, N.J. millionaire Joseph Taub for $150,000. Normally, an agent charges 10% commission, but Gerard had marked up Morgan's purchase 600% and Taub's 85%.

No identifying photographs accompanied the three horses on the flight, which arrived at 3:20 p.m. June 4 at Kennedy Airport in New York. However, there were diagrams of their markings to help ascertain which animal was which. Leb�n was listed as a bay 5-year-old with a white star on his face and Cinzano a bay 4-year-old with a white star on his face and an easy-to-miss inch-long scar on his left shoulder. Cinzano's star, as El Pais was to note, was longer, lower and more irregular in shape than Leb�n's.

The animals were met by Gerard, Eugene Hammer of Cardinal Air Services, which was handling the shipment, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture vet. Blood samples were taken to make sure the horses were not suffering from contagious diseases, and the horses were placed in a Lufthansa holding pen as they waited to be shipped to the USDA quarantine station in Clifton, N.J. Once there, the horses were isolated from other shipments and placed in quarantine until their blood samples were passed by the USDA lab, a procedure that normally takes from 48 to 72 hours.

There is often haste in unloading flights, and with nine horses aboard, this one was no different. Hammer says, "We move the animals quickly, and as the horses are led one by one down the ramp, vets say, O.K., this one's Jack Jones, and start taking down markings. Then as another horse follows, they may realize the second horse is Jack Jones, not the first. With two bay horses with stars, it could be that the names on their head collar plates were what caught the USDA vet's eye. That is a poor means of identification. En route, a groom may have to remove head collars to calm the horses and when he puts them back on, he can place them on the wrong horses."

Leb�n and Cinzano were cleared by USDA chemists, and on June 11 were vanned to Gerard's Muttontown, L.I. home. The next evening Cinzano is said to have suffered a fractured skull and broken ankle at Gerard's farm. Reportedly, Gerard learned of the accident while dining with friends, including horseman Frank Wright. Gerard left the dinner party and asked Wright to bring one of the guests back to his home if he did not return shortly. Wright did as he was asked and says that on arriving at Gerard's home he learned that the animal had been destroyed. He saw the body of a bay in the stable area.

At the time he was shipped to the U.S., Cinzano was insured for $150,000. The policy was written by the General Adjustment Bureau of Jericho, N.Y. on a London firm, and it was to the GAB that Gerard would have had to report, while the animal was still alive, that Cinzano had massive injuries.

When GAB representatives were queried about their handling of the Cinzano case last week, they were cautious. "We have an obligation to our customers not to discuss this matter," said Manager Pete Lombardo. "We're not talking. We didn't do anything wrong."

Before insurance companies pay off on a claim, two veterinarians, one acting on behalf of the owner, the second for the insurer, must 1) certify that the horse is actually dead, 2) that the body resembles the insured horse and 3) that the cause of death is plausible—and this normally requires an autopsy. Did GAB have the signatures of two vets? "Right," said Lombardo. Could one vet call in another, one he wanted to verify a death? "They're professional men," said Lombardo. "They take the Hippocratic Oath, or something. We had no reason to be suspicious of Dr. Gerard. After all, he was the vet for Secretariat, wasn't he?"

Gerard signed an insurance claim on behalf of Taub (who was paid off in August). The second vet, whose name is on the document, is a longtime Gerard friend, Dr. Hap Hemphill. Hemphill is not talking.

In recent years Gerard has taken to wheeling and dealing in bloodstock, on the side, while increasing his veterinary practice. He has been importing thoroughbreds from South America, and there are horsemen who believe he has raced some of these under other people's names while retaining ownership. Many states forbid vets to own horses at tracks where they practice.

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