A good gambler needs courage, flair and luck. David A. (Sonny) Werblin has all three. He has risked plenty on the legs of thoroughbreds and the knees of Namath, as well as on the personalities of stage, screen and television stars when he was head of the TV division of MCA, the largest talent agency in the country. His current star, and possibly his luckiest bet, is Silent Screen, a reddish-brown 2-year-old colt by Prince John out of Prayer Bell.
Comparing football players, with whom he had disappointing as well as successful experiences as one of the owners of the New York Jets, Werblin said recently: "In football your inventory can cause you trouble overnight. Players can have a fight with their wives or girl friends. They can stay out late, drinking. They can feud with each other. They can pop off and make controversial headlines. Silent Screen—he gets to bed early, gets up early, drinks water, keeps his mouth shut and does his work."
The colt has indeed done all that since he was a rather weak, ungainly weanling, bred in Putnam County, N.Y., and growing up on good Ohio hay and wheat germ. Werblin and his wife Leah, who race under the name of Elberon Farms, after an estate they used to own at Elberon, N.J., purchased Silent Screen for $39,000 at the yearling sales in Saratoga in August 1968. In his first race at Saratoga last Aug. 1, he came second by a length after a game but green performance. He won a maiden special weights event a week later by 14 lengths, the rich Arlington-Washington Futurity at Chicago on Sept. 6 by eight lengths and the Cowdin at Belmont Park on Oct. 1 by half a length. And last Saturday at Belmont he captured the biggest prize offered in New York, winning the Champagne by a length over a field that included the best available 2-year-olds. After five races his total earnings are $388,966. Werblin had to put up $11,500 to run him in the Champagne as a supplementary entry, and the gamble paid off handsomely.
Breaking from the favorable outside post position in the 11-horse field, Silent Screen was sixth at the quarter-mile mark of the mile race, moved up in the backstretch, took the lead going into the stretch and held off the Wheatley Stable's Brave Emperor at the wire. John Rotz, who has ridden him in all his four victories but was not aboard in his one defeat, said candidly that the victory was not easy, and Trainer J. Bowes Bond felt that the slight injury the colt incurred in the Cowdin—when he stumbled at the start and nicked a heel—might have taken something out of him. Certainly it upset Silent Screen's training routine before the Champagne. Rotz thinks his charge can go a distance and is a potential Kentucky Derby horse, but Bond is reserving judgment. He hopes to run Silent Screen in the Garden State Stakes on Nov. 15 if he shows no ill effects from his hard run in the Champagne.
Sonny Werblin is an exuberant, nervous and gracious owner. He was biting his nails in the walking ring before the race, but afterward, in the winner's circle, his manner was the model of amiability. Werblin insists that he acquired his nickname in childhood, but some acquaintances still believe—or prefer—the story that it came from Al Jolson's hit song Sonny Boy. Jolson, who loved the racetrack as much as the spotlight, was one of the first to take Werblin to the races. Mrs. Werblin, the former Leah Ray, was a vocalist with the Phil Harris orchestra and appeared in a Bob Hope movie at the time she met Sonny. She gives their horses show biz names. Their filly, Process Shot, is so called after a technical movie term. "Silent Screen" was arrived at in a roundabout manner. Mrs. Werblin was thinking of John Barrymore, the Good Night, Sweet Prince of the screen. The colt's sire was Prince John. And the mare, Prayer Bell, suggested silence.
After the victory the Werblins and Bowes Bond and his wife looked happily stunned as they accepted the trophy and a jeroboam of champagne. One could sense that they were dreamily sniffing a mélange of blue grass, bourbon and Derby roses, possibly to materialize next May.