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.
November 7, 1977
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.
A BUNCH OF BUNS
Are the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers so many hamburgers? Yes, siree, judging by the promotion of the 10 Ponderosa Steak Houses in Western Florida. Every time the Bucs lose, the chain gives away a Buc Burger, fries and a Coke to any kid 12 or under accompanied by an adult who makes a purchase.
Ponderosa's Mike Dixon started dishing out the freebies Sept. 29, and he is absolutely delighted. "I got the idea from the Yankees in New York and the giveaway of French fries with a purchase at Burger King when the Yankees win," Dixon says. "Since the Bucs seemed unlikely to win many this season—though we sure hope they do—we just turned it around. We even put our chef at one store in a Buc helmet one day of the week."
Is the promotion paying off? "I'll say," enthuses Dixon. "We figure we have given away 8,000 burgers so far, but the promotion, in this time of traditional decline with the tourists not here, has produced a definite increase in sales, because of buying by parents of kids who want a free Buc Burger."
Ah, those Russians. They have the strongest man in the world, superheavyweight lifter Vasily Alexeyev, and now they are putting the knock on those who develop muscles strictly for show. The newspaper Sovetski Sport has condemned the network of body-culture clubs that flourishes despite official disapproval. "It does not befit a man to parade in front of the public flexing his muscles," pronounced Sovetski Sport, flexing its editorial muscles. "Body-builders emerge from the basements. They don't walk. They carry their muscled torsos proudly—self-conceited, self-important, looking like roosters on a promenade."
Eight years ago the paper launched its first attack on "the Trojan horse of culturism," and in 1973 the Soviet Sports Ministry declared private body-building clubs alien to the Soviet concept of sport. Still, the clubs, bearing such names as Muromets (after a legendary Russian strong man), Narcissus and Hercules, flourish.
The current attack came about after Vladimir Burilov, nicknamed "Unique," a member of the Muromets club in Moscow, killed a drunk who had wandered into a room frequented by Muromet members by first pressing a 90-kilogram barbell against his throat and then battering him with a 30-kilogram dumbbell. Apparently the drunk had interrupted Burilov's nap. Earlier, Burilov had attacked his twin brother with a hammer in an argument over who should wash the dinner dishes, and his grandmother complained that "ever since taking up body-building six years ago, all he has done is to stand in front of the mirror all day and flex his muscles. It is disgusting to look at him." A court pronounced Burilov insane, and he is now in a psychiatric institution.
This incident prompted Sovetski Sport to deduce that body-building "stupefies boys no less than does alcohol.... There are very many unbalanced persons among them and almost everyone seems to adore himself." What's more, bodybuilders keep pictures of their American counterparts, who are reported to "talk about homosexuality quite freely, as if it is something quite natural."
To remedy the situation, Sovetski Sport vigorously recommends that "athletic gymnastics," which promote "muscle strength combined with agility, endurance and swiftness, the ingredients of almost all dynamic sports," be taken up instead. But, the paper admits, there is a shortage of both gyms and coaches, and as a defiant Vladimir Shubov, manager of the Narcissus club told the paper, "I'm afraid that because of your articles our studio will be closed down. But you can't help reckoning with us. Power is with us. I have only to appear on a beach, and that will be enough to form another studio."
PREDICTING FOOTBALL INJURY
Dr. R. Dean Coddington, a child psychiatrist in New Orleans, and a team of researchers say that serious injuries to high school football players have a definite relationship to the degree of discord in the player's family.
In a paper presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry in Houston, Dr. Coddington reported that he had elicited confidential family information from more than 700 New Orleans high school players last year while their coaches kept detailed injury records. One hundred and fourteen of the players were injured, 14 of them seriously, and Coddington says, "Basically, what we found was that the rate of divorce, marital discord, missing parents or recent deaths of a parent was far higher in the players who had suffered serious injuries.
"Depending on the degree of discord which the players had told us by filling out information questionnaires, we could go back and see where we could have predicted the majority of the injuries, especially the serious one."
Coddington concludes, "I can foresee the value of looking into the players' family problems at the start of football season, and for those families in real turmoil recommending counseling...and perhaps in some instances suggesting that a few boys not play."
Snatching the cap off the head of Woody Hayes has gotten to be a national sport. Four years ago TV cameras caught the Ohio State coach taking a roundhouse swing at a fan, who after first calling Hayes an unprintable name, grabbed at his cap following Michigan State's controversial 16-13 win in East Lansing. After this season's loss to Oklahoma in Columbus, Hayes was again shown taking a poke at a Sooner student trainer who tried to snatch the cap.
The trend continued in Iowa City, where an Iowa fan of immense proportions filched Woody's cap at midfield and fled into the stands with it. Early last week Hayes received a letter from Mike Gatens, a 6'5" former Iowa basketball player, who enclosed $5 for the cap and explained, "I've always been a Woody Hayes fan, but in my exuberance over homecoming and that last-minute Iowa touchdown, I just lost control."
Hayes was touched. He was also touched in the dressing room at Northwestern, which Ohio State beat 35-15, when a Northwestern student manager asked him for his cap. "I refused," Hayes says, "but I put the cap in full view on a shelf in the dressing room while I went to shower and dress. It was there when I returned. That young man could have taken the cap and didn't. I told him I was testing him and he was a great young man, so I gave the cap to him."
GENTLEMAN FROM INDIANA
Most of the millions of people who heard Tony Hulman say, "Gentlemen, start your engines," probably were unaware that he had once been a formidable competitor: the nation's top prep school pole vaulter in 1920; the international collegiate high-hurdles champion in London in 1923; an end on Yale's undefeated football team that same year; and a deep-sea fisherman who captained the U.S. tuna team in 1951. In 1952 Hulman accomplished one of big-game fishing's most celebrated feats by landing, in three successive days off Peru, black marlin of 762, 918 and 937 pounds. The last two were the biggest ever caught in the Western Hemisphere up to that time.
Also remarkable was the House that Hulman Built, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which, when he bought it in 1945, was a ramshackle ruin after four years of wartime disuse. In 1946 the Indy 500 drew something like 150,000 spectators and the purse was $115,450. Last spring attendance was more than 300,000 and the purse was $1,116,807. The ruin had become a model, one of the best-run in sport. What a monument it is to the gentleman from Indiana, who died last week at the age of 76.
THEY SAID IT
•President Carter to Senator Humphrey, who had wondered about the legality of making a $5 bet by phone with ex-President Ford on the Minnesota-Michigan game: "I will pardon you on that one."
•Dean Chance, former American League pitcher and possessor of a .066 lifetime batting average: "I wish I was still active in baseball. The designated-hitter rule was made for me."