The "Dead Ringer Case" involving Uruguayan imports Cinzano and Lebon and New York veterinarian Mark Gerard has focused national attention on the horse insurance business.
Cinzano, reportedly purchased for $80,000 by Gerard in Montevideo, was sold and insured for $150,000 immediately up arriving in the United States. When the horse died (or was killed) of a skull fracture - if, indeed, the dead horse was Cinzano - the insurance was paid quickly on the signatures of Gerard, another veterinarian and an agent representing the insurance company.
To the public, this system seems to represent a license to steal. It is not easy. Not quite.
"The most important person, obviously, is the veterinarian invloved," said Fred Kohler of the Kohlar Bloodstock Agency in Middleburg, Va. "I have a list of vets I would not use. So do other companies. There is an element among the veterinarians that has created a problem. But the itnegrity of a large majority of vets is unquestioned.
Horse insurance," Kohler continued, "is a business where you must know what you are doing and, equally important, who you are doing it with. You must know who you are dealing with when it comes to stock of large value."
Backstretch tales of unsound horses sent out to break down in morning workouts in order to collect the insurance money are a dime a dozen. The only real risk is to exercise boy's neck.
What most fans fail to realize, however, is how few thoroughbreds are insured.
"Most of our writing is done for breeding stock," Kohler said. "The typical owner of a race horse is taking his own risk. In Maryland, for example, I'd guess 50 per cent of the horses in the $5,000 to $10,000 claiming category are in need of some kind of help. They are having their knees or their ankles taped or they're receiving cortisone injections just to keep them going."
The cost of insuring such a horse, which is the backbone of the daily racing program, is prohibitive for most owners.
"Oue rates have held firm in recent years," Kohler noted. "The cost of a horse valued at $40,000 and up is 5 1/2 per cent ($2,200 a year and up). The rate for a cheaper horse, under $40,000, is of course higher because the cheaper horse is exposed to so much more racing. The cheaper horse may start once a week or more. The better horse is not asked to run so often."
The owner of a large stable of good horses is given a break in the rates. He gets 15 per cent off if he has a stable of eight or more horses with a total evaluation of $150,000 or higher.
"In all cases, the veterinarians must sign a statement saying the animal will not respond to medical treatment before it is put down for humane reasons."
Kohler believes the racing industry does a concientious job of policing itself, despite all the distressing publicity it has received lately. "Some of the black eyes, particularly in the area of horse identification, aren't really deserved," he said.
He will admit, however, that even in his own business field, there are insurance companies that would do well to exercise tighter control in their dealings.
"I can't stress too much the importance of really knowing the people you are dealing with," Kohler declared. "I've had only one case in 17 years where I though things were not what they seemed to be. But the temptation is always there, I guess, when values are high. Maybe if we knew everything that goes on, we'd be shocked.