Cinzano/Lebon, New York racing's infamous "dead ringer," was sold yesterday afternoon at Belmont Park.
"I bought him back myself, for $10,000," Jack Morgan said from his home in Douglasston, N.Y. There was a few people interested in bidding on the horse that came to the barn where he is stabled, but what the lien sale attracted mostly was the press and television. I'm afraid their presence, plus all the notoriety that goes with this horse, scared away a few trainers and lot of money."
You better believe it. Cinzano/Lebon is still the most controversial horse on the American backstretch. He is an embarrassment to New York racing officials, evidence to a Nassau County district attorney and, until yesterday at least, a pain in the pocketbook to Morgan.
"I was the guy left holding the bag," Morgan explained. "I had a $33,000 lien on the horse for daily expenses in keeping him, for attorney fees, for auctioneer fees and everything. Nobody else was going to help pay anything. Everybody said to wait the outcome of the trial."
"The trail" is scheduled to begin Sept. 5. Veterinarian Mark Gerard is charged with having switched Cin- zano, a major stakes winner in South America, with Lebon, a South American horse of considerably less distinction. Gerard allegedly killed Lebon in order to make the switch work with Cinzano, then hit for a bundle at the mutuel windows, with Morgan offically listed on the program as the horse's registered owner, although Gerard was a partner in the ownership.
"I was the paper owner, but I've been cleared by everybody of everything," Morgan said. "But it's (Joe Taub who got the $150,000 insurance and Lloyds of London thinks about Taub, not me. Gerard is going on trial. The DA took the horse and was going to impound him on a farm on Long Island until I got a court order that stopped him.
"Now, after bidding him in today, I am the legitimate, legal owner of this horse, whichever it is. As a race horse, I know he is worth at least $50,000. That's based not so much on the turf race he won in New York, at the big price, as on his next race when he finished fourth in a handicap at the Meadowlands.
"Off what I have seen, $50,000 would have been the right place. He might be a $150,000 horse. He probably has that potential. Certainly his former owners in Uruguay think he does. But he hasn't proven he's worth that yet. I keep galloping him two miles in the morning, regularly. He is only five or six weeks away from being ready to run in a race."
And that is where Morgan faces another obstacle. The New York tracks and the Jockey Club are not anxious to have Cinzano/Lebon appear in competition.
"They just wish this horse would be eliminated," Morgan said. "He has embarrassed them too much already, with all the bad publicity. It's not the horse's fault. The horse didn't do anything wrong. Yet he is legally restricted from running anywhere at the moment. He has been ruled off, so to speak. And then there is the DA making the case for the prosecution. To him, this horse is a star witness. That I can understand. So I'm going to cooperate and not try to do anything until the outcome of the trial."
Cinzano/Lebon is 5 years old, only slightly past his peak in terms of racing performance. But if he isn't soon returned to racing he will have been barred from competition during the latter part of his prime time.
"That's what irritates me," Morgan said. "I'm not trying to rock the bost, by taking on the racing establishment or the DA's office. But why should this horse be punished now that he is in legitimate hands under legitimate ownership?
"Nobody can be sure which horse this is. We know the one was what they call a 'crow' horse, the other was a pretty good one judging from their racing records in South America. It's tough to be sure, though. Common, ordinary horses have improved dramatically to become outstanding on occasion. Maybe that is what happens here.
"Look at Stymie and Cedar Key, or Carry Back for that matter. Carry Back was sired by Saggy, whose only claim to fame was theat he beat Citation once, out of a $200 mare. It happens."
Of course, it does, occasionally. Which is neither here nor there so far as Cinzano/Lebon is concerned. Let the jury decide Gerard's guilt or innocence. Present the horse as Exhibit A, if it helps the judicial process. Then permit the horse to go back to the races, where he belongs.
There ought to be a law to punish guilty people, not innocent horses. Perhaps, before too long, New York will find one.