Randy Rouse paced back and forth atop a hill at Woodley Farm, the 40-mph winds whipping through a thin layer of his red, white and blue racing silks.
The start of the race had been delayed to allow an ambulance crew to remove a rider injured in a fall during the previous race. "This is ridiculous," said Rouse, 64, slapping a riding whip against his boots. "This is the only time I get nervous."
His horse was being walked around the paddock. The big bay gelding was not as nervous as his rider. At age 7 he has seen it all. And more. Several hundred spectators, who braved near-freezing weather, leaned over a snow fence to get a close look at the horse. An oddsmaker, carrying a portable blackboard, barked, "Make your bets here on the famous Cinzano."
The odds for the George Greenhalgh Memorial, a three-mile race over timber, were 1 to 8. They contrasted markedly to that September day in 1977 at Belmont Park, when Dr. Mark Gerard, a New York veterinarian who owned Cinzano, entered the horse under the name of Lebon. The $2 bettors collected $116 on the 57-to-1 shot. The hitch came when authorities noticed Gerard cashing an overabundance of win tickets, $77,000 worth to be exact.
Gerard was convicted on two counts of fraud. He was fined $1,000 and sentenced to one year in jail, despite an appeal by attorney F. Lee Bailey. Gerard recently completed his sentence at the Nassau County jail.
Cinzano, a stakes winner in Uruguay, also is running free, making the rounds on the Seven Corners point-to-point circuit. And making them very quickly.
Rouse and Cinzano have won the season's first four races, at Casanova, Rappahannock, Berryville and Ptoomac last Sunday. There are 10 races for "gentlemen members of an organized hunt" in the Seven Corners Championship and Rouse has been master of the Fairfax Hunt since 1961. The winners each week are awarded points toward an end-of-season championship and the season. The champion buys dinner for the other members.
In the 20 years of the Seven Corners series, Rouse has picked up nine dinner checks. He heads the list in number of career wins with 52. He holds the top three positions in the leading horse standings over the years with three different horses.
On sunday, Cinzano will race for the last time this season at the Fairfax point-to-point, and a victory would clinch the Seven Corners for Rouse once again.
Cinzano is able to run at the point-to-point races (where a silver plate is awarded instead of money) even though he has no papers from The Jockey Club. At steeplechase races sanctioned by the National Steeplechase and Hunt, he needs to have the papers. The Jockey Club so far has declined to provide those papers for the horse's previous owner, David Denise of New Jersey.
"I don't understand if the trial proved that the horse was Cinzano, why nobody has been able to get the papers," Rouse said. But I bought the horse to hunt and ride point-to-point so I knew what I was getting. They started out asking $15,000 for him but I waited until they came way down. I haven't applied for the papers yet. I figured it wasn't appropriate. Why penalize the horse?"
The Jockey Club has refused the horse papers because, according to their records, the horse of that name has been certified as dead. That horse was actually Lebon. There is also a rule that states once a horse has been entered in a name other than his own, he is disqualified from receiving new papers. And of course, even though officials believe this horse to be Cinzano, how can they prove it?
Papers or no papers, it doesn't matter to Rouse, an Arlington real estate developer. He is out to have a good time -- and to win.
He is concerned about the competition this day. There are two other horses entered who could set a quick pace. Too quick. Rouse doesn't want that. But they don't know it. So the riders play cat and mouse, checking the board to see if the other will perhaps scratch.
There is always a chance of falling off. One false move or incorrect judgment while racing toward an unyielding four-foot timber fence at 30 mph results in horse and rider flipping over. In the 50-plus years Rouse has been riding, he remembers being knocked unconscious four times. Two years ago, he broke both ankles, when his mount stumbled over on top of him in heavy going. He rode again and won in seven months.
Rouse fox hunts every chance he gets and jogs 30 minutes every day. Sometimes his friend and internist, Dr. Charles Waters Thompson, accompanies him to the races, just in case of another accident. "I'll probably retire next year," Rouse said. "But be sure to say probably ."