Horse-Swapping Fraud Upsets Belmont Park Raceway Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Belmont Raceway veterinarian Mark Gerard collected a large payoff when he wagered on the horse Lebón, a long-shot entry who finished first in a claiming race. It was later revealed that the winning horse was not actually Lebón but a faster horse imported from Uruguay. The Gerard affair led to improved identification standards for thoroughbreds in horse racing.

Summary of Event

Mark Gerard was a well-respected track veterinarian at Belmont Park Raceway in New York. He had cared for the famous racehorse Secretariat, winner of the Triple Crown in 1973, and for many other outstanding thoroughbreds. Gerard had a successful practice and was able to hire other veterinarians and assistants to work with him. [kw]Horse-Swapping Fraud Upsets Belmont Park Raceway (Sept. 23, 1977) [kw]Fraud Upsets Belmont Park Raceway, Horse-Swapping (Sept. 23, 1977) Belmont Park Raceway Horse racing;fraud Gerard, Mark Belmont Park Raceway Horse racing;fraud Gerard, Mark [g]United States;Sept. 23, 1977: Horse-Swapping Fraud Upsets Belmont Park Raceway[01690] [c]Hoaxes, frauds, and charlatanism;Sept. 23, 1977: Horse-Swapping Fraud Upsets Belmont Park Raceway[01690] [c]Sports;Sept. 23, 1977: Horse-Swapping Fraud Upsets Belmont Park Raceway[01690] [c]Corruption;Sept. 23, 1977: Horse-Swapping Fraud Upsets Belmont Park Raceway[01690] [c]Organized crime and racketeering;Sept. 23, 1977: Horse-Swapping Fraud Upsets Belmont Park Raceway[01690] [c]Business;Sept. 23, 1977: Horse-Swapping Fraud Upsets Belmont Park Raceway[01690] Morgan, Jack Berry, William Phipps, Ogden Mills New York Racing Association

Although his veterinary practice returned a substantial income, Gerard hoped to increase his wealth by purchasing horses in South America and then importing and reselling them in the United States. He bought the horses at bargain prices and then resold them for many times the price he paid. As a veterinarian practicing at a thoroughbred racetrack, he could not own and race the horses himself. Such activity was considered a conflict of interest. However, importing horses for resale was legal, and it was an acceptable way for him to profit financially.

Early in June of 1977, Gerard imported three horses from Uruguay for resale. One of the horses was a raced-out claiming horse named Lebón, who was bought for six hundred dollars a few weeks before Gerard purchased him, for sixteen hundred dollars. The trio of horses also included Boots Colonero and the 1976 Horse of the Year in Uruguay, Cinzano. Lebón and Cinzano looked alike. Each had a white marking on his forehead.

The horses were transported to Gerard’s farm in Muttontown, New York. According to Gerard, a barn accident led to severe head injuries to Cinzano, but details of the accident remained unclear. Gerard stated only that the injuries to Cinzano were so severe that the horse had to be destroyed. Gerard was reimbursed for his losses by his insurance company.

Gerard then sold Lebón to his former assistant, Jack Morgan, who was active in racing as an owner and a trainer. Morgan paid ten thousand dollars for Lebón. He began racing the horse, but Lebón finished last in his final start before what turned out to be a significant race on September 23. This event was a claiming race run on the inner-turf track at Belmont. The field included twelve horses, neither of which was a particular standout. The odds on Lebón were 57-1, making him a long shot to win. Because of the poor odds, Lebón normally would not have attracted a large amount of bets. Lebón led the entire race and won, finishing four lengths ahead of the field. At the betting windows, he returned $116 for every $2 bet.

A bettor appeared at one of the cashiers’ windows with $1,300 in win tickets and $600 in show tickets on Lebón. The total owed to the bettor was $80,440, a sum the cashier did not have at his window. The cashier had a courier obtain the money from the track’s main safe. Upon returning, the courier, who also worked as a stable hand at the track, recognized the bettor and addressed him as Doc. As it turned out, Doc was Gerard. Approximately three weeks after the race, a Uruguayan newspaper reporter called a Belmont employee and told him that the horse in the winner’s circle photograph, taken after the race on September 23, was Cinzano, not Lebón, as identified.

Growing suspicion among owners and trainers at Belmont targeted Gerard as engaging in some sort of illegal activity at the track. Several owners refused to let him treat their horses, and some owners even refused him entry into their barns. In addition, Gerard’s receipt of insurance money for Cinzano’s mysterious death brought the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) into the case, arousing even more suspicion. Adding to suspicion was the large amount of money bet by one individual (later found to be Gerard) on Lebón, despite the horse’s last-place finish in his previous race.

Lebón raced again on October 12 in New Jersey. Although officials could not identify the horse as Cinzano, they were certain the horse was not Lebón. New York Racing New York Racing Association Association chairman Ogden Mills Phipps insisted on a firm handling of the issue and suspended Gerard and Morgan from racing. On October 31, another horse, which Gerard also had imported, was put under police guard because racing officials believed this horse might also be a “ringer” in a racetrack and insurance fraud. Officials began to suspect similar switches of horses at tracks in New Jersey and Florida.

New York Racing and Wagering Board chief William Berry added to the investigation with computerized screenings of all the owners, trainers, and jockeys who were licensed to participate in racing at the state’s fifteen tracks. Because the horse in question had been sold by Gerard to a former assistant who owned and trained horses, it seemed possible that other individuals involved in racing might also have links to Gerard. He was now assumed to have owned several horses racing under other people’s documented ownership.

The investigation concluded that the horse entered in the claiming race as Lebón was not Lebón but another horse with similar markings. Although it could not be proved absolutely that this horse was Cinzano and that Gerard had committed fraud, several other facts led to his arrest and conviction nonetheless: the unexplained, mysterious death that claimed the life of Cinzano at Gerard’s farm; the fact that the horse that was being raced was capable of distancing a field of claimers; Gerard collecting insurance money for Cinzano’s alleged death; and the racehorse’s wager that led to extremely large winnings.

Impact

The horse-swapping scandal perpetrated by Gerard, which was the first such case in thirty years at Belmont Park, changed the methods used for identifying horses in the thoroughbred racing industry. Gerard’s scheme using Lebón and Cinzano worked simply through switching the papers of the two horses before they left Uruguay. He easily replaced Cinzano’s papers with those of Lebón and Lebón’s papers with those Cinzano. Having papers on a horse no longer suffices in the thoroughbred racing industry.

Horses in the United States are required to be tattooed once they arrive for a race. Traditionally, checking a horse’s identity involved simply looking at its lip tattoo as it enters the saddling paddock. Tattoos have limitations, however: They are created when a horse arrives at a racetrack, tend to fade with age, and can be altered.

As a result of the Belmont Park horse-swapping scandal, the state of New York implemented a more thorough identification process, which begins two days before a race. Horses being registered for a race must now have foal papers, a registered blood type, and accompanying photographs. The various markings on a horses’s head, legs, and body, including chestnuts (horny growths inside their legs, which are also called night eyes), must be documented as well. Like the human fingerprint, chestnuts are unique to each horse. A horse cannot race if its identity is unverifiable, untraceable, or otherwise questionable. Belmont Park Raceway Horse racing;fraud Gerard, Mark

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ashforth, David. Ringers and Rascals: The True Story of Racing’s Greatest Con Artists. Lexington, Ky.: Eclipse Press, 2004. Includes an account of the Gerard fraud. Also links Gerard to other horse-racing scams.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brenner, Reuven, Gabrielle A. Brenner, and Aaron Brown. A World of Chance: Betting on Religion, Games, Wall Street. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. In this wide-ranging academic study of betting in human society, the authors contend that with widespread gambling in sports, corruption becomes inevitable.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davidowitz, Steve. The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing. New York: DRF Press, 2006. Good overview of all aspects of thoroughbred racing, including breeding, training, racing, handicapping, and betting.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sullivan, George. Great Sports Hoaxes. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Scholastic Press, 1983. Recounts Gerard’s horse-swapping scandal and other similar cons in a variety of sports.

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