The Williams sisters are back! Welcome back Serena and Venus

Jun 28, 2011 3:00 AM

Picking up Monday morning’s paper from the driveway and seeing both Williams sisters scheduled for action at Wimbledon was one of those refreshing moments when life suddenly seems the same again, like old times.

It makes no real difference this time around if either Venus or Serena survives the day or week. They both are back, and the tennis scene suddenly takes on a life of its own again.

It may be unkind or even boorish to shuffle aside all those strong girls from middle Europe with the unpronounceable names, and it may not be fair to dismiss Caroline Wozniacki’s No. 1 ranking going into Wimbledon as a cheap ticket. It is not her fault that the Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters were sidelined, but the fact is she has attained that status without winning a Grand Slam championship.

The "like old times" feeling didn’t last long. The obituaries carried the news that Nick Charles (we knew him earlier as Nick Nickeas when he attended Columbia College in Chicago with my son, who was studying photography there) had died after a losing two-year fight with bladder cancer.

Charles was, for those who may not go back that far, the first sports anchor on CNN, during that network’s early battles with ESPN, and for 20 years after.

The obits carried news of another significant death – is there any other kind? – with the story of a man who threw his life away with one stupid mistake.

Mark Gerard was one of thoroughbred horse racing’s leading veterinarians, a graduate of Cornell’s famed vet school who quickly rose to prominence in New York as the vet for Secretariat, Riva Ridge and Canonero II, all Kentucky Derby winners, and five-time Horse of the Year Kelso. He was at the top of his profession.

And then, in 1977, four years after Secretariat’s greatest year, while still in his 40s, Gerard chucked it all.

He imported two horses from South America – one of them a cheap claiming horse named Lebon that he bought for $1,600 and the other a Uruguayan champion, named Cinzano, for which he paid $81,000 – and switched them, running the champ in the name as Lebon in a $12,000 claimer.

Cinzano won, of course, and paid $116. Gerard had bet $1,000 to win on him.

In one of those life-shattering moments when chance and fate takes over for stupidity, the mutuel clerk, who had no reason to know who Gerard was, had to call the money room for more money to pay him.

The clerk who brought it, as the former Los Angeles Times star racing writer Bill Christine reported in the obit he wrote for his old paper last week, happened to double as an exercise boy, riding horses for trainers in the mornings, and he recognized Gerard and said to him, "Hi doc. Nice hit."

That did it, and the New York Racing Association, investigating the race, quickly discovered the switch.

Gerard hired one of the best defense lawyers in America, F. Lee Bailey, Cristine wrote, but it didn’t help. Gerard went to jail, effectively ending his track racing career.

When he got out, he was barred from racing, and he and Cinzano wound up in minor, non-racing roles. One racetracker, Christine reported, joked, "They gave the vet a year, and the horse life," but it was no laughing matter for either. And of course the horse’s name made for a good racing gag line, which went, "Have you heard about the new cocktail called a ringer? It’s Cinzano on the rocks, but it doesn’t look like it."

Now the horse and the man who ruined him – and himself – both are gone.