Jan 7, 2009

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Back in my newspaperman days (1967-73) my first assignment was to cover the racing beat at Fair Grounds for the New Orleans States-Item, the pm daily not to be confused with today's Times-Picayune. The SI is no more but memories persist.

One such is the 1967 Louisiana Futurity which was contested on Christmas Eve. Heavy favorite Hark The Herald won easily. My story next day came with one of the best headlines I've ever seen.

You see, Hark The Herald was trained by Angel Barrera. Thus, Hark The Herald, Angel Sings.

Angel was one of three Barrera brothers who escaped Castro's Cuba and made their way to the United States. Laz we all know as the tutor of the last horse to win the Triple Crown, Affirmed.
He's in the Hall of Fame and deservedly so.

Oscar Barrera might more properly be relegated to a Hall of Shame. His shenanigans turned New York racing on its head in the 1970s. Barrera- trained horses routinely went from claiming races to stakes races. Oscar's charges seemingly defied all logic. He might win three races in one week with the same horse! Whatever secret ingredients they might have needed was a secret the trainer took to his grave.

Angel spent his adult life on the Fair Grounds-Detroit rotation and kept a low profile. Every morning you would find him outside his barn under a pork pie hat and sunglasses, running cold water over the ankles of one of his runners.

You don't see much of that these days. Sherrill Ward and Forego come to mind as similar practitioners of a long gone therapy.

Ward in fact became embroiled in a medication controversy involving San Roque who finished second in the 1969. New Orleans Handicap. Several trainers were cited when traces of a new and powerful pain-killer Talwin were detected. Those implicated were all veterans with clean records and the case eventually was dropped. A trainer patient enough to run cold water for hours out of a hose is not usually a medication trainer. Ward's many backers were relieved.