Jan 7, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009


Canadian stallion Alfaari (Danzig-Life's Magic) succumbed to infirmities of age and was euthanized at Road's End Farm in British Columbia on December 18.

John Franks had enlisted me to syndicate the horse in Canada. Alfaari had been purchased privately from Darley after showing a trace of talent in England. Franks had done well with another Danzig stallion bought in England: Lost Soldier, sire of the celebrated sprint champion Lost In The Fog.

Alfaari needed a procedure done on his breathing and was turned over to Jerry Hollendorfer who got him stakes-placed in California, enough credential for a regional stallion.

Alfaari was as good looking a horse as you will find, 16.1 hands, good bone, balance and a handsome face to befit a $500,000 yearling.

I figured I'd drop a note to Major Dick Hern and get some background on the horse that might be useful in promotional material. No such luck. Writing from his Lambourn headquarters, Hern said, "In reply to your query about Alfaari I'm afraid that he had very moderate form on the racecourse. A big strong good looking horse, I'm afraid he was of only very moderate ability. Temperament good and a good action but he had 'a bad case of the slows.'

I am sorry I cannot be more encouraging but you asked me to tell you the truth and I have done so."

Hern was in a wheelchair after a hunting accident. Overseeing some 200 horses in training is tough enough for an able bodied trainer. Hern, best known in these parts as trainer of the champion sprinter Dayjur, might have overlooked something. I knew Alfaari was capable of attending sub-:45 half-miles at the races and could run and win going long on dirt or turf. It wasn't hard to dismiss Hern's implied warning that Alfaari could not outrun a fat man, an American translation for bad case of the slows.

Enough said after Alfaari got a stakes-winning sprinter in his first crop named Rampaging Alf who was good enough to beat top sprinters at Hollywood and Santa Anita. Alfaari went on to achieve regional success and his daughters are already showing signs of ability.

The whole episode got me thinking about my favorite epithets of dismissal heard round the
racetracks of the world. Some trainers cannot teach a hungry rat to eat cheese or get ivy to grow up a wall, or teach Lassie to bark.

Jockeys may not be able to ride a boxcar with both doors closed. They might also look as if they are mating a football. A few camp followers would rather steal a dollar than earn two.

Got any other favorites out there you'd like to share?

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.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Did you happen to notice that there was no Peb cartoon on the cover of Daily Racing Form on October 25, Breeders' Cup day? Evidently not many people were aware of its absence for the first time in the history of Breeders' Cup.

The Form chose to cut ties with beloved artist Pierre Bellocq, citing financial reasons, late in the Saratoga meeting. The 82-year-old Frenchman (a dual US citizen) graced the pages of the paper for five decades as the preeminent sporting artist in the world.

The still lively octogenarian is currently painting a mural at Del Mar. He has in recent years completed two Kentucky Derby themed murals at Churchill Downs and others at Belmont and Aqueduct.

Peb's body of work earned him an Eclipse Special Award in 1980. His whimsical, impish humor brought to life the unique world of Thoroughbred racing. Race fans started the day with a smile when they picked up Daily Racing Form and saw Peb's work on the cover.

His talent was not limited to horses. He was hired by Daily Racing Form owner Walter Annenberg to draw cartoons on the editorial page of the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was once nominated for a Pulitzer prize. He also joined his son Remi, a cartoonist in his own right, in helping create an international circuit for amateur riders.

Peb's art adorns the walls of the world's top racetracks and numerous private collections, including one at Gallagher's Steak House, just down W. 52nd Street from the offices of the Morning Telegraph, antecedent of Daily Racing Form. It depicts a mob of well known celebrities partying in the famed eatery. You won't miss Josephine Baker.

Still, it's a pity that Peb did not get the sendoff he deserved. His legions of fans would have filled Saratoga to say good-bye. A collector's edition would have sold out thousands of Daily Racing Forms. T-shirts of the elfin Gallic humorist would be all the rage.

Peb has a few new irons in the fire at the moment with various racing entities. He won't need to stand in any baguette lines.