Dec 17, 2009


Everyone seems to have a Tiger Woods story nowadays. This one is PG-13 so you can tell it to your kids.

In the spring of 1982 I was living on a small ranch in Central California. I had just been hired by ESPN to do the first live show of 4 1/2 hours from Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day.

Our producer was Scotty Connell, a NBC-Sports executive who had signed up with the fledgling cable network. Jim Simpson, Lou Palmer and I did the commentary.

Connell noted my California address and told me that he had signed up Sandy Koufax as a baseball announcer for NBC but it hadn’t worked out. Sandy was too private a person, he said, for network television.

Sandy lived a mile or so down River Road from my place near Templeton. Los Alamitos owner Ed Allred had a quarter horse ranch across the road from Rio Vista, a one time bustling stallion operation run by the Dollase family. Cardiff Stud was another neighbor.

Connell arranged an introduction to Sandy and we became fast friends who played late Sunday afternoon rounds at the Chalk Mountain muni in Atascadero. Sandy had recently left the Paso Robles country club, fed up with a wicked duck hook that shot his handicap up from scratch into double figures.

Chalk Mountain suited our purposes because we could play quickly and in complete privacy, a must for Sandy. We would have one beer afterward, never two, and baseball was not to be discussed.

One Sunday afternoon was different. The pro checked us in at the double-wide trailer that served as his shop.

“Take time to watch the kid on the practice tee,” he said. “You’ll be hearing from him one day.”

One swing was all it took for a 6-year-old to reveal himself as Tiger Woods, having a lesson with his father Earl. We watched him hit a few balls in silence and duly noted the

incipient talent which was already causing a buzz in California junior golf circles.

Next time I saw Tiger he was winning the 1997 Masters by 12 shots. Sandy and I bumped into each other less frequently after moving farther south to Santa Barbara.

Sad to see his name listed a year ago among victims of swindler Bernie Madoff.

Into every life some rain must fall.


Lost amidst the fuss about the Overbrook Farm dispersal at Keeneland was the whimpered final dissolution of the Windfields Farm of Ontario, Canada. There’s a certain irony in the fact that Overbrook owed its success to Storm Cat, a descendant of Windfields’ immortal Northern Dancer.

My one and only face-to-face meeting with Windfields founder E.P. Taylor came in the spring of 1970 during the annual convention of the Thoroughbred Racing Association in New Orleans. I was the a cub reporter for the local daily and set out to Fair Grounds to arrange an interview with the most powerful man in Canadian racing circles, and soon the world.

Taylor was a bit abrupt when I approached with my request.

“What do you want to talk to me about ?” he said somewhat gruffly.

“I’d like to hear your thoughts on whether Nijinsky can win the 2000 Guineas and perhaps the Triple Crown,” I said.

“Pull up a chair,” he commanded.

His demeanor shifted at once and he was at his voluble best for the next hour or so, extolling the virtues of his champion 2-year-old until he was called to a meeting.

Nijinsky went on to sweep the arduous English Triple Crown, a feat unmatched in the intervening four decades.

Meanwhile, I moved to the West Coast of Canada and was setting up shop for a bloodstock career, augmented with print and broadcast work.

Taylor had a friend in the whisky business in Vancouver who sought his counsel. Capt. Potter was his name and he needed someone to help run a training center which he had gotten stuck with by some shady characters.

Mr. Taylor told him to give me a call. I was flabberbgasted.

Soon thereafter I was track announcer for Capt. Potter at his hastily conceived quarter horse track called Meadow Creek Ranch. That and other Meadow Creek duties hastened my learning curve considerably.

Taylor and Northern Dancer went on to conquer the world. Taylor had a confidant in Joe Thomas who ran the Canadian operation, abetted by British agent George Blackwell.

Soon the entire Thoroughbred universe was awash in Northern Dancer blood. The Windfields team decided that they needed some new strains to infuse their broodmare band.

Chosen were two winners of the English Derby, Snow Knight and Master Willie. Both of them rolled “snake eyes”.

Snow Knight was an unfortunate choice in that he was a notorious rogue who needed a small army of assistant starters and a long buggy whip just to enter the starting gate. Horses that ill-mannered rarely succeed at stud.

Master Willie sired horses unsuitable for racing in North America and was soon forgotten.

The vagaries of Thoroughbred breeding were demonstrated anew at Windfields, only this time on a positive note. The full brothers Viceregal and Vice Regent entered stud at the Oshawa, Ontario nursery.

Viceregal bred books of mares that befit a juvenile champion. His brother had to content himself with the overflow.

Vice Regent became a leading sire, of course, while his illustrious kin was exiled to France where he faded into obscurity.

Over the years I have had the pleasure and privilege of seeing the great stallions in person. Except for Northern Dancer, more’s the pity

Dec 14, 2009

The Thoroughbred world lost a charming character with the passing in October of Pennsylvanian Bert Linder. He was 93.

We crossed paths first at Saratoga during the 1998 Fasig-Tipton sale. I had been contracted to buy some yearlings for a flashy new player from Canada. One of my tenets in helping a rookie get started safely was to buy well-made fillies from deep families. If the filly can’t run much you have a chance to get your money back if some kinfolk show up and flesh out a prominent family.

That’s why I was sitting ready when Bert’s Tabasco Cat filly entered the auction ring as Hip #1. She was a real beauty and I thought we had booted the opening kick-off in style, buying her for $330,000. Before I could sign the ticket Bert was right there thanking me for buying the chestnut filly. He had a one-horse consignment so the day’s work was successful and cause for celebration. He hied his way to the bar while I worked my way through the bidding list.

The Tabasco filly turned out to be not particularly athletic so trainer Todd Pletcher and I recommended that the filly (named Ellesmere) seek some black type at Fort Erie, across the Niagara River from Buffalo, NY. She placed in a stakes as expected and was soon after retired to be bred.

Linder had gained an international reputation for raising top horses at his farm near Scranton. That’s coal country-anthracite or “hard” coal as opposed to the bituminous “soft” variety found in western PA where I spent my formative years. If a Pennsylvania school boy can spell both kinds of coal it is said that he can get into Penn State. Others end up at Slippery Rock.

Ellesmere’s second foal turned out to be a multiple stakes-winner and Keeneland track record holder. This fall she had out the Breeders’ Cup juvenile turf second in Bridgetown, who captured the Summer Stakes at Woodbine

Tabasco Cat proved to be less than North American breeders expected and he was shipped to Japan in short order.

These days Scranton is noted mainly for spawning Vice-President Joe Biden which may or may not be a good thing to know, depending on political persuasion. Secretary of State Clinton also claims Scranton relatives.

Be that as it may, the Linder legacy bred true to the very end.