It's simple. He's in his favorite spot doing his favorite thing. He gets the equine athletes that make Del Mar so delightful off and running for seven weeks each summer.
He's the starter at Del Mar.
He remembers starting in the racing business when he was about 5 years old, doing what most sons of trainers do – walking hots and mucking stalls until he grew old enough and big enough to get aboard one of the stable's fine steeds as an exercise rider. He and his brother, both of whom rode as jockeys later on, exercised horses for their dad as teen-agers.
"When we began with my dad," Brinson said, "we got 25 cents for each hot-walking chore and 50 cents to muck the pony stalls. Then we'd go right down to the bettin' ring at Hollywood Park and bet on a horse, and that was it."
He remembers, also, how he and Clay often spent the lunch money their dad gave them betting on horses. Unfortunately, they didn't win often, so, he said, "we'd go down where they fed the horses at four o'clock and we'd fix up our own little deal with chopped up carrots and molasses and bran. Once in awhile the boys there would have hot dogs and, boy, we'd live good then."
Even without the hot dogs, he and his brother lived the good life that went with fun at the racetrack and getting on good horses. "We used to ride our horses down on the beach," Brinson said. "We took them to the beach because we weren't old enough to gallop horses on the track. We weren't 16. We used to go all the way up to what's now the Chart House Restaurant [in Cardiff by the Sea]."
That wasn't all they did. "Me and my brother used to ride match races there on the beach, too," he said. "When my dad would go home, we'd stay around here and sneak the pony out and take him down to the beach and ride match races with the kids down there. We'd hook a lot of older kids, but my dad's pony could really run and we won a lot of races."
That wasn't the end of it, though. "When my dad would go down to the beach the next morning, leading a horse, you could see that pony would start getting ready to run at the spot where we would have started a race the day before," Brinson said with a chuckle. "My dad would say, 'What the hell's wrong with this pony?' Me and my brother, we'd just get real quiet."
He remembers how in the early days at Del Mar, the Seaside Trailer Park between Solana Beach and Cardiff was home to the racetrack colony. "The place was
loaded with racetrackers," he said. "There was Keith Stucki and his family, Milo
Valenzuela, Don Pierce, Bob Wheeler, Jimmy Jordan, Charlie Whittingham and his brother, Joe, to name just a few. We were packed in there like sardines, but we had a good time."
Because of problems holding down his weight, Gary Brinson's riding days were short – about two years, he said, but he won his first race – on his first mount – at Del Mar at age 16. His brother Clay had a much longer career that included four stakes victories at Del Mar, headlined by Osunitas Handicap wins in 1963-64 and both divisions of the Junior Miss Stakes in1964.
Ross Brinson saddled Wheatfield to win Del Mar's Quigley Memorial in 1947 and Savaii to win the Del Mar Oaks in 1962. The retired trainer now lives by himself in Bellflower, Calif., at age 97.
Gary Brinson, born in Inglewood, Calif., started working on the starting gate in 1971 at Hollywood Park. He was hired to be the starter by Hollywood Park owner Marj Everett in 1984, a job that also included being starter at Los Alamitos, a track also owned by Everett. Eventually, he asked out of the Los Alamitos job. She understood that starting at Hollywood in the daytime and Los Alamitos at night was tiring, he said, adding, "She and I got along just fine."
He became starter at Del Mar in 1997 and is fulfilling a dream that began way back when he was not much more than a tyke.
One of Brinson's trademarks is his starting position on the track instead of in a starter's stand, the traditional position for the man who pushes the button to start races. He began doing that about 15 years ago, he says, and it has been picked up by a number of starters around the country. Of those who followed suit, he says, "Maybe I gave them a little push when they found out I hadn't gotten killed."
Teaching horses how to start from the gate often can be trying, Brinson says, but very satisfying when he and his crew get it done, especially with problem horses.
Heading that list are Lit de Justice and Rock Hard Ten. Lit de Justice won Del Mar's 1995 Pat O'Brien Handicap and the 1996 Bing Crosby Handicap and '96 Breeders' Cup Sprint, and Rock Hard Ten posted wins in the Swaps Stakes, Santa Anita Handicap, Goodwood Handicap, Malibu Stakes and Strub Stakes.
But it wasn't always an easy road with either horse. They had major issues with the gate. And that's where Brinson and his crew came in, first with Lit de Justice. Trainer Jeanine Sahadi was at her wit's end over the speedy horse's gate behavior that seemed to rob him of his great skills before any race ever started.
She came to Brinson for help and he and his crew were able to turn things around by simply finding what made him the most comfortable in the gate. It turned out to be backing into his stall rather than being pushed in from the rear. It worked like a charm at Del Mar and it repeated itself in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Woodbine Racetrack in Canada.
Rock Hard Ten was a handful at the Preakness, where he nearly kicked one of the assistant starters before finishing second in the race. Jason Orman, the horse's trainer at the time, came to Brinson for help with the colt prior to the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park. Again, Brinson and his crew worked many days with Rock Hard Ten and had him perfect for the Swaps.
"There were TV crews standing by waiting for the explosion that had been part of his history," Brinson said, "but he just behaved perfectly and went into the gate. And won the race."
Brinson is the last one to take full credit for what goes on at the gate. "Assistant starters are worth their weight in gold," he says. "If you don't have an experienced crew behind you, you can be the best in the world and you ain't nothin'. The crew makes the starter. I just push the button."