Bill Christine

Bill Christine, whose first Kentucky Derby was in 1968 (like everybody else, he waited several years to find out if the courts would uphold the DQ of Dancer's Image), spent 24 years covering horse racing for the Los Angeles Times. He covered every Triple Crown race for the Times from 1982 through 2005, and also reported on the first 22 runnings of the Breeders' Cup. Recent stories by Bill have appeared in The Blood-Horse, Post Time USA, the California Thoroughbred and Paddock magazine.

Bill has won two Eclipse Awards for turf writing, five Red Smith Awards for best Kentucky Derby stories, two David Woods Awards for best Preakness stories and the National Turf Writers' Association's Walter Haight Award and Pimlico's Old Hilltop Award for career contributions to racing. He was part of the Los Angeles Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for its coverage of the Northridge earthquake the year before.

Bill came to the Times from the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, where he was assistant to the executive vice president. Before that, he covered a variety of sports for newspapers in East St. Louis, Baltimore, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Chicago, including a stint as sports editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He wrote Roberto!, a biography of the Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente, in 1972. His first job in racing was in the front office of the old Commodore Downs track in Erie, Pa.

Bill, who lives in Redondo Beach, California, is working on a history of Bay Meadows. Contact:

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Zappa Makes His Claim

Arcadia, Calif.--It's a tad early to be declaring anyone claiming graduate of the year, but Zappa made a preliminary case earlier this month when he won the Grade II San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita. Some classy horses have won the San Pasqual--try Silver Charm, Farma Way, Criminal Type, Precisionist, Flying Paster, Ack Ack and Native Diver--but none of them went into the race with such a checkered career as Zappa.

When trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, at Bay Meadows last April, picked up Zappa for $32,000, it was the fifth time since the fall of 2006 that the 6-year-old gelding had changed hands via the claiming box. Zappa had been claimed for $25,000 and $20,000 twice each before that.

Hollendorfer's claim, on behalf of the brothers Gary and Cecil Barber, has been a windfall since Zappa switched from Hollendorfer's Bay Area haunts to John Sadler's barn at Hollywood Park. Sadler took a chance, running Zappa for a $40,000 tag at Hollywood, but since then, in six starts, Zappa has four wins and a second in seven tries. The San Pasqual was his first stakes win, in the 27th race of his career.

"Usually, when you get a horse out of the claiming ranks, soundness is an issue," Sadler said. "But this horse was very sound when I got him, and he really likes the synthetic surface."

Over Cushion Track at Hollywood and Santa Anita, Zappa has three wins and a third in four starts. He trained at Hollywood in preparation for the San Pasqual.

Sadler can explain both of Zappa's fifth-place finishes while under his care.

"He drew the outside post in a field of 11 for that race at Ellis Park," the trainer said. "If he hadn't already been on the plane to go back there, we wouldn't have run him. Still, he only got beat a length. The other fifth was when we tried him on the turf at Del Mar."

Under Joe Rosario, who scored his first stakes win at Santa Anita, Zappa went off 13-1 in the San Pasqual. Next comes the big jump for Zappa. Sadler has his eyes on the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1, preceded by a possible start in the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 3. Zappa won't be a secret in either one of them.

Written by Bill Christine

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Saving a Stamp

Jim Murray, my late dear colleague at the Los Angeles Times, used to get a lot of mileage out of the shtick of writing well-known people imaginary letters. Wherever you are, Jim, my apologies for borrowing the gimmick. If you must borrow, a sage once told me, borrow from the best.

"Miss Cavendish, have a seat and take a letter.

"Address it to: Ron Charles, care of Gray Haired Men's Dept., Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California.

"Dear Ron:

"I saw the other day where Frank Stronach, your boss, gave you a promotion. Seems like you were the president of Santa Anita, and now you're chief operating officer (COO) of the whole schmeer, Magna Entertainment Corp.

"Congratulations. I guess.

"I'm sure you were aware that Magna had been widely advertising this post for several months. Readers of the trades spotted one of the ads in early November. After a few paragraphs, the ad went on to say: 'Applicants should have an understanding of the thoroughbred racing industry.' If there had been an it-goes-without-saying contest, that sentence would have won first prize.

"You might recall what happened the last time Frank gave the top guy at Santa Anita an extra hat. He brought in Lonny Powell from Turf Paradise to run the track, and not long afterward expanded his duties. I believe the additional title was vice president of racing for Magna Entertainment. Powell had enough to do, learning how to run Santa Anita, without trying to put out Magna fires all over the country. Not long after his promotion, he was gone.

"I had heard the rumors, so I called Stronach in Austria to confirm Powell's departure. He called me back--about 3 o'clock in the morning, California time--to say that he was hiring Jack Liebau to replace Powell. After going on for a few minutes about Liebau's many qualifications, he said: 'He's a good guy, isn't he?' Now I know Stronach doesn't have a reputation for paying attention to newspapermen, but I've always wondered: If I had said that Liebau was a stiff, would he have still gotten the job?

"But when a company is $700 million in debt and it can get a talented guy like you to do two jobs, I guess that's the way to go. But watch out, Ron, if FS starts sending you out for strudel.

"Geez, Ron, doesn't FS know that you've got enough on your hands at Santa Anita? You've got Cushion Track running out your ears, and shouldn't have to worry about taking calls from the slot-machine manager at Gulfstream Park, crabbing that business is off.

"I sympathize with you about what's gone on at Santa Anita this winter. I should have gotten my first clue when Steve Wood, the track superintendent, left shortly after the Cushion Track installation began. Then Steve Guise, the plant manager, left a little while after that. I was doing a magazine story about the new surface at Santa Anita in July when somebody suggested that I talk to Guise. I interviewed him, and filed the piece soon after that. Before the story was published, Guise was history. The decision was made to delete everything he said. I went back to my original draft the other day, and this was one of the Guise quotes: 'The one good thing about Cushion Track is that rain doesn't hurt it at all.'

"But that's water (not sure if the pun is intended) over the dam.

"Good luck, Ron, on all of your jobs. What's the old expression: Here's your hats, what's your hurry?



Written by Bill Christine

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Another Vindication

Add Signature Move to the list of 3-year-old sons and daughters of Vindication who may have an impact this year.

Maimonides and More Happy were already well-known. Maimonides was a bangup maiden winner at Saratoga last summer before running a disappointing third in the Hopeful. His Kentucky Derby campaign is expected to begin with the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 12. That's a race that's been a winter launching pad for the likes of Tabasco Cat, A.P. Indy and Ferdinand. More Happy, a Vindication filly who sold at auction for $1 million, was one of trainer Bob Baffert's Del Mar dropouts who won the Adirondack at Saratoga.

Enter Signature Move, an allowance winner under Michael Baze on Friday at Santa Anita. True, he beat only three other horses, but his smart 2 1/4-length win gives him two wins in less than a month around two turns. He broke his maiden going 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park, and his trainer, Eric Guillot, didn't want to wait for the San Rafael, which is only run at a mile.

These are all offspring from the first crop of Vindication, who stands at Hill 'n' Dale Farms in Lexington, Ky., for an advertised fee of $60,000. Based on early returns, paying $60,000 to send a mare to the son of Seattle Slew may be a steal.

Vindication was voted an Eclipse Award for best juvenile in 2002 after winning all four of his starts, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Baffert was preparing him for the 3-year-old stakes at Santa Anita when an injury ended his career. Satish Sanan bought Vindication as a yearling for $2.15 million, at the urging of his daughter Nadia. They were over budget, but Nadia persuaded her father to keep bidding. Others in the sales ring thought that the Sanans were making an expensive mistake. The colt's name was a retort to those who suggested that the Sanans had spent lavishly on an unsound horse.

Signature Move, who beat two horses trained by Doug O'Neill on Friday, cost $625,000 as a yearling. Like his sire, he could turn out to be a bargain.

Written by Bill Christine

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