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: bill.christine@yahoo.com.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010


Wonderland


I don't always listen to Roger Stein's weekend radio shows, but February 27 was a good morning to be dial-side. Stein, a veteran trainer, prides himself on getting racing's top newsmakers, and before Frank Stronach had unpacked his suitcase for a rare visit to California, Stein latched on to him for an interview.

The day before Stronach came on the Stein show, Stronach was quoted by Art Wilson, a columnist for a chain of papers that includes the Los Angeles Daily News. Stronach told Wilson that one of the racing surfaces under consideration, when Santa Anita tears up its Pro-Ride track after the current meeting, might consist of dirt, sand and a small amount of fiber. "Just picture a beach," Stronach said. "It's similar to sand on a beach. It's a very safe surface."


Stronach said that he installed this relatively new surface at his track in Austria, but otherwise the only places it's been tried are at show-horse rings and a training center in Europe. "You water the track from underneath," Stronach said. "You can absolutely control the moisture content."

That Santa Anita, after failed experiences with Cushion Track and Pro-Ride the last few years, would consider another experimental surface, at a great cost, is (a) surprising, (b) preposterous, and (c) unbelievable. But if what Stronach told Wilson was fantastic, that was only prelude for a bizarre half-hour interview on the Stein show.

Stein, who doesn't settle for vague answers, did everything but shake Stronach by his lapels in an attempt to get him to answer questions directly. A few excerpts:

Stein: Would you dare make the same mistake with this racing surface that's already been made?

Stronach: We need to control the ingredients. It's like cooking soup. If you can control the ingredients, such as putting in the right seasoning, you'll be all right.

Stein: Frank, let me get one clear answer from you. Have we seen the last of the synthetics at Santa Anita?

Stronach: I don't want to shoot out (sic) of my hip. We need to find the overall solution by working with horse ownership.

Stein: I ask you, on behalf of the thousands of fans, the bettors, the whales, the horsemen, have we seen the last of the kind of track that's out there now?

Stronach: We need to get this thing in a public forum.

Stein: It sounds like you're not ready to say yes or no to this question right now.

Stronach: I don't want to sound threatening, but we have to sit down and fix what's wrong.

Stein: Frank, you say you have an engineering background. I don't know about your engineering background, but you must have a minor in dancing.

Finally, Stein said goodbye to Stronach. Before breaking for commercials, he said to "Bettor Bob" and Jonathan Hardoon, who also appear on the show:

"Maybe you guys can tell me what happened. I'm going to spend the break picking myself up off the floor. Who do you think we should have on tomorrow? Should we have Frank back on?"

"Bettor Bob" laughed. "Not unless you can find new ways to ask the same questions," he said.

"That was a scary interview," Hardoon said.

About an hour after Stronach's appearance on the show, Santa Anita announced that it had lost another day of racing because its Pro-Ride track wouldn't drain properly following a steady rain. This was the track's 16th cancellation since 2007. The Sham Stakes, an important race for a few Kentucky Derby hopefuls, was rescheduled for March 6. Anybody out there want to buy a used Daily Racing Form for the latest rained-out day? I paid $6.05, retail. Will accept any offer.

Written by Bill Christine

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