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, August 07, 2010


Another Day, Another Holler


A couple of horses in the field were winless in both 2009 and 2010. Twenty-eight losses in all.

Another horse had never finished better than fifth in a stakes race. Yet another horse had been beaten in 19 of 22 starts.

Not a very salty lot, the five mares who lined up against Zenyatta in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar. By rights, Zenyatta should have been giving them 10 pounds or more, but the Hirsch and its forerunner, the Chula Vista, haven't been a handicap race since 1999. Weight-for-age conditions applied, which made the weights fair for everyone but the horses not named Zenyatta.

When Zenyatta wins, no matter what the weights, no matter how cheesy the opposition, no matter how scant the margin, hyperbole flies, so why should her win by a neck at Del Mar be an exception? When she crossed the finish line for her 18th win without a loss, the estimable Trevor Denman, who has been on the horns for many of of those wins, said: "She doesn't win by far, but it's the way she wins! She gives you goosebumps!"

Mike Smith, who rides Zenyatta, was smitten long ago, and this time he said: "If she can pull two more (wins), to me she might go down as the greatest horse of all-time."

Well, they all have to say something, don't they? A win over chopped liver at Del Mar will not get Zenyatta past Man o' War and Secretariat, but a second win against males in the Breeders' Cup Classic in November will at least rocket her into their league.

Some of the others at Del Mar had passed the entry box because of the rumors that Zenyatta wouldn't run. Her co-owner, Jerry Moss, was the only racing commissioner who didn't approve of synthetic surfaces for California when that 2006 vote came, and John Shirreffs, Moss' trainer, once said that running on ersatz dirt is like traveling over Velcro. Del Mar's Polytrack layout is not unlike the other synthetics in California, fraught with problems, but by race day Moss and Shirreffs had painted themselves into a corner. Del Mar was giving away a set of pint-sized glasses in honor of Zenyatta, and a crowd of 30,000 was expected (actually, 32,000 came). No Zenyatta and racing would have left just one more sour taste in a lot of mouths.

All week long, the main purveyor of the Zenyatta-won't-run rumors was Jerry Jamgotchian, arch-critic of California racing, Del Mar especially included. In what looked like heresy, Jamgotchian laid out about $15,000 to fly his Irish-bred, Rinterval, from Chicago to California to run in the Hirsch. Jamgotchian came about as close as he'll ever come to sheepishness when he said it wasn't the devil, but Rinterval's decent synthetic-track record back East, that made him do it.

By week's end, Jamgotchian backed off his theory that Zenyatta wouldn't run, and kept Rinterval in the race, anyway. That was a good thing. She was the second-place finisher, earning Jamgotchian $60,000. Zenyatta collected $180,000, hiking her career total to $6.2 million. "She was playing," Mike Smith said. "When she gets to the front, she salutes the fans." The two races Smith referred to are the Beldame at Belmont Park (probably) and the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs (definitely). Zenyatta's chopped-liver days are over.

Written by Bill Christine

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