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, May 22, 2010


Mixup at the Polls


The polls have closed in the voting for the Racing Hall of Fame. I voted for Point Given, on the assumption that he was faster than the trainer Gary Jones, although I never actually saw them race. In trying to decide between Azeri and Randy Romero, I voted for Azeri. Romero won more races, by a margin of 4,270, but he was one behind in Horse of the Year titles.

Because of new voting rules, there were 10 candidates on the ballot, but they weren't sorted out according to categories. Voters were allowed to select any four, a mix and match of horses, trainers and jockeys. I voted a straight Down With People party ticket. All of my votes went to horses--Point Given, Azeri, Open Mind and Sky Beauty. I would have liked to have included a fifth horse, Safely Kept, who is also Hall of Fame worthy, but there wasn't room on the ballot. So I had to leave out Safely Kept, along with Best Pal; Jones; another trainer, Robert Wheeler; and jockeys Romero and Alex Solis.

The 10 eligibles were listed in alphabetical order, sort of. The horses were alphabetized according to their first names, the trainers and jockeys by their last names. If Robert Wheeler were a horse, for example, he would not have been listed last. If Alex Solis was a horse, he would have been listed first, ahead of Azeri and all the rest of them. You really need to pay attention on this. I would imagine that the lights were left on late many nights at the Hall of Fame before an executive decision on alphabetization was made.

It is not likely that this wacky voting format will be repeated next year. That's because it wasn't even supposed to be in use this year. A member of the Hall of Fame committee told me that the ballot was supposed to include 10 names, all right, but that voters would then have the option of voting "yes" or "no" for every name. The four candidates with the most yesses would be enshrined. This format resembles the way the Baseball Hall of Fame runs its elections. Baseball lists many players on the ballot (this year there were 23), and voters are allowed to vote for a maximum of 10 (they can even leave the ballot blank, if they feel none of the candidates is deserving). In effect, the baseball voters are saying "yes" or "no" to each player. To get into the Hall of Fame, a player must be named on 75% of the ballots.

What happened after the Racing Hall of Fame approved the yes-or-no balloting system, based on a committee recommendation, is a source of bewilderment for committee members. Early this year, the Hall of Fame sent out a release that made no mention of the yes-or-no format, outlining instead the pick-4-out-of-10 system. Strangely, none of the committee members contacted Ed Bowen, their chairman, to ask at that point, "Hey, Ed, what happened to yes or no?" A month or so later, the ballots went out to the electorate, and by then it was too late to revert to the system that the committee had actually preferred--a system that would have given voters more leeway in making their choices, and not forced them to compare apples with oranges every step of the way.

I messaged Bowen about the yes-or-no format falling between the cracks, and he confirmed that it had, without elaborating. Over the years, the Hall of Fame voting process has had more changes than Gypsy Rose Lee in her prime, but this was a new twist on an old hodgepodge. Surely an apology is owed a committee that thought it had a consensus, but didn't. Caulking the cracks at the Hall of Fame is a huge job.

Written by Bill Christine

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