LAUREL -- The seventh event at Laurel Race Course yesterday was just an ordinary maiden race. But for the friends and family of Chris Fabifzak, it was a race they never will forget.
Fabifzak, 32, who had worked as a groom for trainer Joe Devereux the past three years, died early Friday in Baltimore. A large, jovial, ruddy man, he was the spiritual leader of the J.D. Hogs, an informal, fun-loving group named for friends and employees of Devereux's.
"He was the type of guy who would do anything for anybody," said Terry Kupfer, one of the Hogs.
Laurel named the seventh race in Fabifzak's memory. In attendance were his mother, Eleanor; his brother, Joseph; and his sister, Susan Lemar. They were to give a plaque to the winner.
What made the race special, however, was this: Devereux had a horse, Dandy Danzig, in the race. He was a horse Fabifzak spoke of fondly, one of his favorites.
Dandy Danzig broke sharply, then fell back slightly. Then, under Greg Hutton, he moved up steadily. In the stretch, he had only Smart Alec to catch. He went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
The J.D. Hogs mobbed the winner's circle. Whoops of joy and shouts of "Christopher!" were mixed with tears and hugs. Kupfer pointed to the sky, then said, "For you, big guy."
Devereux walked into the winner's circle, celebrated for a moment with friends, then walked away, unable to fight back tears. Before the race, he had said, "If I could ever win a race, it'd be this one."
For the winner's photo, Eleanor Fabifzak held up her son's No. 69 jersey, the one he had worn for the J.D. Hogs in the track's touch football league. Only last month, the Hogs won the league championship, with Chris as an anchor on the offensive and defensive lines.
Baltimore City Police spokesman Dennis Hill said yesterday that an investigation into Fabifzak's death, which occurred at a friend's home in north Baltimore, has led authorities to believe it probably was induced by a binge involving drugs and alcohol.
But yesterday, the Hogs were helpless to stop such a monumental problem. Fabifzak's horse had won, and they were only glad to remember him in a place Chris always liked to be -- the winner's circle.
The plaque Eleanor Fabifzak was to give away to the winner ended up in her hands. She said, however, that she would have little use for it. "Chris was a special part of this group," she said of the Hogs. "It belongs with them."