Mr. Horning went out a winner last week, and not just because his last starter won.
Mr. Horning, or Larry, or Dad, or Poppy, or whatever it was that his multitudes of friends and family called Lawrence E. Horning Sr., died of a heart attack Monday afternoon. The day before, he watched Willed, a filly he owned with his son, Larry Jr., win the ninth race at Laurel Race Course.
In half a column, it would be impossible to detail the life of a man who touched so many people. In fact, to focus solely on his interest in horse racing does little justice to a man who was memorialized Thursday by Larry Jr. and others as "genuine, generous, warm and kind . . . a special man, a man of integrity, a friend to so many."
But, boy, did Mr. Horning love racing. He relished his trips to Saratoga. He savored the time spent with family and friends at the track. He would write his own little "White Sheet," making picks and comments. He loved to win, but winning was really a bonus; just being a part of the sport counted most.
Larry Horning Sr., who was 57, knew exactly how precious life was, and that's probably why he was so admired and loved. In 1985, when Larry Jr. was the lone survivor of a plane crash that killed two, Mr. Horning suffered with his son. He went through difficult situations with his other seven children. And seven weeks ago, he survived a near-fatal heart attack. Last Sunday, he seemed as healthy as ever.
Mr. Horning's appreciation of life, and of racing, is why Larry Jr., who trained his father's horses, often said: "I just want to win for Dad. He deserves it so much." And although they won their share of races with good horses such as Snowden's Gold and Semaj, they thought they had a real champion with Poppy's Passion.
Poppy's Passion was a filly with tremendous potential but, as happens so often in racing, she was hampered by injury. On several occasions, she was very impressive at Laurel. But finally, late last year, she had to be retired, her ailments too much to
overcome. She was bred to El Raggaas.
Larry Jr.'s greatest disappointment in racing was that Poppy's Passion did not become the star his dad had longed for. Mr. Horning, typically, rationalized the letdown. Perhaps her offspring will fulfill her greatness, he would say. It's a part of the game, he would say.
As the memorial service for Mr. Horning ended, a bugler played "Call to the Post," the traditional tune that precedes a horse race. The large crowd applauded, acutely aware of the irony. They knew that Larry Horning Sr. had already run a far more important race. And they had no doubt whether he had won.
Perhaps the closest race in Eclipse Award voting for 1991 is in the male turf category. Tight Spot, Opening Verse and Itsallgreektome will all garner attention when votes are tallied.
Tight Spot went 5-for-5 on the grass and was a solid front-runner for the award before finishing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Opening Verse had only a decent year before winning the Mile. Itsallgreektome also had a similarly unspectacular season before finishing strongly with seconds in the Breeders' Cup Turf and Hollywood Turf Cup.
Until last Sunday, the female turf vote was going to be close, with Maryland's Miss Josh probably nipping Flawlessly and Fire the Groom. But then Miss Alleged beat males again in the Hollywood Turf Cup, a victory that seems to make her a lock.
Announcement of the Eclipse winners is set for Feb. 1 in Las Vegas.
Two former Maryland standout jockeys, Chris McCarron and Kent Desormeaux, are on the verge of milestones.
After Thursday's program at Hollywood Park, Desormeaux, 21, was four winners away from becoming the youngest jockey to win 2,000 races.
And McCarron should win his first national earnings title since 1984. With his mounts having won slightly more than $14 million, he is some $300,000 shy of passing Pat Day, who is essentially through for the year.
Neither, however, has much chance for an Eclipse. That race is going to come down to Jerry Bailey and Day.
The national Pick-6 could be a reality as soon as April. The mingled wager would involve many Thoroughbred Racing Association tracks, including Laurel and Pimlico, both as "host" tracks and simulcast sites in a daily Pick-6 to be held once a week.
Jim Mango, Laurel/Pimlico vice president, is on a TRA subcommittee that will form its recommendations on just how the bet will work. "One of the keys is making participation easy," said Mango. The subcommittee is expected to arrive at a proposal early next year.
May all your stockings have a winning ticket in them -- and may Ayou parlay it into success in 1992. Happy holidays, racing fans.