A look back at best, worst of 6 1/2 years before heading north to a new home

HORSE RACING

January 19, 1992|By MARTY McGEE

My dad told me a long time ago that the best age is about 30. That's the time of life, he said, when most people are at their prime in many ways.

I came to Maryland from my native Louisville in March 1985. I was 25.

Nearly seven years later, I'm leaving. Indeed, I've lived some terrific years, including 6 1/2 working for The Sun.

RTC This is the last time I will write for The Sun. I'm going to The Racing Times, primarily to serve as its Toronto correspondent and handicapper. Goodbye, Laurel, Pimlico and Timonium. Hello, Woodbine, Fort Erie and Greenwood.

Strange, but ever since I was young, all I wanted to be was a racing writer. Maybe that's what growing up in Kentucky will do to a kid. The Sun, and all you loyal readers, allowed me to realize my dream in an incredible way. It seems like only yesterday when my first "Pimlico Line" appeared in The Sun, and it's been a breathtaking trip for this Kentucky-bred ever since.

For this last column, I've compiled the bests and worsts of my time in Maryland racing. I sincerely hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Greatest performer: Kent Desormeaux. The Kid was really something.

Best "Best Pick": Northern Wolf to win the inaugural De Francis Dash in 1990. He paid $15 to win and beat some of the nation's top sprinters.

Worst Kentucky Derby pick: Masterful Advocate in 1987. Who? (For the record, I was 0-for-6 in the Derby.)

Best Preakness picks: Nailing the 1-2-3 finish in 1989 and 1990. (And I would've had Hansel last year if I hadn't been an early leader of the Olympio bandwagon.)

Worst Preakness pick: Badger Land in 1986.

Favorite comment in my "Line": There were dozens. But I did like the one when a particularly untalented horse named Break the Law was entered by Charlie Castrenze, a trainer I enjoyed ribbing. The comment: "Arrest the trainer."

Best horses with Maryland connections: Broad Brush and Lost Code.

Most amazing horse: Little Bold John. He was unrelenting.

Most emotional winner's circle: Dandy Danzig winning at Laurel on Dec. 11, 1990. His groom and part-owner, Chris Fabiszak, had died a few days earlier. Having known Chris and how much he was loved, it was impossible to fight back tears as his friends and family gathered in the winner's circle.

Best Maryland trainer: Vinnie Blengs. Should make the Hall of Fame, although he probably won't. (Too bad he's leaving the circuit, too. In October.)

Ugliest accident: Snow King flipping and smashing his head in the Pimlico paddock in April 1990. I didn't see it actually happen, but I was in the paddock soon afterward. People still tell me they've never seen anything worse in racing.

Favorite race: Balthazar B.'s sweeping victory on International day 1988. OK, so my brother trained the horse.

Favorite non-family race: Every Preakness.

Worst call by the stewards: None can ever top the disqualification of Jumping Rachel at Timonium on Aug. 27, 1990. Truly unbelievable.

Most sobering trip: A one-day journey to Mountaineer Park in West Virginia to do a story on trainer Dale Baird. You think Maryland racing is on a slide? You've seen nothing until you go to Mountaineer.

Biggest regret: Finishing fourth in the Penn National World Series of Handicapping in 1986. Using better strategy, I should have won the $100,000 first prize.

Favorite tracks visited: Del Mar, Gulfstream, Monmouth.

Longest a jockey was angry at me (that I know of): Donnie Miller, for about six months. Although we've since smoothed things over, Miller was incensed over what I wrote about his ride on Learned Jake in a big stakes race a couple of years ago.

Racetrack hangouts most frequented: O'Toole's (Laurel) and Mount Washington Tavern (Pimlico).

Horse I was toughest on: Youbumyou, back in 1985 and 1986, before I became a softie.

Favorite racetrack extracurricular: The summer softball league.

Article that gave me the most satisfaction: A story last February on Bill and Donna Donovan. Donna was recovering from a life-threatening brain aneurysm.

Best announcer: Of the seven or eight who were here, Robin Burns was in a class by himself.

Favorite non-horse race: Running in a foot race in July 1990 out of the starting gate on the Laurel turf course. Watching the replay was a scream.

Number of laughs in the press boxes: Thousands. I only hope the camaraderie in Canada is half as good as we had it here. I'll miss you guys.

People I knew in Maryland before I came: None.

Racing people I enjoyed meeting and knowing: So very many. See you all down the stretch.

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