Bob Griffith retired in May as director of the backstretch recreation program for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. At 67, he'd had enough of running softball leagues and organizing golf tournaments for the 1,400 workers at the horse barns of Pimlico, Laurel Park and the Bowie Training Center.
But a funny thing happened to Griffith -- as well as the horsemen's association. They missed each other.
"They wanted me to come back," Griffith said of the horsemen's group, "and I kind of missed it, too. You become part of the backstretch family. That was hard for me to give up."
So Griffith, recreation director since 1989, has come back. The horsemen's association rejoiced -- and hired a young assistant, Bryant Paz, to help with the heavy lifting.
"Bob's a great guy," said Rich Meyer, a member of the MTHA board of directors. "He's a diamond in the rough. We hired a $1,000 claimer, and he turned into a stakes horse."
A resident of Glen Burnie, Griffith was already retired when he started the job eight years ago. He had served 20 years in the Navy and worked 21 more for the federal government. He had no formal training in running a recreation program, but with 11 children of his own, he knew a thing or two about athletics.
He built a program that's the envy of tracks around the country.
"A lot of racetracks have some degree of recreation," Griffith said. "But we're the only one with a program year-round."
Grooms, hotwalkers and exercise riders -- as well as jockeys, trainers and horse owners -- participate in Griffith's golf, pingpong and pool tournaments, and basketball, bowling, football, soccer and softball leagues. He also oversees bull roasts, raffles for Orioles and Baysox tickets, health fairs, clothing giveaways and English classes.
"The public really has no idea what goes on behind the scenes at racetracks," Griffith said. "All they think about is the governor and Joe De Francis. They don't have any idea about all the people who work at the racetrack.
"These people live what you would call a different lifestyle. But you've really got to give them credit. You don't see them on some corner with a sign."
Sister of 'Charm'
If you spot a gray horse driving a beer truck on I-795 heading out toward Carroll County, odds are that's Silver Charm going to visit his sister.
Dollar Poker, the 7-year-old sister of this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, resides at Carolyn and Ron Green's Green Willow Farms in Westminster. Phyllis and Bill Dixon of Annapolis, who operate as Mea Culpa Stables, own Dollar Poker.
Dollar Poker and Silver Charm -- and one bay yearling filly -- are by the 19-year-old Silver Buck out of the 15-year-old broodmare Bonnie's Poker. Dixon said he and his wife bought Dollar Poker a couple of years ago for $4,000 from her breeder, Mary Lou Wootton.
Now that her younger brother is a star, Dollar Poker has become a hot commodity. Dixon, 74, said he has received numerous offers to buy her. But at his age, he said, he'd rather watch her babies develop and race than count the dollars from a sale.
"I don't want to sell her," Dixon said. "For one thing, you don't know how good Silver Charm is going to be. The Lewises and Bob Baffert [Silver Charm's owners and trainer] think he's going to be a great one."
Oblivious to her status upgrade, Dollar Poker tends to her weanling filly by Foreign Survivor, an Elberton Hill Farm stallion the Dixons own in partnership with John Franks. And Dollar Poker is in foal to In Case, who stands at Green Willow.
A few final words about Influent's victory last weekend over Ops Smile and two others in the $400,000 Caesars International Handicap at Atlantic City Race Course
When Influent's owner decided to sell him last year -- meaning he'd be transferred from Katy Voss' barn -- an unlikely duo stepped up to buy him: Michael Becker, a former groom, and Richard Kumble, a stockbroker.
Becker, 38, a former groom for Influent's current New York trainer, Howard Tesher, suffered disabling injuries in 1992 when a tractor-trailer truck crashed into his car. After undergoing surgery to insert a metal rod in his back and then extensive therapy, Becker received a sizable award from his accident lawsuit.
Tesher teamed him with Kumble, so the stockbroker could manage his money. Since Becker's injuries prohibit him from working with horses -- except at a therapeutic riding center in New York -- he and Kumble bought a few horses. Last summer at Saratoga, they bought Influent for $54,000.
The 6-year-old gelding has earned more than $500,000 for his new owners (Becker donates a portion to the riding center), including $240,000 in the Caesars. After the race, Becker couldn't stop hugging and kissing Influent.
"I feed him peppermints, and he licks my face," Becker gushed with a face beaming like a 100-watt light bulb. "What could be better than that?"
Good start at Ocean Downs