She's a Handicapper now..and I'm saying "Champagne, Anyone?"

She's a Handicapper now..and I'm saying "Champagne, Anyone?"

Thursday, November 6, 2014

My saddest racing story...

My saddest racing story happened 40 years ago. Back in the day when there were actually three horse-racing tracks in Louisville. Churchill Downs, of course and then
off Poplar Level Road, there was harness racing at Louisville Downs. This story took place at the third track....Commonwealth Race Course (previously Miles Park) in the west end of Louisville. 

It was the place for me and my crew to go on Friday summer nights in 1974. Night racing! Beer vendors that didn't check ID's. A wide assortment of all different types of people and the chance to turn our weekly summertime job paychecks to more money. We actually started going in 1972...but the summer nights of 1974 were special. Me, Big Ed, Baby Bobby Brody, Little Stan and Crazy George would pile into my 1969 Chevelle Malibu or Ed's 1968 Chevy Van and hit the track on Friday nights. Saturday nights were Date Night. Friday nights were "Guys Night Out". 

We followed the horses out there...because back then, it wasn't uncommon for the low level claimers out there to run once a week. On the night in question, I noticed that TOOLITTLETOOLATE was running on the card. This old claimer had been a disappointment of late...getting punished in six or seven furlong affairs after getting to an early lead.

The owner and trainer had entered him in a 4 1/2 furlong that evening. Shorter distance. The betting crowd, however, didn't think he would be a contender. I was convinced he would be. I ponied up $25 of my hard earned cash and stuck it on his nose to win at 25-1 odds. The crew also backed him in varying dollar amounts. 

They broke from the gate. As usual, TOOLITTLETOOLATE sprinted to the lead. As they took the turn and headed down the short Commonwealth stretch...he was increasing that lead...with a furlong to go, he was up by five lengths. We were ecstatic beyond belief.

Then, it happened...

With a sickening thud, he fell to the dirt. The jockey dismounted and rolled to the rail to avoid getting run over by the rest of the field. They passed TOOLITTLETOOLATE left and right, no collisions fortunately...while he laid motionless on his side.

The van came out after the race and the track guys literally drug him inside and took off.

We were stunned. Wordless. Our sure thing...100 yards away from the finish line. Then, nothing. 

I found out later from a trainer that TOOLITTLETOOLATE apparently had a massive heart attack and died almost instantly. 

I'd like to think that the veteran old runner's last thoughts were something like..."Hey, it doesn't get any better than this...I'm the champ today"...and he died with those positive thoughts in his brain as he drew his last breath.  

On that evening TOOLITTLETOOLATE was "more than enough" but just couldn't make the final 100 yards. I kept that losing ticket for quite some a reminder that things can suddenly, rapidly change in life. During my several location moves and packings over the years, it got misplaced. Lost. The memory still remains, though.

Somewhere, I hope there is a horse heaven...and TOOLITTLETOOLATE is getting those final 100 yards and winning by 5 lengths...


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