09/14/2005 12:00AM

Fairmount track report


On occasion, Hollywood actors will put up their own money for projects they believe in if studios just won't bite. Then again, celebrities have loot to burn. Fairmount Park track photographer Jim Ansley doesn't.

On Aug. 27, Fairmount publicly unveiled a final cut of Ansley's 70-minute documentary, "Fairmount Park: 80 Years of Tradition." Available at $25 per DVD, copies of the film have since been relegated to the track's two backstretch tack shops and a website maintained by Ansley (www.vip-il.com).

Ansley financed the $35,000 production mostly by himself, with a serious assist from Circle C Stables and, to a lesser extent, the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Ansley's lone pro bono research and screenwriting partner was track auditor Kevin Kious.

"I approached Brian Zander" - the Fairmount general manager - "and said, 'Brian, we missed our 75th year, and I'm not going to be around for 100, so I've decided to do a documentary,' " said Ansley. "He didn't offer any money, so I forged on myself. It could have been a lot slicker if we had more time and money, but we did the best we could under the circumstances."

While the documentary is meticulously researched, it comes off as choppy and hurried in parts - forgivable flaws given its curator's novice status. Highlights include compelling images of Fairmount's old open-air grandstand, the now defunct Cahokia Downs, and a regal turn-of-the-century racetrack that thrived within the St. Louis city limits before the Missouri legislature banned parimutuel wagering in the early 1900's.