09/23/2011 2:42PM

Fairplex's little meet keeps chugging along


The Ralph M. Hinds Pomona Invitational Handicap wraps up the stakes action at the Fairplex Park meet Sunday with an entertaining bunch of older runners. But with its purse of only $75,000 for the second straight year, the message is clear: Racing at the county fair has reverted to its bullring, third-tier roots, and its 13 exclusive days of sport at a prime time of year are becoming a luxury the major players on the Southern California circuit have a right to question.

Two years ago the Hinds was worth $125,000. Now it offers mid-1980’s money, going back to a time when a $75,000 pot at the fair made rightful headlines and the winner had to run hard to cash. Stakes purses have been slashed at the major meets as well, but at the fair it was the presence of at least a token hundred-grander or two maintaining the myth that good horses would be rewarded for dropping by.

The field on Sunday includes such relentless warriors as Norvsky, who has become more than simply Acclamation’s stablemate; Chocolate Candy, who once tried the Derby and Belmont; and El Gato Malo, the horse David Flores picked to ride instead of Zenyatta lo these many years ago. Yes, Flores rides him Sunday.

Doing his part, Craig Lewis will send out the distance loving Quindici Man. He was beaten a neck in the race last year, and this time gets the rail and leading man Martin Pedroza. Sounds like a recipe for success, as long as no cobwebs linger from two Del Mar losses, including a fifth-place finish in the Pacific Classic.

“I thought he ran deceptively well that day,” Lewis said. “When you’ve got a horse with his style running against some of the best horses in the country you need a little help on the pace. Then when they go the opening quarter in close to 25 seconds you’re pretty much eliminated, but he passed a lot of horses and ran his race. We’ve had him since he was 2, and he’s still tough as a night in jail.”

Lewis is a four-time Fairplex training champ and sixth on the all-time local list. He has never won the Hinds, but that might not matter, given the fact that his barn seems blessed at the current meet, winning 8 of 17 starts through Thursday. Understandably, Lewis was not receptive to thoughts that the Fairplex meet might be shunted aside at some point in favor of dates at a major track.

“The rumors have circulated the past three or four years about Hollywood Park as well,” Lewis said. “But they keep running at these places we can only hope we have horses we can take there and run well. I guess we’re just pawns in the big game.”

At 6, limitless possibilities

About this time six years ago my wife went into labor. Depending on when you ask, she’ll tell you her ordeal lasted anywhere from 24 hours to 17 days. Such experiences, I’m told, have a way of bending time, but it is a documented fact that however long it took our daughter finally issued forth at 5:33 on the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 27, 2005, in a hospital located barely two blocks from the somewhat older facility in which her father and grandmother were born in a previous century.

No sense in wasting a parking space.

A father can’t dwell on these things too long or else he’ll go nuts, but a child’s 6th birthday is as good a time as any to begin seriously brooding about the world in which his daughter will flower. As if he can do anything about it. She’s already figured out that in life there is strife and sorrow, great achievements and small victories, and in time she will come to understand that the evolution of the human condition is on a cyclical rotation of feast and famine, and that the best she can do is help nudge the cycle upward as it tumbles.

She might do it on horseback, on the stage, in an operating theater, or a courtroom. At some point, if she is lucky and heeds her own stars, she will discover the one thing she does best and do it until her heart soars and her fingers bleed.

Her mother, whose plaque hangs in a certain horse racing Hall of Fame, is regularly asked to share what advice she’d give a young boy or girl who is thinking about becoming a jockey, of all things. The answer can be disappointing for those not paying close attention.

“I have no advice,” Julie Krone will say. “If they truly are meant to do something like riding Thoroughbred racehorses then they can’t help themselves. They’ll do it no matter what, and do it until they can’t any longer. Nothing anyone can say will make any difference.”

This describes, to a great degree, the ethic of the artist, compelled beyond logic, often against all odds, to answer a call from within. You pity the fools sometimes and consider them stuck in a rut, unimaginative, stubborn, selfish. Then they go and write a fifth symphony, or paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and all is forgiven.

So I will stand back in awe as my daughter posts along on her pony, drops names at the races, or dangles from a starting gate as if it were her own private jungle gym. A dear friend calls her “The Clone,” and you can bet good money the reference is not to old dad when it comes to dominant DNA. The best I can do is keep the doors unlocked and the windows open when it comes to opportunities. Once inspired, I’ve got a feeling she’ll do the rest.