05/04/2010 12:00AM

Gilchrist's good-bye leaves a gap


ALBANY, Calif. - The racing landscape in Northern California became a little more barren last weekend when trainer Greg Gilchrist saddled his final runner at Golden Gate Fields.

Odds-on favorite Tribute to Sissy, who is being sent to Emerald Downs, rallied through the stretch, falling a head shy of Too Hot to Touch in a 1o1/16-mile $20,000 maiden claimer in Sunday's fourth race.

Gilchrist delivered the final three horses in his barn to Southern California early this week and said he was going to saddle his final runner, Island of Zen, on Wednesday at Hollywood Park. Gilchrist said he will do some work as a bloodstock agent.

"I always thought I'd be a trainer till I was 100," said Gilchrist, who turned 62 on April 24. "It makes me sad walking away from it, but I'm not walking away from the sport I knew."

Gilchrist said he had been contemplating a change since last fall and had considered moving his base of operations to Southern California.

Gilchrist trained the 2005 Eclipse Award-winning sprinter, Lost in the Fog, as well as California champions Soviet Problem and Work the Crowd. His other stakes winners include High Resolve, Wild Promises, Beyond Brilliant, Wild Wonder, and Vicarino. A third-generation horseman, Gilchrist began working at the track at a young age for his father, Boots Gilchrist. He saw combat duty in Vietnam with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army in the late 60s, and returned to the track after being discharged.

Gilchrist was known for his horsemanship, good eye for buying horses, and for shooting straight with his clients.

Tom Doutrich dealt with Gilchrist in Doutrich's roles as a jockey agent and also as a racing secretary.

"He's an amazing guy, and his numbers speak for themselves," said Doutrich. "Northern California racing takes a step back with him gone."

Doutrich recalled a conversation with Gilchrist following the defeat of Lost in the Fog, owned by Harry Aleo, in the 2005 Breeders' Cup

"He said he wanted to win, not for Harry, for him or for the horse, but for Northern California, so we'd get some respect here."

Aleo's death at age 88 in 2008 affected Gilchrist. The two were friends and had what some described as almost a father-son relationship. Aleo got into racing in 1979, and Gilchrist was his only trainer.

Joe Stiglich, another owner, said he planned to interview trainers when he decided to get involved in the game. Gilchrist was the first trainer he met on the backside. He said the two talked for 10 minutes as Gilchrist held a horse as a groom bathed it, and he knew he had found his trainer.

"For a new owner, he was great," said Stiglich. "He didn't mind teaching you the business. He was honest about every piece of the business. He never pulled the wool over anyone's eyes.

"Sometimes, he'd tell you, 'I didn't buy a very good horse for you this time.' I remember one time we were talking about one of my horses, and he advised me to give it a big drop. He told me he wasn't right about every horse and might not be right about that one, but he said when he made a decision like that, he was right 90 percent of the time. Harry was standing there, and he said, '80 percent.' But even 80 percent is phenomenal, and Greg had a way of stretching your money as an owner."

Trainer Andy Mathis watched Gilchrist's hands-on approach from a neighboring barn in the Golden Gate backside.

"When somebody like that leaves, they don't get replaced," he said.

Jockey Russell Baze rode a number of Gilchrist's top runners, including Lost in the Fog.

"He was really good to ride for," said Baze. "He had his horses spotted well, and, if something went wrong, he knew what happened and didn't just blame the jockey. He was a super horseman and had an excellent eye. That's why he ended up with so many good horses."

Gilchrist's retirement saddened Northern California trainers, including Chuck Jenda, the only other Northern California trainer with an Eclipse winner in Brown Bess. "We had a bet over who'd be the first to retire, and now I have to pay him $100," Jenda said.

Jenda said he and Gilchrist were old-school, with fewer horses than some of today's mega-barns.

"You could tell his horses on the track just by the way they looked," said Jenda. "You didn't need to see his saddlecloth."

Gilchrist grew up in Santa Rosa and was a positive influence on trainer Gloria Haley, who also grew up there.

"He was a horseman's horseman - such an admirable trainer," she said. "He understood what horses need. He was a competitor. He knew how to win, but he knew how to lose and was always gracious."

Gilchrist's frustrations with racing had grown in recent years.

"They don't have racehorse people making decisions," he said. But he said he could still talk for hours about all the good things in racing.

"It's a shame to see that happen," said trainer Steve Specht, who would frequently let Gilchrist stay at his home in Santa Rosa when the Northern California fair circuit stopped there.

"He was tough in every aspect of the business," said Specht. "He was a good horseman, a good guy, and he brought a lot of attention to Northern California racing.+/-

Trainer Art Sherman, noting that training gets in one's blood, said of Gilchrist's retirement, "I've got a gut feeling it won't be forever."