08/17/2003 11:00PM

Handicapping the Recall Derby


DEL MAR, Calif. - New York may have temporarily lost its power, but California has lost its mind.

The 135 citizens who have qualified to run for the office of governor - should sitting Gov. Gray Davis be recalled - represent a fruit basket full of ripe loonies, exhibitionists, and even a sprinkling of apparently sincere public servants deluded into thinking they can rise above the fray.

Talk about a blackout. Wake me when it's over.

Still, there is a very real chance that come this fall, when the horse racing community gathers in Los Angeles for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Santa Anita Park, there will be a new leader of the state of California. And California racing, never forget, generates more than $4 billion in handle every year.

With this in mind, it might be a good idea to handicap a few key gubernatorial candidates in terms of their potential impact upon the racing industry. Such analytical expertise, however, is difficult to find. Most of the good minds in California racing are either wrestling with the issue of workers' compensation insurance or angling for Turf Club membership at Del Mar.

Luckily, there was one guy hanging around the Best Pal Pub late in the day on Thursday who fit the bill. Rosco Cramp, most recently employed by the notoriously unsuccessful Campaign to End Rolling Doubles, had tapped out earlier on a maiden filly ridden by Julie Krone - "I can't believe they still let girls in this place," Cramp grumbled - and was already deep into Friday's card.

Cramp made his bones in the political world during the 1992 presidential campaign when he found himself broke and shirtless in Hot Springs, Ark., after a disastrous Oaklawn meet ("So I tried to beat Paseana in the Apple Blossom," he explained. "So sue me.") Cramp hooked on with the steamrolling Bill Clinton campaign - he talked James Carville into shaving his head - and rode it all the way to the Democratic convention in New York.

After that, Cramp went underground, or to Philadelphia Park, he doesn't remember which. He ended up in L.A. about the same time Frank Stronach started buying California racetracks, but Cramp insists that's just a coincidence. These days he lives in his car.

"Obviously, you've got to like the Stronach-Schwarzenegger connection," Cramp began. "Those Austrians stick together like superglue. And how can you not like a guy who makes Jean-Claude Van Damme look like Pacino? Just look at those teeth. Arnold would definitely do wonders for racing. Didn't he knock out that horse in 'Blazing Saddles'?"

Cramp was already wandering. A good smack with a rolled up Racing Form (simulcast edition) brought him back to earth. He was asked to focus on the consensus key candidates for the governorship, in no particular order.

"Gallagher I like," he began, "if for no other reason that he knows what to do with a watermelon, that most worthless of vegetables. Chances are good he would appoint Carrot Top to the racing board, which might not be all bad.

"You can have Angelyne," Cramp continued. "Her 35 years of billboard fame are up. Anyway, Arnold's got the pink-feather-boa-and-blonde-wig vote locked up solid. I did hear, though, that ol' Angie is booked as an honorary steward for the next Sunshine Millions."

Believe it or not, there is a candidate on the California ballot who owns a cut-rate cigarette distribution chain. Another one makes false teeth. There are attorneys galore, broadcasters and educators, disabled veterans and a golf pro who goes by the nickname Chip.

"Arianna Huffington is tough to get a line on," Cramp noted. "In the plus column, she gets under Bill O'Reilly's skin. And she's got the immigrant thing going for her, which can't hurt when it comes to the horse racing labor force. But that accent. It took us five years to get used to Trevor, and he was speaking English."

Cramp pointed out that there is a candidate named Edward Kennedy on the ballot, as well as Michael Jackson, Richard Simmons, and Gary Coleman. Wait a minute, though. That Gary Coleman is the real Gary Coleman.

"And he's got a shot," Cramp said, "mostly because he's got that Arnold thing going for him, too, from his days on 'Diff'rent Strokes,' or whatever they called it. But horse racing, I don't think he's given it a thought. He's mostly hustling for a Hollywood Square."

Cramp boiled down racing's best candidates to Major League Baseball's former commissioner Peter Ueberroth, California State Sen. Tom McClintock, California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, bounty hunter Leonard Padilla, and free speech advocate Larry Flynt.

"Go ahead and laugh," Cramp said, "but Flynt's got the moxie and the cash to roll right over big Arnold and the others. Yeah, he publishes dirty magazines. And everybody else is a choirboy. As far as horse racing is concerned, why not elect somebody who at least owns a racehorse? You did know Flynt owns a racehorse, right?"

And he does. He really does.