01/13/2018 2:50PM

Hovdey: Bacharach longs to be close to fire-relief efforts

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Fifty years ago, Burt Bacharach bought his first racehorse, named Battle Royal, for $15,000. That’s about how much he was worth, but Bacharach was hard to discourage. One horse led to another – Advance Guard, Crumbs, Nikkis Promise – all of them a teasing introduction to eventual success with champion Heartlight No. One and major stakes winners Soul of the Matter and Afternoon Deelites.

Through the highs and lows that come with the unforgiving game, Bacharach’s love affair with Thoroughbred racing has never waned. That is why it makes perfect sense that the man described as the greatest living songwriter is putting on a show Wednesday night a stone’s throw from Del Mar to raise money for the people and horses who survived the fire at the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center.

Not a bad way to celebrate a golden anniversary.

Bacharach has been entertaining the racing troops since he started showing up at parties after the races at the home of his trainer, Charlie Whittingham, near Santa Anita. At some point in the evening, Bacharach would find himself at the Whittingham piano, leading a raucous chorus of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” or “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”

Wednesday night’s sold-out fundraiser at the Belly Up Tavern will co-star Elvis Costello, Bacharach’s friend and musical collaborator. Upward of $100,000 will be raised through ticket sales and an auction of choice items halfway through the show.

The money is needed because the victims of the fire have yet to be made whole. The trauma of displacement to Del Mar, the loss of equipment and personal possessions, and the uncertain future of San Luis Rey Downs hang over the industry like a nagging flu. Forty-six horses lost their lives.

In addition to the Bacharach-Costello concert, other entities continue to step forward. The Barretts sales company will be donating 10 percent of its commissions from its mixed sale in Pomona on Wednesday, as well as proceeds from an auction of a dozen donated stallion seasons.

“I was around a barn fire when I was a kid,” said Kim Lloyd, Barretts general manager.

Lloyd was remembering the disaster at Keystone near Philadelphia in August 1975 that claimed the lives of a dozen horses trained by Joe Dorignac.

“It’s a life-changing experience, something you never forget,” Lloyd said. “And San Luis Rey was even worse. The whole next day after it happened, I was in shock. I kept trying to think what we could do.”

Lloyd estimates that as much as $30,000 could be raised by the Barretts efforts and turned over to the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Foundation for distribution to fire victims.

According to Cliff Goodrich, executive director of the CTHF, the GoFundMe account established by Santa Anita and Del Mar in the immediate wake of the Dec. 7 fire topped out at “just over $900,000.” Goodrich said that $550,000 of the pool was turned over to an advisory committee for distribution to those most impacted by fire loss – trainers and their stable workers – and another $250,000 recently was given to the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT) for further aid to its members. There also was $100,000 earmarked for the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA).

“Long term, the committee anticipated a need for the support of horses coming out of the fire who would need to be retired,” Goodrich said.

The GoFundMe advisory committee was comprised of Goodrich, Santa Anita marketing director Nate Newby, Del Mar racing secretary David Jerkens, CTT executive director Alan Balch, and California Horse Racing Board vice chair Madeline Auerbach, the founder of CARMA.

“We’re keeping the money in a separate account, and the way we spend it will be under extreme scrutiny,” said trainer Howard Zucker, CARMA president. “We have a list of the horses who were at San Luis Rey at the time of the fire, so when any of those need a home as a result of what they experienced in the fire, the money will be there for them. We know that in many cases, trainers won’t necessarily know the effects of the fire on horses right away. We look at it as a very specific retirement fund.”

Bacharach and his wife, Jane, have designated the CTHF and CARMA to split the concert proceeds 50-50 and use the money specifically for human and equine fire relief.

“The CTHF does wonderful work for the backstretch community,” said Jane Bacharach. “And we’ve always been big supporters of CARMA.”

Anjelica Huston, the Academy Award-winning actress and animal-rights activist, will be co-host for the evening and assist in the auction. Her pedigree is sound – John Huston, her legendary father, was not only the director of such classics as “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The African Queen” but also an inveterate horseplayer who numbered celebrity jockey Billy Pearson among his intimates.

The auction items will include:

◗ Dinner with Mike Smith at The Market restaurant in Del Mar.

◗ Day trip to Napa on a private jet for lunch and a wine tasting.

◗ Turf Club table and lunch on opening day of the Del Mar summer racing season.

◗ And … drum roll, please … a turn on stage during the concert to sing “Close to You” in a duet with Burt.

He wrote the song.