07/20/2012 4:41PM

Hovdey: Bill Currin is slowing down at 75 - sort of

Benoit & Associates
Bill Currin - owner, breeder, and gentleman trainer - with jockey Martin Garcia after winning a division of the Oceanside Stakes with My Best Brother on opening day at Del Mar.

The young stallion Stormello was just 7 when he was euthanized in April of 2011 because of complications suffered after a severe case of colic. It was an awful blow to Bill Currin, who raised and trained the son of Stormy Atlantic to do some wonderful things, like win both the Norfolk Stakes and the Hollywood Futurity and finish second by a nose to Scat Daddy in the Fountain of Youth.

“He was a very special horse,” said Currin, who’s had enough good ones to know.

It was of some consolation at the time that Currin still owned Stormello’s dam, Wilshewed, and that she was becoming the kind of broodmare a breeder can only wish for in his dreams. At the time of Stormello’s death, Wilshewed had a Bernardini colt at her side and was safely in foal to Giant’s Causeway. She also had a 2-year-old colt billeted at Rancho Paseana not far from Del Mar, where Currin was seeing to the colt’s early lessons. His name was My Best Brother.

It still is, and on opening day of the Del Mar meet last Wednesday, My Best Brother lived up to his name by winning the second, and slightly faster, division of the one-mile Oceanside Stakes on the grass.

There was a time when Currin would have taken the bows as breeder, owner, and trainer, as he did with not only Stormello, but also such stakes-class runners as Memorette, Bushwacker, and Outta Here. But a heart scare two years ago reordered Currin’s priorities.

“One morning I got up at five o’clock to go to Hollywood Park like I always do and I couldn’t get my right foot into my boot,” Currin said. “My wife Betty came in to help and said, ‘You’re not going to work.’ She called the meds, and just like that I was in the hospital. I didn’t have a heart attack, but I was heading in that direction.”

He was 74.

“I was too busy to get sick, but I was lucky,” Currin went on. “The other day I was teasing Bob Baffert. We called each other Clocker Bob and Clocker Bill because we both let our horses work right along. Then he got sick in Dubai earlier this year and ended up needing four stints. I told him I’m still one up, because I’ve got five. But he looked good, and he’s still young, so he’ll be okay.”

Currin has been missed. The North Carolina native has been unabashedly in love with the racing business for nearly half a century, dating back to his days as a homebuilder and developer in places like Palm Springs and Pleasanton, east of San Francisco. He bought his first good horse in 1976, in partnership with former Del Mar director W.R. Hawn, and eventually made the leap to training the horses he bred and owned, primarily in partnerhip with Al Eisman, the man behind Blue Haven Pools. Eisman is partners on My Best Brother.

More than taking him temporarily away from the track, Currin’s health prompted a move from his beloved Hollywood home, once owned by Clark Gable, to what used to be seasonal digs at Del Mar, far more convenient to his heart specialists at Scripps Medical Center in La Jolla.

“So we rented the house,” Currin said. “First to a famous matador, and now to Katie Perry. You know, the singer girl. She wants to buy it, but for the rent she pays I can’t afford selling it to her.

“I miss the Gable house, but we’ve got a nice perch here,” Currin said. “I can sit in my living room and see who’s sitting in my box.”

And when he wants, he can make the short hop across the street and down the hill to the Del Mar backstretch, where My Best Brother is stabled with trainer Julio Canani. With My Best Brother, the colorful Canani was winning his fourth running of the Oceanside dating back to 1973. He has also won a few other decent races, like three Breeders’ Cup events and a Santa Anita Handicap, but more recently Canani’s name was involved on the wrong end of a lawsuit brought by owner Jeff Nielsen over the selling of horses.

“Julio hasn’t been getting very good press lately, and here I’m supposed to be a ‘gentleman trainer,’” Currin said with a laugh. “He’s a nice guy, he tolerates me, and we get along. I’m there every morning at seven talking with his foreman. I’ve only got three horses to fool around with, and besides, I couldn’t give them to a ‘serious’ trainer. They’d shoo me out of the barn.

“I told Julio, ‘I’m seventy-five and you’re seventy-five,” Currin added. “Between us we’re a 150-year-old trainer, and if we can’t win a damn race we ought to quit.”

After a single race at 2, My Best Brother came back this spring to run twice before winning a maiden race at Hollywood Park in late May. He stepped up to beat winners in his next start, and then came the Oceanside, in which he went wire-to-wire.

“The horse came back just laughing,” Currin said. “He’s very happy. He should be able to make the La Jolla, and then after that maybe the Del Mar Derby.”

The La Jolla Handicap, at a mile and one-sixteenth, is on Aug. 11, while the $300,000 Del Mar Derby goes on Sept. 2, at a mile and one-eighth.

“He’s a very free-running horse,” Currin noted. “I believe he’ll go a mile and an eighth, but that remains to be seen.”

In the meantime, My Best Brother’s yearling half brother by Bernardini is scheduled to sell in September at Keeneland.

“I’m back on the street again,” Currin said. “I’ve got some good horses, and I’m looking forward to an even longer life.”