11/12/2015 2:51PM

Hovdey: Some are better thanked for the memories


There are people in racetrack management who stay up late trying to come up with names for their races. Then, the next day at work, they pick one out of a hat, or at least that’s how it appears.

The significant stakes races of the weekend are named for four men, each famous in his own right. If they are not readily identifiable by the racing public, that is understandable. They’ve all been gone long enough to require at least a refresher course on what they did to deserve their names on a trophy.

I’m not sure what Bob Hope meant to horse racing, except for the fact that he showed up at the track every once in a while with some of his Hollywood pals and told at least one racetrack joke: “I bought a horse with four other guys. I don’t know which of it belongs to me, but I think it’s the part you don’t put the two dollars on.”

That was a golf club Hope brandished during his USO tours, not a riding crop. Hope gets a pass, though, because he played the title character in both “Sorrowful Jones” and “The Lemon Drop Kid,” a pair of mildly amusing racetrack movies made from Damon Runyon stories. “Let It Ride” they ain’t.

Hope could have funded the $100,000 Bob Hope Stakes on Saturday at Del Mar from his couch change. His worth, mostly in real estate, was clocked as high as half a billion dollars, but it came in handy. He lived to be 100, which is funny because the Bob Hope is for 2-year-olds. Bob Baffert and Jerry Hollendorfer each have two in the field of seven going seven furlongs on the main track.

The autumn Del Mar meet is named in honor of track founder Bing Crosby, which won’t sell a lot of tickets these days. Anyone worth his marketing degree should know that nostalgia goes back only as far as the 1960s.

Nevertheless, the Sunday feature at Del Mar is the $100,000 Desi Arnaz Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, also at seven furlongs. Baffert and Hollendorfer each have two in the field of seven.

Arnaz was a television pioneer and a racehorse owner who basically camped out at Del Mar during the summer. But ask anyone in the crowd who Desi was, and a handful might come up with “Lucy’s husband” because they watch the Hallmark Channel.

Why the race was not called the Lucille Ball Stakes is a mystery. Did I mention it was for fillies? And guess who starred with Bob Hope in “Sorrowful Jones?” It wasn’t Desi.

So much for California. Leave it to the tracks located in the original 13 colonies to tap names that ring more richly with racing lore.

Just as John D. Schapiro put Maryland racing on the map with the Washington, D.C. International (a race now deceased), Frank De Francis, an influential attorney and government official, was the father of a more recent Maryland revival that is still finding its way in the 21st century. The De Francis family no longer has anything to do with Maryland track ownership, but to its credit, The Stronach Group has retained the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash and funded it with a robust $350,000.

Unfortunately, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint has reduced the De Francis to a consolation prize, although that has not stopped David Jacobson from bringing Stallwalkin’ Dude right back after finishing eighth at Keeneland. California’s best sprinters were stomped at the Cup, leaving New York’s Palace as the class of the shippers taking on local Maryland talent.

The third-place performance of Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Big Blue Kitten in the Breeders’ Cup Turf put a lie to the idea that the American grass horses of 2015 were pushovers. He was beaten barely a length by the victorious Found and finished right at the flank of European Horse of the Year Golden Horn. That race should have been enough to nail down an Eclipse Award for the 7-year-old BBK, who saved his best year for his last.

There is no Big Blue Kitten to deal with on Saturday in the Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct, named for the Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter with The New York Times. Smith loved racing, and it showed in the scores of columns he devoted to the game, with passages like this upon the death in 1946 of one of the all-time greats:

“The fatal injury of Georgie Woolf in a spill at Santa Anita Thursday is a reminder of something which race fans forget with the greatest of ease when they boo and sneer and rail at some dusty kid who has just finished out of the money astride a horse they’re betting,” Smith wrote. “That is that every time one of these little guys scrambles into the saddle for a race he is literally taking his life in his hands.”

Smith would have had a good time with a Red Smith field that includes two Dancers, two Misters, and a Saint. But chances are his attention would be drawn to the jockey aboard Iron Power, Silvestre de Sousa, who is fresh from winning the British riding championship and wintering in New York.

I’m betting Smith would wonder, “Did he miss his connection? Has he come for the theatre?” Then he would sit back and enjoy the show.