04/18/2004 11:00PM

It all started with a sweep

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The first day of the 1950 Hollywood Park season was no ordinary opening day.

For starters, the place wasn't on fire, like it was two weeks before the scheduled opening of the 1949 meeting. While the wreckage of the grandstand smoldered, Hollywood's '49 dates were played across town at Santa Anita Park.

Opening day of 1950 was also late - June 27 to be exact - because the new grandstand wasn't quite ready in time for the traditional date in May. A 20-day season was all that could be squeezed in before the start of Del Mar.

In the end, however, the opening-day program of 1950 became known for something altogether different from run-of-the-mill racing news. On that day, a quiet Tuesday in June, one man produced an intellectual achievement of flamboyant proportions, appreciated by hard-core horseplayers and casual sports fans alike.

It was the day Bud Baedeker swept the card.

Big deal, you say? Go ahead then, try it. Take an eight-race card, lock yourself in a room with laptop and handicapping tools of choice, shake well, and come out with all eight winners on top. Then publish your findings with your name attached.

By June of 1950, alongside other tip sheets, Baedeker's Guide was a familiar sight outside the gates of Southern California racetracks. It was Baedeker's perfect card, however, that separated him from the pack.

On that memorable day, those Hollywood customers among the crowd of 29,692 who bought Baedeker's Guide were advised to play Good Lesson ($7.70) in the first, War Twister ($4.30) in the second, Bargain Lass ($10.20) in the third, Lovely Site ($26.70) in the fourth, Three Rivers ($5.60) in the fifth, Valquest ($5.10) in the sixth, Bolero ($2.70) in the seventh, and Warra Nymph ($10.50) in the eighth.

In the Los Angeles Times the following day, sports columnist Braven Dyer told the mythical tale of the young housewife who spent Tuesday afternoon at the races under protest from her husband, who thought she was wasting her time and money. When he picked her up at the end of the day, her winnings practically filled the front seat of the car.

"This nice man gave me a piece of paper with all the winners on it, and I bet them all day long," she explained to her bewildered husband.

The writer identified Baedeker by name and - presto! - a career took flight. Fans swarmed his stand in the following days, prompting Baedeker to approach track management for a more permanent arrangement. Baedeker's Guide soon became a handicapping institution, backed by the integrity of Bud Baedeker and his dedication to the craft.

When Hollywood Park opens on Wednesday, it will do so for the first time since 1939 without Bud Baedeker out there somewhere, anxious to share his life in racing. Baedeker died on Feb. 28, at the age of 90.

There is very little chance, though, that the name will disappear. Bob Baedeker, Bud's oldest son, has been maintaining Baedeker's Guide while doubling as a TV and simulcast analyst, while his younger brother Rick has wandered to the management side as president of Hollywood Park. Even his grandson, Toby Turrell, has made a mark in the game as an owner and private clocker.

"His short-term memory for just about everything was gone . . . except for racing," Rick Baedeker said of his father's final days. "He wouldn't remember what happened a month ago, but he would remember that Toby had a horse who won the fifth at Santa Anita."

Although he started from scratch, wearing a sandwich board and using a hand-cranked mimeograph machine, Baedeker had the built-in advantage of name recognition. Born Frederick Martin Baedeker in Chicago, he traced his lineage to the Baedeker family who began publishing their famous guide books in 1832.

Instead of the backstreets of Paris or the jungles of the Amazon, Bud Baedeker navigated the choppy waters of picking winners. He held a steady course, even as new handicapping theories appeared.

"Dad was real proud of his fundamental system, which was class of the horse, class of the trainer, and class of the jockey," Rick Baedeker said. "He would spend a lot of time explaining what class meant, and it became more of an intuitive understanding while watching dad handicap over the years."

Bud Baedeker's success gave him an entree into the wider racing world. Rick recalls a European tour that included his parents and a number of California racing leaders, but it was the Baedekers who enjoyed preferential treatment.

"They noticed after the first few hotels that Bud and Helen would always seem to get the corner room on the top floor with the beautiful view of the gardens," Rick said. "Apparently they recognized the name."

Hollywood opens its 65th season with mixed signals filling the air. Investment in horses continues to lag in California, causing short fields and tedious weekday sport. Workers' compensation reform could help turn the tide, making California more competitive with other circuits, but there are no overnight cures.

"The sport is difficult to work in these days," Baedeker conceded. "But dad was always positive, always optimistic, and we drew a lot of strength from that. He refused to accept the fact that racing wouldn't always be the greatest of all sports, and I don't think any of us would stay committed without that hope. I know it makes my work more meaningful."