07/15/2013 3:14PM

Jay Hovdey: Del Mar opening-day crowd won't deter Currin

Barbara D. Livingston
Rosengold flies owner-breeder Bill Currin's colors in the second division of the Oceanside opening day at Del Mar.

Opening day at Del Mar is not for everyone. It only seems that way, especially if you’re trying to park, or find yourself waiting in line for a beer, a bet, or a bathroom.

Tradition has become obsession, and like all obsessions they seem a lot more manageable on paper than they are in reality. The absolute requirement that many, many thousands need to make their one day of racing this particular day is worthy of anthropological study. It’s a marketing coup and a media feast, but it is also has nothing to do with the true pleasantries of summer racing at the seaside for the other 36 days.

The joke goes that management could run fields of gerbils and giraffes and the opening day Del Mar crowd wouldn’t care. That’s unfair, even though it may be true. In fact, the Tom Robbins racing department has put together a solid 10-race program with only four claiming events – including the $12,500 opener that starts, according to tradition, in front of the stands – plus a divided Oceanside Stakes doubled in value for which 22 of the 29 nominated 3-year-olds were entered.

[DEL MAR 2013: Complete meet coverage, schedule, race replays]

“I’d give anything if the race wasn’t opening day,” said Bill Currin, who runs his snazzy chestnut Rosengold in the second division of the Oceanside. “You’ve got to get there early if you want to get in at all. Then to have to wait until the ninth race, well, let’s just say an older fellow like me usually would want to lie down for little bit.”

Currin has been living in anticipation of the meet, when he can hop across the street from the condo he shares with Betty, his wife of 58 years, and watch Rosengold cool out after a gallop, then eat every oat at the barn of his trainer, Julio Canani.

“I told Julio I’d sell my place and rent that tack room over there, just to keep my eye on him,” Currin said, pointing to a nearby barn. “He’s the only trainer who’d let me have my way around here like I want.”

It’s not a bad deal. Currin, who turned 77 in May, breeds his racing stock and once trained them himself, with considerable success, until heart trouble required him to spend more and more time at Scripps Hospital in nearby La Jolla.

“I don’t really like to talk about it, but my heart has a disease for which there is no known cure,” Currin said. “It’s called cardiac amyloidosis. What it means is the heart is working at about 20 percent of how it should. It makes it very hard to get around.”

But get around he does, as much as possible, even though Currin’s days of riding show jumpers and running 5Ks have been relegated to fond memory. The flesh may be getting weak, but the spirit is more than willing, and no one loves the Thoroughbred game more.

With Rosengold and jockey Martin Garcia in against nine, Currin will be trying to bag a division of the Oceanside for the second straight year. In 2012 he celebrated opening day with My Best Brother, a son of Stormy Atlantic who went on to win the Del Mar Derby at the end of the meet.

By then My Best Brother was clearly a horse of considerable value. Currin was asked if he had buyers knocking at his door.

“People don’t offer me money,” he said with a grin. “They know I’m a fool who won’t sell his horses – unless I put one in an auction.”

Which is exactly what he did, a little more than a week after the 2012 Del Mar Derby, when the Currins sold a half brother to My Best Brother, by Bernardini, at the third session of the Keeneland yearling sale for $1.55 million to Coolmore. Only one colt sold for more at the sale.

“I’ve built about 8,000 homes in my lifetime, all over the country,” Currin said. “It took 52 seconds from start to finish to sell that colt and make a million and a half dollars pure profit. When I thought about how long it took to build all those houses I said, ‘I’m in the horse business, baby.’ ”

Currin will be back at the Keeneland sale in September with a filly by Giant’s Causeway out of Wilshewed, the dam of My Best Brother and the $1.55 million Bernardini colt, who is trained by Todd Pletcher. As these things go, it would help matters if the Bernardini colt made one of those splashy Pletcher Saratoga debuts. Short of that, Currin is counting on My Best Brother to carry the family torch when he returns to competition at the Del Mar meet.

“He had some little chips in a knee removed, and now he’s perfect,” Currin said, as he gave My Best Brother a rub on his handsome blaze. “Wayne McIlwraith, who did the surgery, told me to just lay him up, do this and do that in his rehab and he’ll come back one hundred percent. We did what he said and he was right.”

Currin will find out how right on Wednesday, July 24, when My Best Brother makes his first start in eight months in the Wickerr Stakes at a mile on grass. His ultimate goal of the summer is the Del Mar Mile, on Aug. 25.

Meanwhile, in the next door stall, Rosengold was attacking a red feed tub like a condemned man. He is by Stormello, a full brother to My Best Brother who was a major stakes winner and took Currin to the Kentucky Derby.

Rosengold gets his name from Mr. Prospector’s daughter L’il Rose. He has won four straight races after an indifferent debut, including three overnight stakes named for three pretty fast horses on the grass: Baffle, Pinjara and Tsunami Slew.

“I’m so proud of this horse, particularly because of what Stormello meant to me, and the fun we had with him,” Currin said. “And I just throw that first race out. That way I like to think of him as undefeated.”

With two fine runners carrying his colorful checkerboard silks, three prime sales prospects coming down the pipe, and the blue-hen mare who produced most of them still going strong, Currin is doing exactly what he hoped he’d be doing at this stage of the game.

“I could think about my problems if I wanted to,” Currin said. “But if you live a good life, what more can you expect? And God knows I’ve lived a good life.”