Updated on 09/15/2011 12:21PM

Love of game is ageless


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - You've got to love a 93-year-old guy who will tell anyone who walks by the exact day and date he will be 94, and does it without a flicker of a doubt.

"That was an early birthday present," said Sam Longo after watching Lazy Slusan win the Milady Handicap on Sunday at Hollywood Park. "I'll be 94 on July 29."

Longo owns Lazy Slusan in partnership with her trainer, John Dolan, and even without Longo in the mix she would be a pretty good story. Bred by Bob and Barbara Walter in northern California, the daughter of Slewvescent has been claimed at various times for $20,000, $50,000, and $62,500. Dolan has transformed Lady Slusan into the most consistent mare on the Southern California circuit, with earnings in excess of $700,000 since he took her last summer.

Still, the real miracle is Longo. A true Sicilian, he was born in Palermo, and came to America in 1917 at the age of 10. The family ended up in California - the other California.

"The town was called California, in Pennsylvania coal country," Longo said. "My dad worked in the mines. I went to school for three years, graduated from sixth grade on a Thursday and got a job the following Monday. I was in a drug company. Started as an errand boy and got to be purchasing agent. That's where I got my real education."

Longo eventually made his way to the larger, warmer California and settled in the San Gabriel Valley, north of L.A. He built a company called CP Auto Products, which is still run by his sons, and he was a regular at nearby Santa Anita.

"I used to go bowling with a friend," Longo said. "But I wasn't any good. So we tried horses."

That was 30 years ago. Since then, Longo has had a handful of useful winners. He even owns a farm in Los Alamos, near Santa Ynez. But he has had no horse remotely as successful as Lazy Slusan, who has arrived at a time when Longo can still enjoy the rush.

Longo was in the thick of the post-race excitement after the Milady, eavesdropping on Dolan's press conference, glad-handing track brass. Someone asked him how he was feeling after 93 years. He shrugged, smiled and declined to burden the listener with details.

"I'm still kicking," he said. "I still drive by myself. Hey, when I get up in the morning, I say thanks. Thanks for another day."

Soldiering on

Give Hollywood Park's racing office credit for flying boldly into the face of adversity. Here we are, in the midst of cataclysmic horse shortage - especially noticeable at the top of the game - and they are offering not only the $500,000 Californian Stakes on Sunday, but the $75,000 Californian Lite on Wednesday as well.

In truth, Wednesday's feature is named after Ack Ack, that one-horse wrecking crew who picked up the 1971 Hollywood Park meet by the neck and shook it silly. People think Kobe Bryant is versatile because he can dribble, pass, and shoot. In Ack Ack's three starts at Hollywood that summer, he won stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs on the dirt (under 130 pounds), nine furlongs on the grass (under 130), and 1 1/4 miles back on the main track in the Hollywood Gold Cup. In that one he carried 134.

Any comparison between Ack Ack and the cream of the current handicap crop is unfair. Big Ten and Early Pioneer return from injuries in Wednesday's race - hats off to Richard Mandella and Vladimir Cerin for getting them back - while Skimming and Futural emerge from the Mervyn LeRoy to head the Californian.

In the meantime, the game anxiously awaits word from the reigning Horse of the Year. Tiznow has been jogging at Santa Anita and, according to Jay Robbins, he is ready to begin galloping. What happens next is up to Tiznow's lower back, which lit up like a Christmas tree when it was scanned last March.

"Nothing shows there now," Robbins said, referring to a recent scan. "But I'd still feel a lot better if I knew what caused it in the first place."

Robbins is too smart to predict when Tiznow might be able to return, but it can't be soon enough. A year that began full of anticipation for the older division has fizzled. Of the proven commodities, only Captain Steve has reached Tiznow's level, and they may not meet again until the fall, if at all.