05/20/2010 11:00PM

Meier keeps comeback options open


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Randy Meier rode his 33,238th race on Dec. 3 at Hawthorne Race Course. Whether that ride was the last in a long career, Meier still hasn't fully decided. But for now, the only riding in Meier's life comes during trips from the Arlington stables to the racetrack on the back of trainer Monique Cameron's pony.

At least Meier, 55, can clearly think and talk about his future now, because a couple months ago, Meier's days unfolded obscurely, the haze on his brain, the tics in his speech the result of a brain injury suffered in that Dec. 3 race. Meier's mount, a $10,000 maiden-claimer, inexplicably tripped during the run down the backstretch. Meier fell hard, fracturing his back and knocking his head hard enough to cause bleeding on the brain.

"I'm still not 100 percent, but I'm way better than I was," Meier said Thursday morning on the sun-soaked Arlington backstretch.

Meier looks only slightly less trim than he did last November. He said his weight is at about 125 pounds right now. Meier's comfortably weathered features haven't changed, and his speech came through concretely, but one can still detect the lingering effects of the blow to Meier's brain. Meier said there was bleeding over one-third of his brain through the night of his spill. Rehab started soon afterward. The verb applied is "rechanneling" -- that is, taking information flows from damaged parts of Meier's brain and teaching healthy regions to take up the slack.

For several months, Meier was on anti-seizure medication that further addled his thoughts. He could think what he wanted to say, but often, he could not find words to express the thought, or he would use words out of order. Driving wasn't permitted, and Meier said he had no real interest in coming to the racetrack and spending time with the community he knew best.

"Over at Hawthorne, I didn't want [to be] around people so much," Meier said. "I felt like people were just looking at me."

Meier has broken some 53 bones during a spill-prone career, and in total he has missed years of work because of injury. But the problems with his mind presented Meier with difficulties he hadn't faced. Punctured lung? Go ahead -- reinflate that thing. Broken back? That'll heal in X number months. Meier would be good to go weeks sooner than doctors predicted. The brain injury is less well defined and harder for Meier to handle, "the toughest spot I've ever been in," he said.

By the time Arlington rolled around, though, Meier had come to better terms with his place in the world.

"After the career I've had, I guess I don't feel like I have anything to prove," he said. "I don't care what people think."

His doctor suggested the training-hours pony riding, and Meier said he enjoys his time on horseback and at the stables. That doesn't mean Meier wants the responsibility of a seven-days-a-week training job. And Meier, who has come back from injury so many times, still hasn't entirely ruled out a return to the racing saddle.

"My doctor talked about taking one year off and then see if I want to race again," Meier said. "He's not telling me 'no.' I've got six months in already. There's nothing for sure."

Thoughts of still another comeback? That's not a brain misfiring. That's just Randy Meier.

All-sources handle falls 33 percent

Handle on the early portion of Arlington's 2010 race meet has dropped dramatically compared with the same days in 2009, according to figures provided by the Illinois Racing Board.

The 2009 meet began on Friday, May 1; the 2010 meet on Thursday, April 29. To compare figures more accurately using the same days of the week, the board matched the 10 days of the 2010 meet beginning with the Friday, April 30 card, against the first 10 days of the 2009 meet. In that span, total all-sources handle on Arlington races has fallen 33 percent from 2009, from $46,498,988 last year to $31,369,407 this season. Particularly surprising is the free-fall in out-of-state handle on Arlington races, which has plunged 37 percent since last year, from $37,732,564 to $23,932,218. Ontrack betting on Arlington races has declined a more moderate 15 percent, from $4,622,373 to $3,309,646. This is the first year that online wagering has been legal in Illinois, and during the 10 recorded days this year, $582,743 was bet online in Illinois on Arlington races.

Arlington president Roy Arnold declined to comment on the early-meet declines, citing the small sample size. Arnold said he would address business levels at the end of May, when a more accurate assessment of trends could be formed.

Peitz's turf runners impress

Arlington newcomer Dan Peitz said he's not had any problems so far adapting to his first meet with a synthetic-track surface. Anyway, it's on turf that Peitz did damage last weekend. Peitz won two grass races Sunday, one with a promising-looking maiden named Classic Eagle, who won in his first grass try, the other with a 5-year-old horse named Tajaaweed.

Tajaaweed, a Shadwell Stables horse by Dynaformer, hadn't raced since June 20 at Ascot in England. He won a second-level allowance race on Sunday, showing good stretch acceleration. Tajaaweed made only two starts in 2009, and only three in 2008, though he obviously had been well regarded as a younger horse: At 2, he was just a 10-1 chance in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy Stakes, and at 3, Tajaaweed went off at 10-1 in the Epsom Derby, where he finished eighth.

"When he came to me last September, he wasn't very good in the hind end, and he'd had a history of not being very good behind," Peitz said. "I just kind of messed around with him for a few weeks."

Tajaaweed wound up at a veterinary clinic in Lexington, but nothing serious was diagnosed, and Tajaaweed went on to Shadwell's quarters in Camden, S.C., for the winter. And sometime early this year, Tajaaweed turned a corner.

"When he finally went the right way, they breezed him on the grass a couple times at Camden, and they said he breezed like a wild horse," Peitz said. "They sent him to me at Oaklawn in March, and he looked great when he came in."

If Tajaaweed holds up, Peitz would like to race him once in June, then point for the Arlington Handicap in July.