08/05/2010 3:26PM

Memories of a friend linger at the track and beyond


There are few immediate consolations for losing a good friend. Having the best racehorse you’ve ever owned run a week after his death helps, but only so much.

So it will be on Saturday when Jerry Moss shares Zenyatta once again with California fans, in the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at a mile and one-sixteenth on the synthetic main track at Del Mar. Zenyatta won the Hirsch in 2008 and then again in 2009, both with her trademark, closing style that would seem to be compromised by the short Del Mar stretch.

With only token opposition in the Hirsch, Saturday could end up more of a celebration, as well as a chance for Zenyatta’s legion of local fans to bask once again in delight of her walking-ring choreography, her placid stroll to the gate, and her heart-stopping dramatics once the gates pop. Someday, her act will get old. Someday.

The race comes just seven days after Tom Mankiewicz, a man who knew great pop entertainment when he saw it, lost a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 68.

Moss and Mankiewicz first met in 1968 on the set of a television network special called “Beat of the Brass,” as in Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. Mankiewicz was hired as a writer for the show, and Moss was on the scene because he was Alpert’s partner at A&M Records.

“To this day, we never agreed on how much he was paid,” Moss said. “Tom thought it was higher and I thought it was less. I soon discovered Tom had an affinity for gin rummy, as I did, so that was something to do while we were on the set, waiting for people to show up. That’s how we started hanging out, for 42 years.”

And Tom’s script for the special? A killer?

“We never got one, actually,” Moss said with a laugh. “I think Tom came up with a line or two, but that was all we needed.”

For anyone born since about 1940, chances are they have been thoroughly entertained by something that either Mankiewicz or Moss had a hand in making happen. The list of musical acts that emerged under the A&M banner is long and of infinite variety, beginning with the Brass and Brasil ’66 and eventually including The Carpenters, The Police, Oingo Boingo, Carole King, Styx, Joe Jackson and, Supertramp, among a whole lot more.

Mankiewicz was the son of two-time Oscar winner Joseph Mankiewicz, the man who wrote “All About Eve” and directed Marlon Brando in “Julius Caesar.” The pedigree got the son a foot in the door, after which Tom took the bit and ran with it, writing or rewriting screenplays for the first two Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve and playing a key creative role in the James Bond franchise during the 1970s. Mankiewicz also wrote and produced a guilty pleasure called “Mother, Jugs and Speed,” for which he owed no one an apology, unless you’ve got a problem with Raquel Welch.

Mankiewicz also found himself consorting with racetrack types, including Moss and Bond producer Cubby Broccoli, which set the hook. Moss got Mankiewicz involved in a Thoroughbred partnership they called the Run for Fun Bunch, after which Tom, spreading his wings, went on to own such major stakes winners as Dearest Trickski and Victory Encounter.

“This was a guy that every parking lot attendent, every waiter, every busboy – they all loved Tom,” Moss said. “He had a word for everybody.”

And conversation to burn. Mankiewicz, who also had a home in Kenya, loved nothing more than tossing around ideas, needling with abandon, and embracing a broad array of subjects with passion. Those passions included his role as chief fund-raiser for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association – they named a leopard cub “Tom” in his honor – and teaching graduate studies film class at Chapman University.

“At Chapman he found a situation where he could talk for two hours and not be interrupted,” Moss said. “The kids, they had to listen.”

As he spoke, Moss was standing in front of Zenyatta’s stall at Del Mar, late Thursday morning. She had just finished her second tour of the track, and trainer John Shirriffs was pleased, which in turn gave Moss the feeling that all was well and on target for the Hirsch two days hence. Zenyatta would be going for her 18th win without a defeat.

“I was at the reading of Tom’s will yesterday, so being here today is great,” Moss said. “I needed it. There was no service. His ashes will be scattered at sea. But we will have a memorial for him sometime in late September. Chapman was about to bestow an honor upon him, and the zoo association had plans for a special tribute to him next year, for all his work.”

For a racing fan and doting owner like Moss, there will be no better place to be on Saturday than front row center to witness whatever Zenyatta has in store this time around. Even so, he expects the memory of his friend will intervene.

“I saw him on the day he passed away,” Moss said. “He’s in a better place, let me tell you that. It’s a little clich é , I know, but I do want to remember him for the good times, and the great friend he was. You’re grateful for the time you have with someone like that. But then, there’s never enough.”