12/18/2009 12:00AM

For racing, gifts that keep giving


Suddenly, as if by seasonal magic, the spirit in the air turns to giving. James Cameron has presented us with another reason not to go to the movies. Tiger Woods is giving the rest of the PGA Tour a free pass in 2010. Joe Lieberman soon will be tied in a bright red ribbon and given the heave-ho by his former Democratic pals.

It's too late for Hanukkah gifts, I know. Still, I thought this might be a good time to offer a last-chance wish list of Christmas treats for a few of the good little girls and boys who populate the racing game.

* Santa Anita Park, the jewel in California's tarnished crown, deserves a fresh new ownership package at some point in 2010. Such a reprieve will not arrive in time for Christmas, nor for opening day on Dec. 26. But if the racing business in the West is going to rebound in some fashion, a healthy, stable Santa Anita rests at the heart of the recovery.

There is a possibility that a ruling will be issued some time in January as to whether or not MI Developments, which holds a lot of paper on the bankrupt Magna Entertainment Corp., Santa Anita's owners, will be allowed to make a credit bid for the track. If it gets a green light, which is not necessarily a cinch, MID would have an advantage over other interested bidders, including a group formed by the Thoroughbred Owners of California. It could also mean that Frank Stronach - chairman of both MID and MEC - would still be a large part of Santa Anita's life.

* Rarely a week passes without some track or some organization announcing some kind of plan to fund, help, or otherwise encourage the proper treatment of former Thoroughbred racehorses. The New York Racing Association was only the most recent to sign onto a tough-language, anti-slaughter policy for horses stabled at its tracks. Five years ago the issue was so far below the radar that you needed a flashlight to find anyone in authority who showed they cared. That's progress.

Not enough, though. Here's hoping that a comprehensive funding plan - or plans, if it has to be state by state - will be developed to purchase sanctuaries and cover the ongoing expenses of after-career rehabilitation, retraining, adoption and, if necessary, pasture retirement of the animals who give the game its name, not to mention its heart and soul.

* After winning two of the races on the Sunshine Millions program at Gulfstream Park last January, with the fillies High Resolve and Wild Promises, Greg Gilchrist appeared to be off and running for a banner 2009. It didn't pan out that way, which is too bad, because racing needs trainers like Gilchrist out front leading the way, taking good horses coast to coast and representing the best attributes of his craft. He'll also buy a round when he wins.

Gilchrist is unwrapping a first-timer on Sunday at Golden Gate named Memorial Way, a 2-year-old son of Distorted Humor and the fine turf mare Lady at Peace. It's a first step on a long march, but here's hoping this one at least tickles the edges of the footprints left by such recent Gilchrist stars as Smokey Stover, Indyanne and Lost in the Fog.

* At age 19, the spirit is still pretty resilient. Still, how tough was it for young Joe Talamo to wake up on the morning of the 2009 Kentucky Derby to learn that his mount, favored I Want Revenge, had been scratched? So much for a Derby debut.

If Santa plays fair, he will have a solid coming 3-year-old in his bag of goodies for Talamo, who has become one of the most accessible and entertaining personalities in the game. He can also ride, more than a little. And let us not forget that it was Bobby Frankel who originally encouraged Talamo to move to California from his native Louisiana.

* The Breeders' Cup would like a permanent home. Racing fans would like a permanent Breeders' Cup, or at least something that at least resembles the same Breeders' Cup year after year. So let's swap. The Breeders' Cup can have its permanent home wherever it wants, as long as it goes back to what it used to do very well. This would include a single day of seven or eight championship-style races, flanked on either side by well-pursed, festival-style programs that give the weekend a satisfying dramatic arc. Freaky Friday should be history. Breeders' Cup races should not be used as a tease for other Breeders' Cup races. There is, the last time anyone checked, seven games max for the World Series, and only one Super Bowl, and it has worked well for a very long time.

* Finally, and this gets personal, I hope that racing's number-one 4-year-old fan gets from Santa some kind of reprieve from the hassle of a broken left throwing arm when she unwraps her Christmas haul. Her father, your correspondent, impressed the folks at the local emergency room the other day when he looked at the X-rays on the computer screen, showing the world's sweetest little fractured humerus, just south of the shoulder, and asked, "Is it displaced? It looks a little displaced."

After seeing the X-rays of any number of battered and broken extremities from Thoroughbreds and jockeys over the past many years, it wasn't hard to spot. Fortunately, in her case, there was no need for pins, a plate, stem cell treatments, or a water recovery unit. Anyone familiar with the family should rightfully ask if the mishap involved a horse, since her mother's Hall of Fame plaque in Saratoga Springs includes both her Blue Cross number and blood type. But no, it was a playground thing, and this is one cowgirl who has vowed she will not be getting back on the tire swing any time soon. She did, however, smile when they took the X-rays.