07/25/2003 12:00AM

Read helped Del Mar to grow up


DEL MAR, Calif. - It has been 30 years since Eddie Read died, at the age of 56, after suffering his second heart attack. The following year, Del Mar management created the Eddie Read Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the grass, a race destined to become one of the major components of the summer stakes calendar.

Endowed these days with a $400,000 purse, the Read will be run again on Sunday. The best of the West Coast mid-distance grass horses will compete, and the winner will need to be a good horse. Only one question remains:

Who was Eddie Read?

"I guess it's been a long time," said Dan Smith, Del Mar's director of media. "I get asked that a lot more."

In the past week, at tracks across the land, there have been races named for a mixed bag of racing personalities, including Evan Shipman, Bing Crosby, John C. Mabee, Bernard Baruch, Rose DeBartolo, Vincent Moscarelli, and the Prince of Wales.

But where does Eddie Read fit with that bunch? He was hardly a Wall Street financier like Baruch or an all-around horseman like Moscarelli, although he was a prince of a guy. Read was closer in spirit to Shipman, a racing journalist, and if he had lived, Read would have been working for Mabee, who became Del Mar's chairman of the board.

Read was honored with a high-profile race because he helped make Del Mar a high-profile racetrack. As the man responsible for marketing, media, and public relations, Read left his imprint on the sport as Del Mar's ambassador to both the industry and the public in an era when horse racing was still considered a major-league sport.

Read was from a small town in Ontario, Canada, the son of a cabinet-maker, and journeyed with his family to Los Angeles as a teenager. Read graduated from Inglewood High and ended up working as a publicist for Warner Bros. The Sherlock Holmes movies, starring Basil Rathbone, were Read's top product.

It was the mystery of the racetrack, however, that lured Read south to Del Mar. His challenge was to help maintain Del Mar's aura as a summer spa for L.A. racing fans at a time when the market in local San Diego was smaller than small. Del Mar, in the 1950's, was a virtual island of tile roofs and quiet beaches.

Read involved himself in all areas of Del Mar management. Today, he would be described as vertically integrated. Beyond his ability as a communicator, he had an abiding love for the intellectually challenging world of Thoroughbred bloodlines. Read could quote them chapter and verse, and what he did not know, he could find in his constantly growing Del Mar library of research volumes.

Read's most everlasting contribution, however, occurred in the late 1950's when he returned from an Australian racing adventure with Del Mar director W.R. Hawn. Inspired by the racing "down under," Read began to campaign for Del Mar management to install a turf course. At the time, only Santa Anita had California grass racing. In 1960, the new turf course was unveiled, and Del Mar started to grow up.

Read's legacy is assured, not only by the race named in his honor, but also by the presence of his son, Tim Read, as Del Mar director of operations since 1996. Rarely does a day go by when the son does not appreciate what his father helped create.

"As the years have passed, I've learned the magnitude of his reputation," said Read, who was just 21 when his father died. "He was probably the first real image of Del Mar, the person who really represented the track in the minds of racing people all over the country, like Joe Harper does today.

"I know when I'm gone, six months later no one is going to remember me," Read added. "But this guy - my dad - really made a mark on a lot of people."

Redattore ready for third spin

It would be inappropriate to run an Eddie Read Handicap without Redattore, so here we go again. The 8-year-old South American is healthy, happy, and ready to tee it up for the third straight year.

Redattore won the Read in 2001 and finished third in 2002. This year, he seems on top of his game after victories in the two most important mile races in California, the Kilroe at Santa Anita and the Shoemaker at Hollywood Park.

"As long as I don't mention airplanes to him, he's okay," said his trainer, Richard Mandella. "I think he might be afraid to fly."

Twice in the past, Mandella has tried to send Redattore in search of riches out of state, and both times the horse fell ill. Circling Mandella's ring Friday morning, Redattore was the picture of self-satisfaction, flashing his distinctive blaze left and right as he surveyed his domain.

"He definitely wants to lead the herd," Mandella said. "He thinks he's in charge. Move a bucket or a hayrack and he'll holler like you needed to check with him first. I'm starting to think he just doesn't trust us to take care of things if he leaves town."