06/27/2004 11:00PM

Some good news, some bad


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - After two weeks of holiday, deserved or not, it is suddenly time to catch up. Time to dive into the pile of news clips, sort through the e-mails, and go back to work with a fresh and invigorated attitude. You in the back, stop laughing.

Two weeks represent an eternity in terms of news cycles, and horse racing is no exception. Apparently, while I was out, some of the following things occurred:

Half the 2004 season is now in the books.

A jockey fired his agent.

The Derby winner was sold.

Ten Most Wanted was retired.

Azeri lost another one.

The Derby winner went back to work.

Ten Most Wanted was maybe not retired.

The governor of California went native (American).

P.J. Cooksey went out on her own terms.

And the Laffit Pincay Award was announced, to be presented annually by Hollywood Park to a person who has served the sport with integrity, extraordinary dedication, determination, and distinction. They should give the first one to Laffit, then retire the trophy.

Half a racing season is meaningless in terms of final verdicts, although the first six months of 2004 will linger in the head and heart for a very long time, thanks to Smarty Jones and the Triple Crown colts who tested him to the limit. The news that Smarty Jones could race three or four more times this year and maybe even next is almost enough to restore lost faith.

The leaders of California's racing industry got a cold shower of political reality when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a deal with a handful of wealthy Indian tribes for an increase of casino profits to state coffers. The move effectively left racetracks dangling in the wind with their November ballot initiative that would have brought slots to places like Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Bay Meadows, and Golden Gate Fields. As part of his deal with the tribes, the governor pledged to vigorously oppose the racetrack slots initiative, which has effectively, ahem, terminated any chance for its passage.

The last two weeks brought truly grim news as well. Puzzlement was a nice horse and a Saratoga stakes winner who was lucky enough to be trained by Allen Jerkens. He was only 5 when he died from an infection. The promising 18-year-old French apprentice Anthony Carre, who rode out every morning with Gary Stevens and the horses of Andre Fabre, was trampled last Wednesday in a race at Maisons-Laffitte and remains in a coma. Then there was the murder of Dr. Morley Engelson.

Engelson was stabbed to death June 13 in his Hollywood, Calif., home by a drugged-out transient who had just beheaded Engelson's neighbor, Robert Lees. Engelson was 69, Lees was 91.

Lees got most of the newsplay because he was a formerly blacklisted screenwriter from the 1950's whose credits included a series of films with comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. But for anyone in the horse racing world, Engelson was the real story. His trainer was Bobby Frankel.

"I was flying back to California from New York and ended up sitting next to his wife," Frankel recalled. "We got to talking about horses. That's how we started."

That was more than 20 years ago, and for the next 15 years, Dale and Morley Engelson occupied a small but significant corner of Frankel's growing stable. They began quietly, with a few claimers and the Arizona stakes winner Tally Ho the Fox, then began hitting home runs with runners like Mashkour and Marquetry.

Mashkour gave the Engelsons a piece of racing history in 1991, when, at the age of 8, the reinvigorated French horse won the San Juan Capistrano Invitational at Santa Anita Park. The following year, Frankel and the Engelsons went into partnership to buy into Hollywood Gold Cup winner Marquetry, a son of Conquistador Cielo who went on to win the Eddie Read Handicap on the grass and the Meadowlands Cup on the main track.

"Morley was very sincere, and a guy who really cared about other people," Frankel recalled this week. "You couldn't find a nicer guy. It's hard to find the words to describe him. And I'm not just saying that because he died."

Frankel said that he'd lost regular contact with Engelson over the last few years, from about the time the Engelsons divorced and stopped racing horses. Though retired from his practice as an internist, Engelson maintained a respected reputation for his work with sleep disorders, and he continued to teach a course in bedside manner. He is survived by his current wife, Valerie, a son, a stepson, a stepdaughter, and two grandsons.

"It's funny what comes to mind when you hear bad news like that," Frankel said. "At Del Mar, for a few years, we shared a house, and he always checked the doors to make sure they were locked, all the time. Me, I'm always leaving doors unlocked. But he would even lock the door to his own room. He was so careful that way, it struck me as very strange that someone could break into his house. It makes you think, if it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone."