01/07/2010 12:00AM

Some sad notes to start year

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Barbara D. Livingston
Zenyatta, a finalist for Horse of the Year, had a strong half-mile workout at Hollywood Park on Wednesday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - January is a slow time of the racing season, but a lot is going on. Some is good, while some unfortunately is sad. Things like this . . .

* Bettors knew retired trainer Cotton Tinsley as one of the longshot kings in California - his $143 payoff on 1996 Del Mar maiden winner Criso Como remains a highlight. Family and friends knew Tinsley as gentle and unselfish. Tinsley passed away last week at 81, leaving Pat, his wife of 51 years; Julie, his kind daughter; and Gary, his tough exercise-rider son. Cotton Tinsley was pure, he was old-school, and he will be missed.

* Popular sportscaster Rory Markas was an occasional visitor to the press box at Santa Anita. The affable play-by-play announcer of the California Angels always lightened the mood with his friendly demeanor. It was sad this week when Markas died at 54, way too soon for a good guy whose love of sports included a love for horses.

* It is hard to say goodbye. So thumbs-up to the connections of Lava Man for doing the right thing and retiring the 9-year-old gelding after his struggling comeback. Lava Man's place in history is secure. Claimed for $50,000, he earned more than $5 million for owners Steve, Dave and Tracy Kenly, owner Jason Wood, and trainer Doug O'Neill.

* For a guaranteed winner, any racing ran would enjoy a trip to Santa Anita to check out the recently unveiled bronze statue of the magnificent world-class gelding John Henry. Words cannot accurately describe the work, which is absolutely stunning.

* When jockey David Flores was on his game, he was among the top riders in the room. A regular for Bobby Frankel (Marquetry and Keeper Hill), and Bob Baffert (Chilukki and General Challenge), Flores was aggressive up front, strong from behind, and riding for the right outfits. But business has fallen, and Flores has announced he will no longer have an agent. Flores will represent himself, to which all you can say is, good luck.

* Jerry Hollendorfer is one of the top trainers on the West Coast and does a good job at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields. But for sheer dominance, check Portland Meadows, where Hollendorfer has won 38 races from 72 starters (52 percent). They don't run for much money in Oregon, however. The total earnings of the 72 starters were just $92,310.

* Mike Smith was talking to Santa Anita publicist Ed Golden about a 6-year-old mare Smith rides. "She's coming into her own. I know she's an older mare, but she really seems to be good right now. . . . " Smith might have been referring to Zenyatta. Rather, he was naming Silver Swallow, the gray mare who can win the Paseana Handicap (race 6) on Saturday for hot trainer Bruce Headley.

* Speaking of Zenyatta, it is increasingly likely she is not retired. Why else would she work a half-mile Wednesday at Hollywood (48 seconds) ? Racing would open its arms if the Mosses decide to campaign Zenyatta at 6. It's not like she tailed off last year.

* What if Zenyatta met Rachel Alexandra? This handicapper believes on any surface, any distance and any track, Zenyatta would run past Rachel Alexandra every time. Zenyatta is a fast horse, people forget (1:15.22 first out), and she handles any surface. One of the two best races of her career (possibly the best) was her only start on dirt, at Oaklawn.

* Gabby's Golden Gal could have been a Santa Anita stakes filly this winter meet, but her dreadful effort Dec. 26 in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes produces one conclusion - she does not like Pro-Ride. Look for trainer Bob Baffert to put her in mothballs and gear for a dirt campaign in spring. Remember, she won the Grade 1 Acorn last year at Belmont.

* Kentucky Derby hopeful Noble's Promise is being freshened, and he soon will ship to Gulfstream Park to resume training. Meanwhile, his trainer, Ken McPeek, will crank up another 3-year-old for Florida winter. Know this: expectations are high for Positive Split.

* Bryan Wagner is the 2009 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship tour champion, eight years after his wife, Judy Wagner, won the 2001 national championship. Not only is Bryan Wagner a shrewd handicapper, he also is politically astute. According to the NTRA, Wagner is a Republican Party leader in New Orleans. Sounds like a good guy.

* The first graded route for 3-year-olds will be run next weekend, and wouldn't you know it? Bob Baffert trains the favorite. One week out, 2-for-2 Conveyance looks like a "good thing" in the Grade 3 San Rafael Stakes at one mile Jan. 16. Of course, that assumes track bias does not do him in.

* The most severe anti-speed bias of the meet reared its head this week. In the early Pro-Ride races Wednesday, Jan. 6, closers dominated. The bias eliminated 40 percent of the ShowVivor contestants who thought front-runner Yankee Romance would hit the board in race 1. Instead, she hit a wall and finished last over a surface that killed speed.

* By the way, ShowVivor is a free contest at santaanita.com in which players pick one horse a day to hit the board. Sounds easy, huh? The contest started Jan. 1. Four days later, 2,789 of the original 3,215 contestants had been knocked out, including this one.

* The first 3-year-old allowance route of the Santa Anita meet was forgettable. Race 6 on Wednesday was won by Kettle River. The race was visually unimpressive, the field was bunched, and Kettle River earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 89. It appears there is nothing to follow.

* A good 3-year-old runs Saturday; European import Locksley Hall outclasses race 7, a maiden turf sprint. Runner-up in maiden sales stakes in England, Locksley Hall is poorly drawn on the rail, but that is the only knock. For a longshot hookup, try Moon Han trainee El Mirage King. In turf sprints the past five years, Han is amazing - 6 for 36 - with bomber payoffs galore and a $6.52 return on investment.