03/10/2005 12:00AM

Through it all, cause to celebrate


ARCADIA, Calif. - It will come as a surprise, and perhaps a disappointment, to informed readers that today's space will not be dedicated to the contents of a recent Los Angeles Times sports column that purported to quote accurately a Thoroughbred trainer on controversial topics and the incendiary reaction to those purportedly accurate quotes by others in the horse racing business.

Translation: You will not see, except for now, the words "Mullins," "Simers," "de Seroux" or "idiot," as in, "Jeff Mullins knows he was an idiot for letting T.J. Simers get under his skin, although for some reason Laura de Seroux really got a kick out of reading about it."

Of course, that is not to say the tale can be ignored. Even the most sensational stories, empty-headed or otherwise, have a self-perpetuating ability in today's media market. There is very little chance that Idiotgate will die down soon, so there will be plenty of time to sift through the damage later, once the high level of toxic radiation has abated.

Besides, and believe it or not, there are a couple other things that happened in the racing world this week. For those who care, read on. All others, merely Google "horse racing self destruct" and enjoy the bitter feast. In the meantime. . . .Did you hear about the guy at Magna Entertainment Corp. who lost his job? No not that guy. Not him, either. Nope, the other one. The other other one. Here's a hint:

"We have had some turnover at Magna Entertainment," said Frank Stronach, MEC chairman of the board, in a Canadian publication last August. "But Jim McAlpine is our chief executive, and he's going into his fourth year. I'm very optimistic that we have strong executives in place throughout the company."

In previous announcements it was, among others, Roman Doroniuk, Andrew Gaughan, John Perotta, Jack Liebau, Bill Bridgen, Brian Tobin, Bill Davis, or Chris McCarron who were relieved, reassigned, or resigned. This time it was McAlpine, CEO of MEC since 2001 and the company's primary spokesman when Stronach was not available.

The new CEO is W. Thomas Hodgson, whose background in operating a racetrack company includes upper management roles with such firms as Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Canada Permanent Trust Co., Central Guaranty Trust and Marathon Asset Management Inc. Hodgson's mandate is to "improve financial discipline" in the wake of the company's more than $200 million in losses over the past two years. Start counting those paper clips.

A publicly traded company such as MEC - whose tracks include Santa Anita, Lone Star, and Gulfstream Park - answers primarily to its own shareholders and has every right to shuffle senior managers at will.

However, the owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and stable hands whose lives depend on MEC tracks, reserve the right to worry themselves sick over the stability of their world when the people driving the mother ship are changed with such regularity.

Then again, some things never change. On Wednesday, in a blissfully serene corner of the racing world, the cantankerous John Henry was fawned over by more than 200 fans at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington on the occasion of his 30th birthday. There was cake, souvenir T-shirts, and considerable fuss, but anyone who has a 98-year-old grandfather knows that all John-John really wanted to do was get back in his Barcalounger and take a nap.

"He behaved himself really well," said Cathy Roby, manager of the Horse Park Hall of Champions, with a measure of both surprise and relief.

By now, it has become apparent that John Henry lives on, against all actuarial odds, for the sole purpose of reminding the rest of us how good a Thoroughbred can truly be if given the patience and horsemanship he deserves.

From 1977 through 1979, John Henry was a blip on the radar screen, winning a few decent races and bouncing through several barns. From 1980 through 1984, under V.J. Nickerson and then Ron McAnally, he was a champion, with a reign rivaling those of Kelso or Forego, and seven distinct Eclipse Awards to his name.

As a racehorse, John Henry was a model of reliability. His action on grass was especially pure, and his jockeys all loved the ride. Laffit Pincay was among them.

"With a superior horse like John Henry, who is going to do everything right all the time, the only way you can get him beat is by making a mistake," Pincay once said.

Sam Rubin, who raced John Henry with his wife, Dorothy, never lets a day go by without a thought for his old horse.

"I sold thousands and thousands of bicycles, and about 10 people knew me," Rubin said. "We had one horse, and we were known all over the world."

The Rubins, who live in Palm Beach, were not able to make the trip to Kentucky for John Henry's party. The 91-year-old Rubin does, however, have a gift in mind that can be shared by racing fans, long after John Henry is gone.

"Dorothy and I have decided, when we go, that we're donating all John Henry's trophies to the Kentucky Horse Park," Rubin said. "They've taken care of him so beautifully for all these years, we thought it was the least we could do."