Updated on 09/15/2011 12:36PM

Until Sundown keeping Port young


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Imagine what it takes to get a street named for you in a place like downtown Chicago. It's probably a cinch if you answer to Halas, Ditka, Jordan, or Banks. Sandberg would rate. So would Dreiser. Maybe even Bill Murray.

In the case of Sid Port, though, it was only fair. After all, he once named a horse after Chicago.

Bywayofchicago, a foal of 1974, was only one of the many good runners Port has owned over the past 30 years. His best horse was probably Claire Marine, winner of the Beverly D. and Matriarch Stakes in 1989. Port's Palikaraki was a long-winded grass ace who won races like the Arlington Handicap. In 1997 Port won the Gotham Stakes with Smokin Mel.

Now Port has the upwardly mobile 3-year-old colt Until Sundown, a laid-back dude who will be on a mission this Sunday when he takes on Congaree in the $500,000 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park. A victory would put Until Sundown on the national map, opening up a realm of heady possibilities. It also would give his owner another reason to believe that life begins at 90, which he turned on March 7.

"It's been a great year for me," Port said Friday morning as he prepared to head west for the Swaps. "A lot of good things have happened in a short time. I feel good. I still go to work five days a week, doing all the things I ever did. Maybe not quite as well, but I'm doing them."

The Port portfolio spans most of Chicago's 20th century. He was born downtown - Clark and Lake streets - and now lives on Lakeshore and Bellevue, about a mile and a half away. The street sign in front of his home was recently graced with the title of "Honorary Sid Port Place."

"Practically my whole life has been spent within a couple miles of that sign," Port said with unmistakeable pride. "My law school, my grammar school, my original business."

Port spent the early years of his working life as a lawyer, a salesman and a publisher before starting a hardware parts company called Lawson Products. That was in 1952. He named the company for Victor Lawson, the former publisher of the Chicago Daily News, community leader, and philanthropist.

After taking his company public in 1970, Port continued to build the business. Lawson can lay claim to 49 straight years of profitability, and had $348 million in net sales for the year 2000.

Port's newfound personal wealth gave him the chance to spread his wings into other arenas. He became a vigorous patron of Chicago's theater and classical music community. He bankrolled hospital wings and helped fund university programs. He also bought a Thoroughbred racehorse.

"A friend of mine had a couple of kids who just graduated from Yale," Port recalled. "He wanted them to be doctors, like him, but one of them was a veterinarian and the other was a horse trainer. He asked if I could maybe buy a horse to help his kids.

"So we bought a horse named Ardent Combat. Of course he won, and I was hooked. My friend stayed with me as an owner for about a year, then dropped out. But I stayed with his kid, the trainer, for 20 years."

Port's racing investment kicked into high gear when he met J. Robert Fluor, the industrialist and former California racing commissioner who was also an owner and breeder. In partnership with Charlie Whittingham, Port and Fluor campaigned a number of stakes winners and established El Rancho Murietta in the high desert, east of Los Angeles, then sold the property for a handsome profit in the late 1980's.

Port lays claim to at least 17 different trainers during his time in the game, but he has a special bond with Laura de Seroux, who has developed Until Sundown. De Seroux worked for Whittingham as an exercise rider. Later, as a bloodstock agent, she helped acquire Claire Marine for Port and Whittingham.

Now she trains the California division of Port's 40-horse stable.

"Laura ranks with the best of my trainers, even at this early stage in her career," Port said. "There's no one who imitates Charlie more closely, and she's got good ideas of her own."

Port never runs out of ideas, either, when it comes to promoting the racing business. His greatest frustration stems from the fact that horse owners are nearly invisible when it comes to public recognition. And it has nothing to do with ego. Port points to a practical side.

"Look, there are hundreds of people like me who own horses, who have substantial businesses, with millions of people working for them," he said.

"Those people are all interested in the boss's horses.

"But the boss can't put that on a bulletin board at work. You just can't mix that kind of thing in business. They ought to be able to read in the papers who owns the horses, so they can know when they can bet on a horse owned by the boss. There's millions in potential dollars being missed every day."

Port added that many times owners are too shy for the good of the game.

"A lot of owners are guys who have given hundreds of speeches," he said. "And then there they stand in the winner's circle like dummies. Nobody ever asks them a thing, and they don't say a word. After all, you've got pride in being in the business, and you should speak up."

Fair warning, then. If Until Sundown wins the Swaps, save some time for Sid Port. Chicago did.