Updated on 09/16/2011 9:51AM

This year's moments to remember


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The NTRA is once again fielding votes from racing fans for what it calls horse racing's Moment of the Year. The moment is supposed to illustrate a "wide range of human emotions and achievements, as well as outstanding displays of equine athleticism," wording obviously crafted by lawyers to disqualify the candidacy of my long-hair dachshund's debut at the Los Alamitos Wiener Nationals last June.

There are 10 rather predictable events listed as choices. They range from Volponi's upset of the Breeders' Cup Classic to Chris McCarron's victorious farewell ride aboard Came Home in the Affirmed Handicap. Seattle Slew's death is a candidate, as are all three races in the Triple Crown.

Of course, the rightful winner is a no-brainer. Anyone who has been following the sport with any degree of clarity knows that the most significant moment of 2002 took place some time around 3 o'clock on the afternoon of Oct. 26, when Autotote employee Chris Hahn hit the "enter" key after altering the Breeders' Cup pick six tickets that shocked the racing world.

Granted, the NTRA would prefer to recognize an event that casts a better light on the game. But racing is real life, warts and all, so why not cast the net far and wide when choosing the most memorable moment of the year. For instance:

* Comebacks were in fashion during 2002. There seemed to be one announced every week. Pat Valenzuela, Shane Sellers, and what's her name, Julie Krone, obviously topped the list. But don't forget the return of trainer Lefty Nickerson, the man behind Big Spruce, Reinvested, and the introduction of John Henry to Ron McAnally.

Six years ago, at the age of 66, Nickerson suffered a stroke that nearly finished him off. In May, he began supervising a small stable at Belmont Park. Then on Sept. 20, in the sixth at Belmont, he had his first starter. As moments go, that one was a keeper.

* In the spring of 2001, Yvonne Azeff made headlines as the assistant trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos. That was nothing, however, compared to her appearance at a press conference on Oct. 17 at the Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville, Ky.

Eight months earlier, she had been critically injured on the job at Gulfstream Park when she was slammed into a barn wall by an unruly pony. The accident underlined the hard fact that even the most gifted rider must be on constant watch while on horseback. After emerging from a coma and undergoing months of exhausting therapy, Azeff stepped forward with a message of hope that she would be back to work in the John Ward stable in Florida this winter.

* Most of the NTRA candidates are caught in moments of victory. And while winning is memorable, there can be nobility in all kinds of defeat. Bosque Redondo, a 5-year-old son of Mane Minister, did not win the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 25. In fact, he finished fourth, and then fractured his right front ankle barely yards after the wire.

That was an unforgettable moment, filled with all the nagging contradictions of the sport, since it was Bosque Redondo's stablemate, Came Home, who ended up winning the race. The smiles were stiff in the winner's circle that day, but the story could have a happy ending. Bosque Redondo not only survived extensive surgery, he has been a champion in recovery. There still may be little Redondos running around someday.

* For temporary respite from such inspiring tales of adversity overcome, let us turn to one of racing's most memorable behavioral moments of 2002. Kent Desormeaux and Victor Espinoza were both cited for their actions after the running of the March 2 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita. Their transgressions involved the use of the whip - on each other. Desormeaux, who had just won $24,000, was fined $500, while Espinoza was fined $250, which presumably means that Kent hit Victor twice as hard. But don't judge them harshly. The horses were highly entertained.

* Did anyone take a picture of Russell Reineman's face, or check his pulse rate, right around 6 p.m. on May 4 when War Emblem hit the eighth pole of the Kentucky Derby and found another gear? That agonizing brush with racing's ultimate "what if?" had to rank among the most bittersweet moments of 2002, for no one had ever disposed of an eventual Derby winner barely a month before the race.

"Hey, Mr. Reineman, you just let the Kentucky Derby slip through your fingers after a lifetime in the business! What are you going to do now?" Chances are, he wasn't in the mood for Disneyland.

* Finally, a personal candidate for the moment of the year was announced last February when a District Court in Tokyo ruled that the death of a Japanese racing writer was caused by work that was "both mentally and physically demanding," citing a work load burdened by extensive travel, pressure to meet deadlines, provide exclusive coverage, and work days that sometimes began as early as 5 a.m.

Never mind that the poor guy died in 1986. Sometimes, the wheels take a little time to grind out true justice.