A Horse-Racing Roundup, Featuring Earl Warren’s Off-Track Betting and Santa Ynez’s Stars

Affirmed, Gentle Charmer, and the Tin Man

There is a slowdown of the sports carousel when holiday shopping picks up speed, although surfers came out in droves last week when the monstrous waves smashed into our shores. You had to be a strong and capable athlete to tackle those behemoths. I thought of dousing myself in a shower, sticking some kelp in my ear, and walking along the beach with an old surfboard under my arm, just to impress the hoi polloi.

The football teams of Bishop Diego and Santa Clara high schools made a solid impression on the couple thousand fans who trekked from Santa Barbara to watch their CIF championship showdown in Moorpark last Saturday. Bishop’s Cardinals had lost their previous two games against the Saints from Oxnard in the final minute of play. This one was closer. Santa Clara tied it up late in the fourth quarter and won in overtime, 20-14. The Saints and Cardinals are linked like Ali-Frazier and Affirmed-Alydar.

Affirmed was the last racehorse to win the Triple Crown. In all three races-the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont-Alydar finished a step behind the champion. It happened in 1978, and the sport has been looking for the next great horse ever since.

Lotteries and casinos have pulled gamblers away from horse racing, but there still is enough of a following in Santa Barbara to keep the satellite wagering facility at the Earl Warren Showgrounds limping along. It is open whenever there are races going on in California-currently, Hollywood Park and Golden Gate Fields are running-and simulcasts of out-of-state races also are offered. “On Friday night, we had races in Japan,” said satellite manager Bill Connolly. “Some people put down bets on them.”

Admission to the facility is $5 (a dollar off for seniors 55 and older). Luis Dratewka greets patrons at the entrance. “For the old-timers, this place is like home,” said Dratewka, who has been selling daily programs for almost 20 years. He estimated there are 400 attendees in an average week, but it’s slower this time of year and in April before tax day. Next week it will be dark Monday through Thursday.

Horse racing is more than video screens and machines spitting out tickets. For the sights, sounds, and smells of the sport, you have to go to the track. Opening day at Santa Anita, the splendid park off the 210 freeway in Arcadia, is the day after Christmas. The meeting will continue until April 20, usually on a Thursday-Monday schedule.

I spent a nice afternoon at Santa Anita last month at the end of the Oak Tree meeting that occurs in the fall. It was day of the California Cup, featuring horses that were bred in this state. Three consecutive winners were sired by BerÂ-trando, a stallion that resides at River Edge Farm in Buellton. One of those winners was Gentle Charmer, a five-year-old mare that went off at 55-1 odds in the California Cup Distaff. That $2 bet I failed to make would have provided $110 for Christmas shopping.

Perhaps the finest racehorse with a connection to this area is the Tin Man. The nine-year-old gelding, one of the last offspring of Affirmed, is owned by Ralph Todd of Santa Ynez. The Tin Man has responded to tender loving care by Todd and trainer Richard Mandella to earn more than $3.6 million in his career. He won this year’s Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park and was runner-up in the Arlington Million, a race he won in 2006. He would have been one of the favorites in the Breeders’ Cup Turf World Championship, but Todd decided to let him rest up for next year.

“The Tin Man has been good to me,” said Todd. “He runs his heart out every time. He deserves a break.”

HOLIDAY HOOPS: The only home game this month for the UCSB women’s basketball team is Monday, December 17. The Gauchos will try to shake off last week’s 0-2 trip to Oregon against the Pepperdine Waves. UCSB’s men will take their glossy 9-1 record to Ball State (Indiana) on Wednesday, December 19, and visit number-one North Carolina three nights later. Westmont College has a women’s/men’s doubleheader against Trinity Western (B.C.) on Monday, and, starting Wednesday, the Santa Barbara High Tournament of Champions will stage four days of highly competitive girls basketball at various gyms.


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