I had been to Clocker’s Corner at Santa Anita one morning to watch the “Sandman,” Sandy Hawley (Hall of Fame jockey and a personal friend) work a couple of horses for Bob Frankel and Mike Mitchell.
Like most mornings in Arcadia, until the sun clears the majestic San Gabriel Mountains, it was on the chilly side and I nursed my “Half & Half”( one part coffee, one part hot chocolate ) along to counter the frigid morning air. It was a concoction the Sandman had introduced me to several years earlier during one of my visits to Santa Anita.
For those who have never had the opportunity to visit Clocker’s Corner in the morning, it is a must before you kick. The effervescent activity between agents, jockeys and trainers is a site to behold and a language to decipher. There are trainers quoting the manual for ” Ongoing Excuses To Owners ” and some that just make them up as they go along but it is truly an experience every racing fan should be exposed to at least once. The ongoing wrangling is amazing and many races are won and lost over coffee down at the corner.
The Sandman finished his commitments that morning and, as agreed upon earlier, we were to meet up at the race office to visit our old and dear friend, Nancy. Nancy, who had been a mainstay there for years, was one of the kindest ladies I have ever had the pleasure to meet. She always hooked me up with clubhouse passes and a reserved box to park myself, along with mandatory handicapping tools with it.
To attest to Nancy’s kindness, she once insisted that I take a program that Laffitt Pincay Jr. had autographed especially for her. She knew that I was a huge Pincay fan and really wanted me to have it. I couldn’t accept it knowing Laffitt had autographed it especially for her and also knowing that I already had several Pincay autographs in my collection thanks to the Sandman.
That particular morning, Nancy had a certain twinkle in her eye and I instinctively knew she was up to something. People being ” up to things ” is a regular occurrence in most racing offices, but today seemed different. She passed me an envelope with my passes, smiled and said “enjoy the races Mr. Stone.”
After a delightful breakfast at Mimi’s Cafe, a regular breakfast hangout just down the street from the track, we loaded back into the Edsel and headed back to the oval in Arcadia. Since Sandy was riding that afternoon we checked into the jock’s room a little early just to say hello to the regulars. We did the usual box to box rounds, shaking hands and renewing old acquaintances.
I jumped up on the scale hoping to weigh in around 108-109 but once again I was 92lbs over weight! Darned scales, they squashed my thoughts of a career in the saddle immediately. I climbed up on the Equicizer ( a phony horse that jock’s use to loosen up on ) but once again it became apparent I had made the right choice being in sales and not the saddle. The Sandman had booked a rub down and I had better things to do so I quickly made my exit from the land of the munchkins and headed to the safety of my private box in the clubhouse.
It had rained a little that morning and there was a constant drip from the eavestrough falling on my Racing Form and program. Sensing my frustration, the elderly couple beside me offered me a chair in their private box. Startled at first, I struck up a conversation with these unassuming seniors.
They explained to me that the rain had been leaking all over the owner of the box I was seated in for some time and he had let the racing office know, on several occasions, of his displeasure with the situation. It turned out I was seated in the private box of one Fred Stone. For those who don’t know who Fred Stone is, climb out from under that rock and get to any decent art store. When you lay your eyes on the man’s work, you’ll never forget who Fred Stone is again. I am lucky to have a couple of Stone’s prints in our home and have spent hours upon hours enjoying them.
In order to escape the ongoing raindrops from Mr. Stronach’s leaky eavesetrough ( in all fairness I don’t think he owned the place yet ), I accepted refuge in the elderly couple’s rain-free space and settled in for an afternoon of entertainment. It didn’t come from the horse races. These people had racing story after racing story to share with me and, being a huge racing fan, I couldn’t get enough.
The one story that resonated with me was about a young woman who had Cerebral Palsy and found relief by riding in a hot air balloon far above the surface of the earth. Her name was Serena and this elderly couple donated money so that this less fortunate young lady could get what little enjoyment in life that she could by ballooning. The balloon itself was called “Serena’s Song” and the elderly couple, which I had been entertained by all afternoon, were Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lewis.
Bob and Beverly Lewis also owned the marvelous filly, Serena’s Song, and after every win they donated a portion of the purse in order to allow young Serena her pleasure. God Bless the Lewises for their generosity to that less fortunate little girl and for their kindness to a perfect stranger that afternoon at Santa Anita. I was amazed by the tales Mr. Lewis told me of his life in the distillery business and his love for people and horses. He is truly missed.
I caught the late double that afternoon for a sawbuck and escaped with a tidy profit of assorted Jackson’s and Hamilton’s but the real bounty that day was the memories I took away from the time spent with this lovely couple.
We thank Bruce for sharing his story! You can follow him on Twitter at @bk_buck.
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