1978. I was working as a freelance photographer mostly at that point. I walked horses, groomed horses and ponied horses to the track in the mornings. Henry Moreno signed for my first license and was the best guy in the world to have in your corner. At Hollywood Park one morning, his new pony had come in and was tacked up, waiting for Henry. He hadn’t gotten there yet, so I took the pony for a spin and while pony horse is what they are called, these horses are nothing like a “pony”. I had a blast, the horse was really responsive and when I got back to Henry’s barn, he came out and asked for his new ride I got off, and he got up. As they went off to the track, the pony spooked at something and Henry of course got the horse sorted out and continued on. Henry turned back to me and called “what would have happened if he did that when you were out goofing off on him? I said “who said he didn’t? same as you ” I found out this week that Henry is not well, age is getting the better of him. It has been a rough few weeks, Hollywood Park is pretty much demolished and gone. Then to find out about Henry was another blow. Life goes on though.
Our still current Triple Crown Champion Affirmed had yet to be crowned 37 years ago about this time. I didn’t travel with the barn (Barreras) , and was not too nervous about that Belmont to be run. The irritating thing that has dogged Affirmed’s legacy is that it is so often said “the Affirmed and Alydar rivalry” Oh right. The thing that people fail to see, is that while the races Affirmed were won, they were not won by a wide margin. If Secretariat was a jock, my friend Affirmed was the computer lab geek who ran and won at cross country. He would never run any harder than to get the job done. He was smart and funny and loved his naps. Juan Alaniz, Affirmed’s groom was my friend. The trainers I knew on the backside looked out for me, steered me in the right direction. I drew and took photographs with a huge Vivitar camera. I spent time sitting and waiting while Affirmed napped, which was a favorite pastime of his. I was different. A kid who could recite Thoroughbred pedigrees back four or five generations upon demand That was long before computers. I was bitten by the horse racing bug when I was 10. My first trip to Santa Anita was to see Cannonero II parade between races. School bored me to tears. In 8th grade, in my Spanish language class, I was pulled aside after class. The teacher politely requested that I leave the racing form and radio in my locker when in her class. Multi tasking was my norm. Round Panasonic radio, using what now is termed ear buds (but only was a single) listening to news, reading the Racing form, writing my paper for english and answering questions to the spanish teacher all at one time was too much for her. She said it made her look bad as a teacher. Huh? Whatever. Limited people. I could not wait to get to the track and work.
I spent a lot of time talking to the old guard at the track. Buster Millerick. H.C.McBride. Mesh Tenney, the trainer of Swaps. Lots of stories, lots of emotion.
Today is the first time in all these years since my boy won the crown that I feel that it could be crowned again. Good luck to American Pharoah and all who run today. Maybe the crown will be passed to the new generation. We shall see.