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Racing Returns Saturday, October 4



1600 Exposition

My Favorite Memory - A question posed on a long morning walk around Cal Expo's backstretch and shed rows

I came up with a simple idea. At least I thought it would be! Get up early, go to the track, go on a long walk around the backstretch and shed rows with a notepad under my arm, and find a mix of people who I knew or had not yet met, and ask them all just one question. The question I posed to them was simple:

"What was your favorite moment or memory in California harness racing?"

There were some similarities in a couple of the answers, while others were remarkable wild cards or reminded me of past events I'd seen myself. As stated at the beginning, I thought this would be easy. What was rapidly apparent was how almost everyone really had to think back across their careers. Almost nobody had an immediate answer!

Essentially every person I asked the question of was an individual whom I had known to be a longtime figure in the sport. As I watched them think about what was their best memory, I realized that I also would probably need some time to think about my own favorite moment, even though these individuals all have had much longer experiences within California racing than I.

After a couple cups of coffee, about two aggregate miles of walking in ninety minutes, and a couple glances at my email to draw in some written answers I had, what follows are those replies I was offered.

Karen Isbell, driver: "It had to be my first driving win. It was a few years back with Ok Shark. I'll never forget it!"

Bob Johnson, trainer: "There were a lot of favorite moments. One that stands out was when Kaycee's Doll won a $200,000 race at Los Alamitos."

Gene Vallandingham, driver: "I remember when we would get over twenty thousand fans at Hollywood Park on those weekends around 1980. The energy was great at the track!"

Harold Merriam: "Almond King. He won the Great Western Pace in 1983. It was Cal Expo's most valuable race at the time. Lloyd Arnold was there and presented the trophy"

Kenny Fowler, starting gate driver: "Kaycee's Doll coming from off the pace and winning the Richard Staley at Los Alamitos. It was sometime around 1999. That was a great race!"

Larry Goshman, farrier: "Grooming Desmond and Dante Jay in the late 1970's and early 1980's" -

Steve Lake, longtime handicapper and fan: "Dec 8, 2007. Chosen to participate and drive in 'The Best Seat in the House Challenge.' I drove with Ed Hensley on Sandra Hotspur. We took the early lead, but were sitting 3rd at the 1/2 and had to come 1st over. Trip took its toll!"

Robin Clements, Desomer Stable: "The year was 1981. We were at Hollywood Park. I was working for Steve Desomer as the second trainer at that time. Steve had a trotter named Dante Jay, a little gelding who he had acquired off a trade. Steve entered the horse in the American Trotting Classic which brought out the likes of Final Score and Bill Haughton. Steve had to drive Dante Jay like a carton of eggs when racing. Dante Jay was eight lengths from Final Score, who appeared the obvious winner. Robin Burns even called Dante Jay eight lengths off and out of it. All of a sudden, Dante Jay kicked into gear and came flying on the outside to win the race. Dante Jay was the only Cal-Bred to ever win the American Trotting Classic"

To a person, they all did better than I. They had an answer. I'm still trying to decide what my own favorite personal moment in harness racing is. I have about ten moments that compete for this prize! Perhaps when I've put in thirty more years in the sport, I'll be able to finally and readily answer my own question.

- Leighton Worthey