I, like many others, was saddened by the news that trainer Lynn Whiting had died a week ago at his home in Louisville following a long illness and a recent stroke. He was 77.
I first met Whiting in 1980 when I was working as a columnist and reporter for the Daily Racing Form at Louisiana Downs. In the Aug. 5 edition of the DRF that year, this was a note in my column:
“Trainer Lynn Whiting has checked in with a powerful string of horses from Rockingham Park. The Rockingham meeting was halted last week when a fire completely leveled the grandstand and razed one-third of the clubhouse.”
Some trainers are so friendly that one always enjoys paying a morning visit to their barn. That certainly was the case with Lynn Whiting. He also was a first-rate horseman, highly respected by his colleagues.
Twelve years after I first met Whiting at Louisiana Downs, he sent out Lil E. Tee to win the Kentucky Derby in a 16-1 upset. For me, Lil E. Tee’s victory was totally unexpected. That’s because I thought nobody was going to beat Arazi. His brilliant five-length victory on that very same surface six months earlier in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile had led me to conclude Arazi would be the one draped in roses on the first Saturday in May.
Arazi raced next-to-last early in the field of 18 through the early stages of the Kentucky Derby. After being as far back as 12 lengths early, he took off approaching the far turn. He zoomed past rivals with eye-catching speed to reach third approaching the top of the stretch, just 1 1/2 lengths off the lead. But he weakened in the stretch and finished eighth as the 4-5 favorite. While he again made an electrifying move, he just could not sustain it at 1 1/4 miles in contrast to the 1 1/16-mile BC Juvenile.
Lil E. Tee, with Pat Day aboard, rallied during the stretch run to win the 1992 Run for the Roses by a length. Casual Lies, ridden by Gary Stevens, finished second. Dance Floor, with Chris Antley in the saddle, ended up third.
That Kentucky Derby was 25 years ago. At that time, I was the Daily Racing Form chart-caller at Hollywood Park. But it turned out that I did not watch that Kentucky Derby in the Hollywood Park press box. No, I watched it at my home in Duarte, near Santa Anita. That’s because of what happened in Los Angeles earlier in the week.
This week I have been thinking a lot about what occurred in Los Angeles during the week of that Derby, which was run on May 2. Three days earlier, between races at Hollywood Park, I went to the press box lunch room to get a cup of coffee. It was about 3:15 in afternoon. While I was in the process of pouring my coffee, a television monitor showed breaking news. A jury had acquitted four Los Angeles Police Department officers who had been charged with using excessive force in the videotaped arrest and beating of Rodney King.
The not-guilty verdicts really surprised me. I still remember the first time I saw the video on the KTLA evening news. I was shocked and sickened. I felt then, and I feel now, that the officers crossed the line by beating him and beating him and beating him. I did not see any resistance on King’s part. If that was not excessive force, I don’t know what is. According to the recent television program “The Lost Tapes: L.A. Riots” on the Smithsonian Channel, the videotape shows King was “struck more than 50 times, kicked six times and tasered twice. He suffered 11 fractures.”
I took my coffee and returned to my booth in the Hollywood Park press box. It was opening day of the spring-summer meeting. Fridged Fate, a 4-5 favorite ridden by Alex Solis and trained by D. Wayne Lukas, won the ninth and final race. After I had finished my work, I headed to my car, not concerned about anything more than the usual heavy traffic I would have to deal with on my 36-mile trip home. With the 110 Freeway so clogged on a weekday, my usual route was to take Florence Avenue over to the 710 Freeway, the 710 north to the 60 Freeway, the 60 east to the 605 Freeway, then the 605 north to Duarte.
After I got into my car in the Hollywood Park parking lot, I turned the radio on to the all-news station KNX to get the traffic and baseball scores. But right after I turned the radio on, I knew I was in big trouble. KNX was reporting that there was rioting going on in Los Angeles because of the verdicts in the police officers’ trial in the Rodney King beating.
I will tell you that I was very scared. It was the first — and I hope last — time that I have ever left a racetrack in my car and thought that I might be injured or possibly even killed. Visions of the violence I had seen on television during the Watts riots in the Los Angeles area in the summer of 1965 popped into my head.
I realized I had better come up with a route that would give me the best possible chance of getting back home safely. I immediately ruled out my normal route of taking Florence east to the 710 Freeway. I thought probably the best way home would be to head in the opposite direction. So, instead of going east, I took Century Boulevard west toward LAX. As I did, reports of the rioting on KNX continued, with the situation becoming increasingly worse.
From Century Boulevard, I took the 405 Freeway north. Again, I normally then would have taken the 10 Freeway east. But if I did that, it would take me right into downtown Los Angeles. So, I stayed on the 405 all the way north to the 101 Freeway, then took that toward the east instead of using the 10 Freeway. This route was taking me far out of the way, but it seemed the prudent thing to do
I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I reached my home in Duarte. Once in the house, I immediately turned on the television. Los Angeles was going up in flames. Stores were being broken into and looted. It was obvious to me that the Los Angeles Police Department was doing a poor job of coping with the riots.
“Why isn’t the National Guard being called out?” I thought. “Where are our leaders when we need them in an emergency like this?”
This became the first day of the most destructive civil disturbance in U.S. history. And what was LAPD Chief Daryl Gates doing when the rioting was going on? Early that evening, he was attending a fundraiser in Brentwood, about 15 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. The purpose of the fundraiser was to defeat Proposition F, a ballot initiative to place term limits on the police chief.
In addition to Gates’ absence, the assistance police chief, Bob Vernon, was on vacation during the riots.
On The History Channel’s recent program “The L.A. Riots: 25 Years Later,” Mike Moulin, a police lieutenant at that time in the LAPD, said: “So, the [police] department on the night of the riots was absolutely stripped of any command whatsoever. We were stripped. There was no command.”
After I got home from Hollywood Park, the violence I saw on television taking place that day at the intersection of Florence and Normandy made me shudder. From a helicopter flying overhead, reporter Bob Tur described what was happening. A television camera in the helicopter showed a truck driver (whose name, I later learned, was Reginald Denny) being severely beaten on the street after being pulled out of his semi-trailer truck.
As Denny was being punched and kicked nearly to death, Tur pointed out that a man was videotaping the beating. Finally, some people helped Denny. The rescuers put Denny in his truck and drove him to the hospital. One of the rescuers said on The History Channel program that he was told at the hospital that if Denny had arrived there just one minute later, he would have died. He suffered 91 skull fractures. Despite years of rehab, Denny’s ability to speak and walk has been irreparably damaged.
Denny’s beating occurred about 30 minutes after I had left Hollywood Park. If I had driven home using my usual route, I would have gone through that intersection of Florence and Normandy about 10 or 15 minutes before Denny. Thank goodness I took a different route home because of what I had heard on the radio.
That evening, as I watched the fires and the violence and looting on television, it all seemed so surreal. What had started off as just a normal Wednesday had deteriorated into what had become far from a normal afternoon and evening in Los Angeles. And making it seem even more surreal was, in between watching the news reports of the riots on TV, I would change the channel to the basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers at the Forum across the street from Hollywood Park. While portions of L.A. were literally going up in flames, the L.A. Lakers beat the Trail Blazers in overtime by a score of 121-119 in Game 3 of a best-of-five playoff series.
Not surprisingly, I did not sleep well that night. How far would the rioting spread in the Los Angeles area? I also was concerned about possibly having to drive to Hollywood Park to go to work the next day. If Hollywood Park did race on Thursday, I would have to make that drive, even though it definitely was something I did not want to do.
The next morning, my wife understandably did not want me driving to Hollywood Park.
“If they race, I have to go,” I said. “I’ll have to go because there is nobody else to call the charts. But I really don’t see how they are going to be able to race today. Too many jockeys live near Santa Anita and would have to drive through a war zone to get to Hollywood Park. On top of that, there are many horses stabled at Santa Anita that would have to be vanned through the war zone to get to Hollywood Park. Do you think those van drivers are going to do that? I don’t think so. If a lot of jockeys don’t ride and a lot of horses don’t run, how are they going to be able to race today? And as bad as this rioting looks, I’ll be shocked if they are able to have any racing at Hollywood Park for the rest of the week.”
I called Hollywood Park early that morning, hoping to hear that the Thursday card had been canceled.
“Good morning, Hollywood Park,” the voice on the phone said.
“Yes, are you racing today?” I asked.
“Yes, we are,” she said, much to my surprise.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes, we are definitely racing.”
Now I was extremely worried and scared. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe they would be racing today after all, I thought. At least the first race was at 1 p.m. I did not have to be at the track until about an hour before the first race. I was still hoping that Hollywood Park would come to its senses.
Fortunately, a short time later, I received a phone call from Dale Lowe, the computer operator for the Racing Form at Hollywood Park.
“Don’t worry about coming here. They’re not racing today,” he told me.
“Thank goodness,” I said. “Are you sure?”
“Are you at the track right now?”
“And what was it like driving to the track?”
“Well, I stayed on the freeway as much as I could,” Lowe said. “After I got off the freeway, I saw a lot of burned-out buildings and there was a lot of smashed glass at a bunch of places. But I made it here okay and now I’ll be heading back home.”
If you think I was overreacting by being extremely concerned about my safety when I left Hollywood Park on April 29, 1992, bear in mind that, according to the recent A&E program, 63 people were killed, 2,353 people were injured and 3,736 buildings were burned. Estimates of property damage were over $1 billion.
It turned out that I was right when I thought Hollywood Park probably would not have any racing during the rest of the week after the riots started. And that was how I came to be sitting on my couch at home to see Lil E. Tee win the Kentucky Derby on television instead of watching the race on a TV in the Hollywood Park press box on Saturday, May 2, 1992.
REMEMBERING TIM VAN BERG, JANE PROCTOR & TIM CAPPS
Along with Lynn Whiting’s recent death, many in racing are mourning the recent deaths of Tim Van Berg, a former trainer; Jane Proctor, a pioneering female jockey when she rode as Jane Driggers, her maiden name; and Tim Capps, the director of the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program.
Van Berg, 59, was “found dead in his sleep at his California home” early last Wednesday, the Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee reported. Van Berg trained on his own from 1998 to 2002 before he left racing. He was co-owner of an automotive shop at the time of his death.
Tim Van Berg was best known in racing as an assistant to his father, Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, in the 1980s and 1990s. Tim’s grandfather, Marion Van Berg, also is in the Hall of Fame.
During Tim’s time as an assistant to his father, they raced Gate Dancer and Alysheba. Gate Dancer won the 1987 Preakness Stakes. Alysheba, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness at 3, was voted Horse of the Year at 4 in 1988. Alysheba highlighted his 1988 campaign with a victory in the BC Classic on a muddy track at Churchill Downs.
The first time I ever heard of Gate Dancer was from Tim Van Berg on a cold Tuesday morning at Hollywood Park in December of 1983. Working as a columnist and reporter for the Racing Form at that time, I needed to come up with some material for my column in Thursday’s Racing Form, but I was having trouble finding any trainers in the stable area.
By the time I arrived in the stable area at around 8 a.m., the place was like a ghost town. I visited barn after barn, but each time I would be told the trainer wasn’t there. Out of desperation, I finally decided to go to the Hollywood Park training track. There, I encountered Tim Van Berg, who was standing next to the training track rail. He obviously was watching a horse or horses train.
“Good morning, Tim,” I said. “Who do you have out there on the track?”
“It’s a 2-year-old who’s going to win next year’s Kentucky Derby,” Tim said matter-of-factly.
I could not help thinking there probably was no possible way that the 1984 Kentucky Derby winner actually was out there on that Hollywood Park training track on that cold December morning. But in dire need of coming up with a column, I proceeded to inquire about this future Kentucky Derby winner.
“So, who is he by?” I asked.
“He’s by Sovereign Dancer out of a Bull Lea mare,” Van Berg replied.
I thought to myself, “Bull Lea? How in the heck can a 2-year-old possibly be out of a Bull Lea mare?” Bull Lea, I knew, was the prolific Calumet Farm stallion who had sired Citation, who won the Triple Crown in 1948. This was 1983, not 1948.
“What? Did I hear you say a Bull Lea mare?” I asked Tim. “I thought you said this is a 2-year-old. What is he, a 20-year-old?”
“No, really, he’s a 2-year-old,” Tim said. “And he really is out of a Bull Lea mare. And this colt can really run. You wait and see. He’s already run a couple of times in Omaha. And he’ll be running here soon. And he’s got a lot of talent. I’m telling you, he’s going to win the Derby next year.”
“What’s his name?” I asked.
Gate Dancer had indeed started his racing career in the summer of 1983 at Ak-Sar-Ben. He had won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race by eight lengths there June 29, then finished second as an odds-on favorite in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance contest there July 16.
On Dec. 16, Gate Dancer made his Hollywood Park debut. He won a six-furlong allowance affair by three-quarters of a length with Chris McCarron in the irons.
In his next start, Gate Dancer finished second in the six-furlong Los Feliz Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 29. The colt lugged in during the stretch run. When I saw Tim the next morning, I could not resist kidding him.
“Hey, Tim, if that colt you said is going to win the Kentucky Derby is really that good, then how the world did he get beat yesterday?” I asked.
“He got beat because he was luggin’ in,” Tim replied. “But we already know what we’re going to do about that. Come with me to the barn and I’ll show you.”
When we got to the Van Berg barn at Santa Anita, Tim walked into the stable office. A moment later, he came out holding earmuffs.
“He’ll wear these for his next race,” Tim said. “He’s luggin’ in because of the crowd noise. Horses race with earmuffs all the time in Japan because of the big crowds there.”
However, even with the earmuffs, Gate Dancer continued to frequently lug in. He lugged in so badly during the 1984 Kentucky Derby that he battered poor Fali Time during the stretch. Gate Dancer finished fourth, with Fali Time fifth. Gate Dancer was disqualified and placed fifth for “bumping Fali Time several times,” as it says in the official chart comments. To this day, Gate Dancer has the dubious distinction of being the only horse ever disqualified in the Kentucky Derby for a race foul. But Gate Dancer did manage to win the Preakness Stakes, with the earmuffs, in his next start.
Later in 1984, Gate Dancer again was disqualified in a big race. He finished second in the inaugural BC Classic at Hollywood Park, but was disqualified and placed third for lugging in — despite the earmuffs — and “causing severe interference” to Slew o’ Gold in the final sixteenth, as stated in the official chart.
Long after Gate Dancer’s racing career was over, whenever I would see Tim Van Berg, he would always smile and say, “Remember that morning at Hollywood Park when I told you how good Gate Dancer was?”
And I’d always say, “I sure do.”
Jane Proctor, 61, “died in Florida after suffering from an aggressive, malignant brain tumor,” Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported.
As Jane Driggers, she started her career as a jockey at Portland Meadows at the age of 16 while a sophomore in high school. She won with her first mount, Hi Sheri, on June 10, 1972. Later that year, I saw her ride at Playfair Race Course in my hometown of Spokane, Wash. Another apprentice rider who began his career at that same 1972 Playfair meet was Gary Baze, who would win more races at Washington tracks than any jockey in history. Baze currently works as a steward at Emerald Downs.
I was working for the Racing Form at Longacres in 1975 when Driggers won the Memorial Day Handicap aboard Grey Papa to become the first female jockey to win a stakes race at that track. Grey Papa, at the age of 8, sped 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02 2/5 to equal Melmitch’s track record. Ron Hoffman bred, owned and trained Grey Papa, who in 1972 broke the world record for six furlongs at Longacres when ridden by Joe Baze, Russell Baze’s father and Gary Baze’s uncle.
In a column I wrote that appeared in the May 31, 1975, edition of the Racing Form, Hoffman praised Driggers’ ride on Grey Papa when he tied the 5 1/2-furlong track record at Longacres.
“I think Jane really fits him,” Hoffman said, “and she rode him to perfection last week. She told me after the race she had plenty of horse left at the finish and needed only to tap him a couple of times.”
“By 1977, Driggers was a regular at Golden Gate Fields, Bay Meadows and on the Northern California fair circuit,” Jim Price wrote in a feature story about her that appeared in Spokane’s Spokesman-Review newspaper in 2012. “A billboard and bus-sign campaign once announced, ‘Jane Driggers wants you at Bay Meadows.’ She met her future husband, Harry ‘Hap’ Proctor, there. She retired [as a jockey] and became a full-time exercise rider in April 1983.”
In 1984, Driggers married Hap Proctor, brother of trainer Tom Proctor and son of esteemed trainer Willard Proctor. In 1991, Jane and Hap moved to Florida to work at Leonard Lavin’s Glen Hill Farm in Ocala after Hap had taken the farm manager’s job there.
I, along with many Northwest racing fans, will forever associate Jane Driggers with Shaynaman. They had much success together. Shaynaman was Portland Meadows’ Horse of the Meeting in 1975.
Through the years, whenever I would see Jane, I’d always be sure to mention Shaynaman. And then, every single time, Jane would grin from ear to ear. And she had one of the most delightful smiles you will ever see.
Tim Capps, 71, whose extensive and wide-ranging experience in racing was astounding, died last Saturday in Louisville. His death was related to complications following a stroke in mid-February, the BloodHorse’s Eric Mitchell reported.
When I wrote a number of articles for the Thoroughbred Record magazine in the 1980s, Capps was that publication’s editor and publisher. During those years, I spoke with Capps by phone on numerous occasions. I always enjoyed my chats with him. He not only was extremely knowledgeable when it came to Thoroughbred racing, he had a terrific sense of humor. I thought the University of Louisville chose wisely when Capps became the head of the school’s Equine Industry Program.
Todd Mooradian, the dean of the University of Louisville’s College of Business, issued a statement following Capps’ death.
“We will miss his dedication to our equine program and our students, as well as his enthusiasm for an industry that is one of the foundations of the Kentucky economy,” Mooradian said.
THIS WEEK’S KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Next week’s column will have my Kentucky Derby selections, plus the number of strikes for each entrant in my Derby Strikes System.
Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
- Thunder Snow
- Irish War Cry
- Classic Empire
- J Boys Echo
- Always Dreaming
- Practical Joke