Backstretch With Gordon: Wow, Walner!
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Wow! What another gorgeous Friday morning in Lexington. High today in the low 80s, with lots of sunshine. It's supposed to cool off a bit over the next two days, but what's wrong with 70 degrees and plenty of sun?
Speaking of wow, how about that performance yesterday afternoon by Walner, who set a new world record for 2-year-old colt trotters with a 1:51.3 effort. Let's give that another wow! That's my photo of him taken this morning here in this Backstretch. It was great to hear the appreciation of the large on-track crowd as they applauded driver Tim Tetrick as he brought Walner into the winner's circle, and then Walner got a big ovation as he left. Tim and trainer Linda Toscano remained to be interviewed by Gabe Prewitt.
My first stop Friday was to see Linda and Walner (named for the late, great Swedish horseman Hakan Wallner, although it's missing an l). I asked Linda if she had an inkling that Walner had some world champion in him when he trotted a last quarter in :26.3 to win his first-ever baby race at the Meadowlands, and she said she did. Linda admitted to me she was surprised by that fast last quarter.
"I didn't expect him to do that in the baby race that day, but I knew he was going to make a good showing," Linda remembered.
Linda said she got a bit worried when she saw Tim Tetrick move Walner to the lead in a :27.1 second quarter and reach the half in :55.1, but the colt cruised home to win by nearly four lengths.
"When Timmy moved him and I saw the half, I was like ‘oh oh, that's a little bit too much,'" she told me. "But he was good and he was strong to the wire and I think he was within himself."
Staying on yesterday, I continue to see old friends. I went to the office to get a program from Bessie at the switchboard, and a guy came walking from the other way and said hello and congratulated me on the Hall of Fame election. I said thanks, and then he asked me: You know who I am? I sheepishly said no, and then he reminded me he was Ohio horseman Clair Umholtz, who I met for the first time years and years and years ago when I worked briefly at Northfield Park.
I was able to walk the apron once late in the card and saw Mark Weaver and Dave Menary. Michiganders Ginny St. Charles and Ed and Cheryl Sayfie were sitting in an apron box so I sat with them for a few minutes to catch up. Last week I saw Ohioan John Cooper (not the football coach) but didn't have much of a chance to talk, so I was hoping to run into him. Didn't happen but there are still three more days of racing.
I went to Joe Bologna's for dinner last night with Sam and Chris McKee, Patty Wright Robinson and Lee and Denna Sattelberg. What a great time that was, five Michiganders reminiscing about the good old days. By the way, thanks Sam for picking up the tab!
Speaking of dinner last night, I saw Norm Parker this morning on my tour. Norm said that while he has been coming to Lexington forever, he had never been to Malone's for dinner. Norm said he and his sister, Sally Bolon, and Christy Pantaleano went to the Palomar location, and that while they were waiting for their food to arrive they heard a big crash. He said a worker came over and told them that a couple of servers had collided and it was fatal for a bunch of dinners, including theirs. While they had to obviously wait a bit longer for a re-do, Norm said the food was excellent.
When I was leaving the Toscano barn I saw Jeff Gregory walking toward me. We greeted each other as we walked past. I made my way all the way down to the other end of the barn area, not realizing I was by Jeff's barn until he came up pulling a sulky. Jeff said if he had known I was going to make the trip he would have asked me to go to the paddock and bring the sulky with me and save him the hike.
Amy Hollar—another Ohioan—walked by with Nick Salvi so I stopped for a second, and then as I was heading out I ran into Jersey-based trainer Tom Fanning. Tom said he bought one last night and wasn't sure about any more.
Speaking of the yearling sale last night, I obviously didn't go but I did see that Paymaq Racing's Mike Anderson from Illinois sold a Muscle Hill trotter (Hip 265) for $100,000. Mike posted that he named the colt Cubs Win, and now I'm wondering if that's an omen that maybe, just maybe, the Cubs will win this year's World Series for the first time since Lincoln was president.
And I'm using this as a reminder to race secretary Billy Perkins to get to the track early for this afternoon's seven-race card. Billy told me this morning that he went home after finishing Sunday's draw and when he came back close to post time it was virtually impossible to find a parking spot. He finally found one but he said it was a long haul trackside.
And gas remains at $2.19 at that nearby Marathon, and I see now some others have joined in and dropped the price to that level too. I did see a $2.37 station on my way, shame on them.