Tracks take center stage on whirlwind birthday tour

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Ted Black

March 24th, 2015

Although I began covering thoroughbred racing in 1987 and harness racing in 1988, my visits to the track began much earlier and one of the traditions that I started 35 years ago continued last week during my birthday visits to Dover Downs, Laurel Park and Rosecroft during a busy, three-day span.

Last Thursday evening, when Dover Downs offered its best card of the week, I ventured to the Delaware five-eighths mile oval to watch races and interview a bevy of trainers and drivers in the paddock. Dover added a nice touch by running my "happy birthday" on the infield tote board throughout the card among its constant scrolling list of items. Of course, early on the card it was one of 15 such items but by the end of the 15-race program it was among the handful that still remained. This was, of course, a bigger thrill for my mom than it was for me.

Perhaps an additional highlight on the card was the effort of Bobbies Power Play (Tony Morgan) in a non-winners of $100,000 lifetime class. Trained by Bryan Truitt for several of my longtime friends in the game, Jim Magno and Phil Magno, Bobbies Power Play set the early fractions only to be nailed in the final yards by a 15-1 outsider. Bobbies Power Play had won his two previous starts and just missed a three-peat, but he gets to remain in that class through the end of the meet which is a moral victory at least.

Then two days later another longtime track buddy, Tim Hayden, invited me for lunch at Laurel Park during a stellar card that included four $100,000 stakes, including the Harrison Johnson for older horses and the Private Terms Stakes for three-year-olds. During my rookie season of covering the thoroughbred races, I was at Laurel on the day when Private Terms won his career debut by thumping a group of maiden special weight rivals going 6 1/2 furlongs. He would not suffer his first defeat until the Kentucky Derby, when the filly Winning Colors went wire-to-wire.

Then that same evening I ventured to Rosecroft Raceway for the 11-race card at the five-eighths mile oval, the track that started my birthday celebrations. When I was 16, I convinced my mother to take me to Rosecroft - then a half-mile oval - for the live card which offered an $8400 Preferred that featured the likes of Mostest Yankee, Texas Tea and the incomparable Come On Fred, a genuine local legend. A friend had given me $10 to wager and I played Texas Tea across the board and watched him go wire-to-wire with Walter Callahan in the bike.

Last Saturday night on my 51st birthday there was no Preferred - the top overnight races are now held on Tuesday evenings at Rosecroft - but there was an added surprise. The track had named the eighth race for my birthday, so afterward I joined winning driver Jonathan Roberts in the winner's circle for the impromptu celebration. Following the long day and extended three-day celebration that began at Dover, the birthday announcement help energize my aging legs to and from the winner's circle.