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He Gave It a Real Run at All Three Big Events

March 03, 1997|RANDY HARVEY

The first thing I heard when I turned the car radio to XTRA at 8:30 a.m. Sunday was a handicapper on Roger Stein's show discussing the possibility of a win for Sandpit in that afternoon's Santa Anita Handicap. "He can stay all day," the guy said.

I hoped people would be as charitable when speaking of me after Sunday, a day on which I thought it would be a good idea to take in three of Southern California's marquee events--the L.A. Marathon, the Nissan Open at Riviera and the Big 'Cap at Santa Anita. Actually, it was the idea of one of our editors.

But it was a good one, especially coming 48 hours after one of our city's grimmest sides was exposed in that apocalyptic gun battle in North Hollywood. On Sunday, some of the best we have to offer was enjoyed by as many as 1.1 million people.

For me, the day ended after nine hours, 85 miles and one pit stop for which I was not disqualified. I could sum it up by saying, "Spanning the globe to bring you a constant variety of sports . . . "

Except that, on this particular day, the globe came to us.

The runners who won the L.A. Marathon were Moroccan and Kenyan. Their wheelchair counterparts were Mexican and Australian. An Englishman won the Nissan Open. Brazilian-bred horses finished 1-2 two in the Santa Anita Handicap, followed in third place by an Argentine-bred.


I have written that it's difficult to take the L.A. Marathon seriously as a major sporting event. I didn't change my mind Sunday. Still, we are a better city for having it.

Shortly after arriving in the media center at the Central Library, I ran into a friend who had taken her first trip on the Red Line--two stops from the Civic Center to the starting line at 6th and Figueroa.

"It felt like a real city," she said.

As the vantage point for a large percentage of the estimated 1 million spectators on the 26.2-mile course, downtown L.A. had a New York or Chicago feel to it throughout the morning.

Other cities, however, have proved it's possible to have a world-class marathon in conjunction with a festival atmosphere. I hope the L.A. organizer, Bill Burke, is successful in his three-year plan to bring that about here.

Meantime, the 12th edition of race was memorable, if only for the introduction of the Russian Rosie Ruiz.


In the midday sun at Riviera, a man in the gallery yelled, "C'mon, Nicky, win it for your queen and country, lad."

My first thought was that the cheerleader was one of Nick Faldo's countrymen. On second thought, it could have been someone from the Valencia Country Club.

Because Riviera is reserved for a week later next summer for the U.S. Senior Open, the Nissan Open is moving for one year to Valencia. My guess is the tournament will have difficulty attracting the game's top players, not because Valencia isn't a terrific course but because Valencia isn't Riviera.

With its inconvenient slot on the schedule, the week before the tour shifts to Florida, the Nissan Open depends on players who appreciate the game's history enough to place a priority on playing Hogan's Alley.

That aura will be absent next year, but perhaps Faldo, arguably the world's best player, will feel obligated to return to the tournament as defending champion.

I hope, however, that the cigar concessionaires don't return. The numerous cigar smokers in the gallery made me think of Mark Twain's comment that golf is a good walk spoiled. If you went to Riviera to smell the fresh sea air, you didn't. Billy Casper must have thought he was back at the Havana Open he won in 1958.


As everyone knows, a Cigar belongs not at golf tournaments but on the racetrack.

Unfortunately, there are no Cigars this year. Skip Away was promoted on the East Coast as this year's great horse before two losses, including one Saturday at Gulfstream Park. On the West Coast, we liked Gentlemen. But the temperamental Argentine-bred finished third in the Santa Anita Handicap to a couple of his Brazilian-bred neighbors from trainer Richard Mandella's stable, Siphon and Sandpit.

Formal Gold, who gave Skip Away his first loss this winter, finished sixth at Santa Anita. His jockey, Joe Bravo, came away very impressed with the first and second finishers. But are they the real thing?

All I know is that Sandpit can stay all day. He's a horse. If some of my mail is accurate, I'm only part of one.


While wondering what to do next Sunday, I was thinking: El-Maati Chaham's nickname should be "The Marrakech Express," Riviera is as nice a place as any to spend an afternoon, ditto for Santa Anita.

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