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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO / RANDY HARVEY

Hoping Santa Anita Stays Running on Horse Power

March 31, 1997|RANDY HARVEY

Virtually everyone with an affinity for the sport of horse racing, as opposed to the business of horse racing, has lamented recently that next Saturday's 1 1/8-mile feature race on the road to the Kentucky Derby might become a sentimental journey, the last Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park.

Their spirits were lifted last week, when the Koll-Apollo-Colony group at least temporarily withdrew its bid to buy the Arcadia track after Santa Anita Cos. failed to accept a $230 million offer by Friday's deadline.

The multi-hyphenated, multi-tentacled suitor hadn't announced its intentions. But where horsemen gather on Santa Anita's backside, Koll-Apollo-Colony was considered the villain.

One owner/breeder, Frank Stronach, interpreted the offer as a "real-estate play," meaning he believes the group wanted to close the track and develop the prime 320 acres.

The other half of that plan, presumably, would have been for the prospective buyers to transfer Santa Anita's dates to the more modern Hollywood Park and consolidate the Los Angeles area's thoroughbred racing operations. There will always be a Santa Anita Derby. It would just be run in Inglewood.

Most people who understand horse racing's numbers, and I don't mean those on the tote board, contend that scenario is inevitable at some point no matter who buys Santa Anita. They look at dwindling attendance and rising costs at the two tracks and conclude the sport would be healthier if there were only one.

Unfortunately, they're probably correct. But maybe not. Santa Anita Cos. announced Friday they have other bidders. One reportedly is a Las Vegas hotel and gaming company, the other a group of wealthy horse owners. It's believed both are committed to keeping the track open.

I'd like to see Santa Anita have at least one more chance. As with the Coliseum, there's a lot of L.A. sports history there, starting in the '30s when Will Rogers, Clark Gable and Al Jolson were among the regulars who went to watch Seabiscuit.

Southern California without Santa Anita is unthinkable, like the Dodgers without the O'Malleys.

*

The NCAA men's final matches the Pacific 10 vs. the Southeastern Conference. They are the only leagues also to have teams in the women's Final Four. . . .

Rick Pitino is attempting to accomplish something no Kentucky coach has done since Adolph Rupp in 1948-49, win back-to-back titles. . . .

With Dean Smith breaking his record for coaching victories, Rupp has received more attention this season than at any time since his death 20 years ago. Not all has been positive because of his place in college basketball history as a symbol of segregation. . . .

But Rupp's son, Herky Rupp, says his father wasn't a racist, that he wanted to recruit African Americans such as Wes Unseld and Butch Beard. He didn't, Herky says, when warned by other Southeastern Conference schools that they wouldn't schedule Kentucky. . . .

Rupp would have been gracious when Smith surpassed his record. Or not. . . .

"Anybody who had an ego as large as his, I guarantee you he'd be upset," says Larry Conley, one of Rupp's Runts...

Defending his unique analysis of college games, Al McGuire says, "The people who know basketball, their elevators don't go to the top." . . .

USA Today reports Jerry West is going after Pitino this summer. The Sporting News reports it's Roy Williams who has West's eye. . . .

Isn't Del Harris the Laker coach? Or did I miss something? . . .

The NCAA estimates gamblers--that means you in the office pool too--have illegally bet $500 million on the tournament. . . .

I am shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on here.

*

Those evil Easterners who claim Pacific 10 basketball is soft, their elevators don't go to the top.

There's nothing soft about a league in which Arizona finishes fifth. At least six Pac-10 teams were capable of beating the Wildcats, which is the reason they were so ready when the tournament began.

Having said that, I agree with Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen when he says that, with an unlucky bounce here or there, it's possible the conference won't have any final 16 teams next season.

There's so much parity in college basketball that no conference is clearly superior to the others. But there should no longer be any question that the Pac-10 is as much of a beast as the Big East.

*

While wondering where I misplaced my Heisman Trophy, I was thinking: Michael Moorer is an embarrassment even to boxing, nobody wants to meet the Mighty Ducks in the playoffs, Chamique Holdsclaw will be a better pro than Kate Starbird, Kentucky wins easily if I know basketball.

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