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'Fog Owner's Pitching Past Gets Jolt of Interest

June 09, 2005|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

ELMONT, N.Y. — On the other end of the phone, from San Francisco, Harry Aleo groaned.

"You don't want to hear that story," Aleo said. "All of a sudden, everybody wants to hear that story. But it was so long ago."

At Belmont Park, Greg Gilchrist, trainer of the Aleo-owned Lost In The Fog, had mentioned that his client had once pitched against Joe DiMaggio. Three days ahead of Lost In The Fog's appearance here Saturday in the $200,000 Riva Ridge Stakes, it was a news tip that demanded to be pursued.

"It was in 1940, when I was going to San Francisco Junior College," said the 85-year-old Aleo, after he was coaxed into telling the story. "We played at Funston Field. But I want to emphasize, and be sure you put this in there, this was before the start of spring training, before Joe went off to Florida with the New York Yankees.

"Joe and some guys came out to play us college guys with a pickup team they'd put together. I got to pitch to Joe once. I started off by throwing him two balls. Then I gave him a dinky curveball, and he popped out to third base."

Is this still a big deal to Aleo?

"Yeah, I guess," he said. "But if he had been in shape, he'd [have] knocked one out of the park."

Gilchrist has a signed photo of DiMaggio, who was a racetrack regular in the Bay Area. It says: "To Little G. from Big D. A guy who trains them just like I hit them."

Aleo, who made his money in real estate, signed a contract as a third baseman with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He had a plane ticket to report to camp, but blew out his elbow playing for a semipro team.

"I got a letter from Branch Rickey, releasing me before I'd played a game," Aleo said. "That led to three years in the Army during World War II. With the infantry. I served at the Battle of the Bulge."

Lost In The Fog, who's stabled at Golden Gate Fields in Albany, Calif., and Gilchrist arrived here Tuesday. Aleo is due Friday for the next day's Riva Ridge, which will be run at seven furlongs. Lost In The Fog, undefeated in six starts, won by 10 lengths at six furlongs in his last start, breaking the track record with a clocking of 1:07 1/5 . It was little more than a glorified workout, with only two other horses in the field.

"[Jockey] Russell Baze told me that he could have done it in 1:06 if he pushed him," Aleo said.

Baze, who a week ago joined Laffit Pincay as the only jockeys with 9,000 wins, had ridden Lost In The Fog in all six starts and was scheduled to ride again Saturday before breaking his collarbone Wednesday. Gilchrist said a decision about Baze's replacement would be made today.

"He's sure the best sprinter I've ever ridden," Baze said, "and before it's all over, he might be the best horse, period, that I've ever had."

Aleo bought Lost In The Fog privately, as an unraced 2-year-old, for $140,000, after he and Gilchrist had been unsuccessful in buying him at auction. Gilchrist said that Aleo has had several offers for the horse, one of the most recent $2.5 million.

"I would have sold him and you would have found me on the beach in Barbados," Gilchrist said. "But Harry made exactly the right decision in keeping the horse."

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