The Brock Talk

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Morning Line

Years ago as a young racing secretary at tiny non-pari mutuel Manor Downs near Austin, Texas, I had the privilege of becoming acquainted with Allen Bogan (photo right), the long time and legendary Texas sports writer and editor for the Dallas Journal, Dallas Times Herald and Denton Record-Chronicle. He wrote his first horse racing story in 1937, the year pari-mutuel wagering was banned in Texas, and in 1955 he helped launch the first edition of The Texas Thoroughbred magazine.

Through the years, our acquaintance grew into a friendship and eventually I became Publicity Director at Louisiana Downs where Allen was a frequent member of the press corp. I was also honored to work with him during my time as the editor, and he with his lead column Morning Line, for The Texas Thoroughbred he had created.

Allen passed away in 1997 at the age of 84 shortly after Lone Star Park opened their doors for the first time. The Allen Bogan Memorial Stakes for Texas-breds was announced shortly after his death and remains a cornerstone of the track's successful Texas Champions Day each year. With him went as much knowledge about the history of Texas horse racing as there exists.

He would write columns referencing the 1901 Goodwin's Official Turf Guide, or stories about traveling from Texas to Kentucky by train for the Kentucky Derby in the 1950s. He spoke and wrote with as much passion about the Texas-bred Friendship Stakes in the 1980s and 90s, as he did about the King Ranch winning the Triple Crown with Assault in '46.

There are many good things that can be written about my friend Allen, but this week I remember him for the same reason I think of Allen every year around this time. For it is opening week at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

Allen attended his first horse race with his wife Maxine in 1933 when they went to Arlington Downs in Arlington, Texas near what is now the Jerry Jones sports palace known as Cowboys Stadium. They fell in love with horse racing together, traveling around the state to Fair Park in Dallas, Epsom Downs in Houston and Alamo Downs in San Antonio.

In 1934, the couple traveled to Hot Springs for the re-opening of Oaklawn Park and as far as I know, they didn't miss a year at the Spa for the next 60 years. In fact, while in the armed services during World War II, Allen kept his Oaklawn Park streak alive by using his only R&R time to meet Maxine in Hot Springs for the races.

When pari mutuel racing returned to Texas in 1987, Maxine and Allen resumed their racing travels in their home state. They drove to the Gillespie County Fair in Fredricksburg, Trinity Meadows in Willow Park and G. Rollie White Downs in Brady before the larger tracks opened in Houston, San Antonio and Grand Prairie years later.

My first trip to Oaklawn Park came in 1988 while working at Louisiana Downs. My steak ended just three short years later when I moved to California to work at Los Alamitos and Hollywood Park.

Having returned to Texas 16 years ago, I've resumed my trips to Oaklawn. I'm lucky to have a group of friends who have made the annual trek from Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth to Oaklawn for decades now and I joined them in 1998.

Every morning we walk across the street from our Best Western Motel, past Rocky's Corner Pizza and into the barn area. Then breakfast in the track kitchen, the clocker's stand and a shed row if we can muster an invitation. Then back to the motel to study and discuss, before we're back across the street to catch the first at Aqueduct. The first two days we camp in the Oyster Bar until the last at Santa Anita. First winner buys the first shrimp. Then we have a dinner often comprised of pizza or fried chicken and back to Oaklawn for Sam Houston, Los Alamitos and harness and dog track du jour.

Age usually forces us to dine with utensils the second night and sit at a table in the Carousel Room during day three at the races before driving back to Texas that night.

Conversations range from Blushing Groom being by Red God to Woody Stephens' five Belmont winners to "Cowboy Jack Kaenel rode Aloma's Ruler." Someone usually refers to a jockey as a "human sail" while getting split in an exacta and mustard on a shirt is just a good topic of discussion. At one time, Don Julio was our musical director, but I was forced to let him go. We have yet to have a shortage of individual or group confused states throughout the trip however.

It may not be the way everybody enjoys a weekend at the races. And I'm not sure I recommend it. But it's one of my favorite weekends of the year and I'll bet Allen and Maxine are proud of us.

Oaklawn Baby! We're going to Oaklawn!

(Photo L to R: Andy Koester, Jeff Hooper, Rush McGinty, Tommy Roberts, Brock Sheridan)

Editor's Note: We will be at Oaklawn Park February 19, 20, 21. I hope to see you there.


Anonymous said...

Brock I played on many teams-Semi Pro
Worked on the Force Etc-
What Im trying to say--Ive been around the block, pre all this
& You Sir are One Cool Cat-Whom Has (it) together my man.....

Waquiot said...

Brock can you bring whatever that last guy is smoking or drinking to Oaklawn?