The Brock Talk

Friday, June 3, 2011

Gone West

Since before the day I Are Sharp and jockey Marlon St. Julien won the first race ever run at Lone Star Park in 1997, Gary West has been a member of the local media. Before that, he was a fixture in horse racing in the southwest for the better part of three decades. The history of the Grand Prairie, Texas track and much of Texas racing can be found in the archives of his columns, articles and reports published and now stored in the archives of the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

But recently the Fort Worth paper made financial cut backs and Gary West and horse racing coverage were deleted from their plans. The two largest newspapers in Texas now have no horse racing coverage. With no West and no horse racing, I’m sure the Fort Worth rag will lose subscribers. But that is something they and most newspapers are very much accustomed to in recent years.

What is more concerning to me is that horse racing has lost – at least temporarily – Gary West. For the last 30 years, West has been among the best writers in the industry. It is safe to say there are few other newspaper scribes who are as devoted to racing as West. A son of a jockey and a former jockey valet at Jefferson Downs, West has been more than another member of the media. West has been an ambassador for the sport.

In the interest of disclosure, I first me Gary West in 1987 when I was a publicity assistant at Louisiana Downs and he covering horse racing for Shreveport Times. We have been friends since.

West has an endless list of appearances at Kiwanas Club breakfasts and Lions Club lunches. West would also appear in horse racing and handicapping seminars at the track, in hotel lobbies, at banquests, dinners, at three county fairs and a pumpkin rollin’ if necessary. Most of these events came with no financial compensation to, and some with investment from, West.

West has also spent considerable time walking shed rows, sitting in tack rooms and leaning against outside rails talking with owners, trainers, jockeys, breeders, grooms and exercise riders. He was indiscriminate in seeking information or just conversing about a young prospect. He has spent as much time as any major turf writer clocking horses in the early morning and sharing a beer with other horse players in the afternoon or evening races. If there was a story on the backside or a steamer in the third, West usually knew about it.

He has an accent that is as mysterious as his hair styles – past and present. He is seldom seen without coat and tie and snake skin cowboy boots and his list of contacts and friends in horse racing is as long as the Fair Grounds stretch. He has as many horse player tales as any long time punter – some of which are played out by the characters in Razoo at the Races, a novel he wrote with his friend Marvin Small. But ask him for reading recommendations and he will say T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets before Ainsle’s Guide to Thoroughbred Racing or a Dick Francis novel. (With no offense to the late Mr. Francis or Mr. Ainsle.)

He once drove all night from New Orleans to Louisville just to watch Secretariat put in his final work before the Derby. His first $100 wager was just days later on Big Red in the Kentucky Derby. He considers one of his worst days May 17, 1998 – the day his selections in the newspaper would win race after race after race as West watched from the Pimlico press box while covering the Preakness won by Real Quiet. It was also the day Pimlico lost electrical power at the track and West spent the day watching his winning selections – unable to make a single bet. Any horse player can appreciate the irony and agony.

So here’s hoping that we’ll see Mr. West is back at the races sometime soon. Ideally, we will have his writing to read again too.


Anonymous said...

I have similar fond memories of knowing Gary since 1989 or so. Spent quite a few days watching races and drinking beer with him at LAD and Trinity Meadows. Didnt much care for LSP and moved out of the area about 10 years ago so havent seen him in awhile. I wish him the best of luck and quick return to writing abut the sport he loves. I'm guessing Kentucky might be calling him back in the near future with the state of the sport in Texas.

Brock Sheridan said...

I agree Jim. The sooner we fans can share a beer with Gary and read his columns, the better for racing.