Archive for the ‘Thoroughbred racing’ Category

John Ed Anthony, Mr. Garland and lots of trees

Friday, December 9th, 2011

It’s chilly on this early December morning as John Ed Anthony carries another piece of wood to throw onto the fire.

I’m at Anthony’s Shortleaf Farm, a gorgeous spread between Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine on Arkansas Highway 290.

On Feb. 10, the University of Arkansas’ Sam Walton College of Business will induct Anthony into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.

Also being inducted are Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman Jr., CJRW chairman emeritus Wayne Cranford and former Wal-Mart president Jack Shewmaker.

John Ed long has been one of my favorite Arkansas business leaders, dating back to my days as a young sportswriter when his Loblolly Stable was among the top thoroughbred racing and breeding operations in America.

On this morning, though, we spend more time talking about the timber industry and his family’s long, colorful history in that business. Having grown up in the pine woods of south Arkansas, it’s an area that interests me.

“Most people only ask me about racing, and that’s just a small part of who I am,” John Ed says.

Any discussion of what’s now Anthony Timberlands Inc. must start at Bearden in Ouachita County, a town that had a population of only 966 people in the 2010 census (down from a high of 1,300 in the 1950 census).

Bearden was founded as a railroad stop along what would become the Cotton Belt Railway Line. The city limits were set in 1882 by the Southwest Improvement Association, an agency of the Railway Land Office. Bearden was named for Judge John T. Bearden, a lawyer for the association.

Surrounded by virgin forests, Bearden soon began to prosper. In 1885, the Cotton Belt Lumber Co. picked Bearden as the site of a large lumber mill.

“Lumber was the driving force of Bearden’s economy,” according to a history of the town posted on the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “Four large lumber mills — the Cotton Belt mill, the Freeman-Smith Lumber Co., the Eagle Lumber Co. and the Stout Lumber Co. — operated within six miles of the town from 1885 to 1930. At one point, the mills employed and supported more than 2,000 area men and their families. Most of the mill workers were farmers or sons of farmers. They would work the mills by day and the fields before and after work.

“While the success was long lasting, Bearden, like many communities in the early 1900s, experienced the results of unsound lumber practices. Many acres were cut and not replanted correctly or at all, resulting in a shift in milling. Even so, the town continued to prosper, but with fewer mills. The first mill to leave was in 1923.”

Enter Garland Anthony, who would become a legendary figure in the forestry industry known simply as Mr. Garland.

Mr. Garland and an uncle built a sawmill in 1907. By 1910, the uncle had turned the operation over to Mr. Garland, declaring that he was heading back to the farm to raise cotton.

Mr. Garland was John Ed’s grandfather, by the way.

Mr. Garland’s grandfather, Addison Anthony, had come to south Arkansas in the 1840s from Virginia. Garland Anthony was born in 1884 and grew up near Bearden, where his family farmed and raised livestock.

Noting Mr. Garland’s sawmill, George Balogh goes on to write for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture: “Other members of the family, along with outside partners, started similar operations in southern Arkansas, eastern Texas and northern Louisiana. Between 1910 and 1930, Garland and his brothers Frank, William and Oliver formed Anthony Brothers Lumber and built their first permanent mill in Hopeville (Calhoun County), accumulating 2,000 acres of cut-over timberland in the process.

“The brothers built their mills in areas that large companies had harvested and left behind. They discovered that a cut-over pine forest in southern Arkansas could renew itself in 20 to 30 years and could become self-sustaining if properly managed. The company became a leader in the techniques of selective harvesting — giving smaller trees time to mature so the forest could be harvested repeatedly over the long term.”

The big companies that had cut the virgin forests moved to the West Coast once they had finished their work in Arkansas.

John Ed says of Mr. Garland’s efforts to capitalize on what they left behind: “He would cut the second-growth forests and say, ‘Leave those little trees.’ In a sense, it was the beginning of modern forestry.”

Through multiple partnerships, the Anthony family operated between 20 and 30 mills in the 1930s.

John Ed began the first grade in Bearden in 1945. By Christmas that year, he had moved with his parents to Woodville, a town deep in the piney woods of southeast Texas.

John Ed’s parents divorced in 1951. His father moved back to Arkansas. John Ed remained in Woodville through high school with his mother.

He had never set foot in Fayetteville until his first day at the University of Arkansas, where he majored in business. A month before he graduated from college in 1961, John Ed received word that his father had died at age 48 of a massive heart attack.

At age 22, John Ed leased a house in Bearden and took his wife and one-month-old son Steven there to join forces with 77-year-old Mr. Garland.

In 1966, John Ed oversaw the replacement of the family mill at Bearden with a concrete-and-steel facility. When he approached his partners in the early 1970s with expansion plans, they declined. John Ed moved forward by himself, forming Anthony Timberlands Inc. He quickly acquired the Hot Spring County Lumber Co. at Malvern and its holdings.

George Balogh picks it up from there: “Within two years, ATI acquired the Hollicer-Jones Lumber Co. in Benton along with its land holdings. In the 1980s, Frizzell Lumber Co. in Gurdon and International Paper’s mill in Beirne were acquired by ATI. Bearden Lumber Co. remained in family ownership under ATI management until fully acquired by ATI in 2006. The headquarters were always in Bearden, less than three miles from Garland Anthony’s original mill.

“John Ed Anthony focused on quality and modernization to build mills that provide a variety of products for both domestic and overseas customers. During these years, timberland acquisition continued, with acreage owned by ATI and other family partnerships growing from 70,000 acres in 1961 to 180,000 acres owned and 30,000 outside acres managed by 2006

“Sister companies Anthony Hardwood Composites in Sheridan, Anthony Wood Treating in Hope and Anthony-Higgs Lumber Co. in Gurdon were formed as private entities under ATI’s management umbrella. Anthony Hardwood Composites is a laminating facility that utilizes low-grade kiln-dried hardwood lumber to make engineered industrial matting for the support of heavy equipment where ground conditions are soft. … Anthony Wood Treating, built in 1987, produces treated wood for outdoor applications like decking, landscape timbers and fencing. …

“The Benton mill was consolidated into the Malvern plant in 1980 and production expanded. The Frizzell mill was consolidated into the modernized and expanded Beirne mill with Frizzell converted to Anthony-Higgs Lumber, a hardwood concentration facility.

“The Bearden and Malvern mills produce pine framing lumber, timbers and decking. The Beirne mill produces hardwood lumber products, primarily oak, with timber from the bottomlands of the Ouachita, Saline and Little rivers and area creeks. Associated with the Beirne mill are log-storage facilities in East Camden and Rockport as well as drying facilities at Fordyce.

“ATI’s timberland management team is headquartered in Bearden. Its staff of about 10 graduate foresters advises timberland owners, without cost, to promote multiple-use concepts to optimize land use. The company’s pine and treated wood sales office is in Arkadelphia. In normal operation, ATI has about 750 direct employees working in the mills and offices. Contractors who service the mills total about 400 — 250 in logging, 100 in trucking and 50 in security.”

John Ed’s son Steven has been the ATI president since 2004.

With significant declines in the housing market, the timber industry has suffered in recent years.

“I wish I could be optimistic about the future, but I can’t be,” John Ed says as he throws another log on the fire. “It has been a bloodbath the past five years or so.”

He notes the mills that have closed across south Arkansas — Georgia-Pacific mills at El Dorado and Fordyce, Weyerhaeuser operations at Mountain Pine, a Potlatch mill at Prescott, a Bean Lumber Co. mill at Glenwood, the Georgia-Pacific plywood operation at Crossett, the reduction of Potlatch operations at Warren from three shifts to just one.

“That’s hundreds of millions of board feet production we’ve lost,” he says. “We now have a huge inventory of uncut timber. Trees that were planted in the 1980s and the 1990s are cutting size, but there’s no demand for them. I don’t see it turning around anytime soon.”

Certainly John Ed has done his part to promote the industry and promote Arkansas through the decades. That’s why he’s being inducted into the Business Hall of Fame.

His grandson Addison makes the seventh generation of Anthony family members working in the forests of south Arkansas. The family tradition continues.

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More on the Hall of Fame Class of 2012

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

No one who knows Arkansas can dispute that one of the most recognizable voices in our state is that of Terry Wallace, who retired from the track announcer’s booth at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs this past spring after 37 consecutive seasons of calling the races there.

Terry is part of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2012, which will be inducted during the organization’s annual banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock on the evening of Friday, Feb. 3.

Terry was known for trademark lines such as “here they come into the short stretch of the mile run” and “picking ’em up and laying ’em down.”

He set a record for consecutive race calls at a single track that may never be broken. Terry hit the 20,000 race mark with his call of the third race on March 25, 2010. He ended his streak at 20,191 calls following the fourth race on Jan. 28 of this year.

Through the years, Terry called the races of such greats as Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Curlin, Azeri, Cigar, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Sunny’s Halo and Temperence Hill.

Larry Collmus, the track announcer at Gulfstream Park and Monmouth Park, said: “When someone says Oaklawn, the first thing that comes to mind is Terry Wallace.”

In addition to Wallace, those being inducted from the regular category are former University of Arkansas basketball star Lee Mayberry, former Newport High School head football coach Bill Keedy, former Razorback basketball star U.S. Reed, former Razorback football standout “Light Horse” Harry Jones and Little Rock native and former Oklahoma State University head football coach Pat Jones.

The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 Razorback national championship basketball team.

Last week, we briefly profiled the other inductees from the regular category.

This week, let’s take a look at the three inductees from the senior category and the two inductees from the posthumous category:

Senior category:

Margaret Downing — Downing, among the true pioneers in the history of women’s basketball in Arkansas, was the head coach at Southern Arkansas University from 1965-84. Her Riderettes won eight Arkansas Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Association titles. She also coached teams to several state Amateur Athletic Union championships in the years before AWISA.

The Waldo native was an innovator and a promoter of women’s basketball, serving on committees and associations at the state and national levels. She was associated with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the U.S. Girls Basketball League and the U.S. Junior Olympic Basketball Committee through the years.

Bob Ford — As a center and linebacker, Ford helped guide Wynne to the state championship in 1950. He was awarded a football scholarship to what’s now the University of Memphis and was the team’s most valuable player as an end in 1954.

After serving in the U.S. Army from 1956-58, Ford joined the staff of fellow Arkansas native Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama and served on Bryant’s staff for three seasons. Ford coached at the University of Georgia during the 1961 season and was the defensive coordinator for the University of Kentucky in 1962.

After spending the 1963 season as a player personnel employee for the Dallas Cowboys, Ford coached in 1964-65 at Kentucky, in 1966 at Mississippi State University and in 1967-69 as the freshman coach under Frank Broyles at Arkansas while also obtaining his law degree.

Ford began practicing law in Wynne in 1970 and also spent 25 years as a part-time player scout for the Dallas Cowboys.

Elmer “B” Lindsey — Old-timers in east Arkansas will tell you that perhaps the best high school backfield in the state’s history was the one in 1957 at Forrest City that included “B” Lindsey, Sonny Holmes, Dan Wilford and Clinton Gore.

Forrest City was a powerhouse in high school football in those days, going 77-36-7 from 1954-64. Lindsey played on an undefeated team in 1957, scoring 22 touchdowns as a halfback despite a broken hand.

Lindsey scored 44 touchdowns in a high school career that saw the three teams on which he played post a combined 30-2 record. He also starred in basketball, baseball and track at Forrest City.

Lindsey was Frank Broyles’ first football signee at Arkansas but chose instead to sign a baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. His signing bonus was believed to have been more than $50,000, the most ever offered to an Arkansas player to that point.

Lindsey played in the Cardinal organization for six seasons. After those six years in the minor leagues, he returned to St. Francis County to operate his family’s farming interests.

Posthumous category:

Raymond Bright — He excelled as a football and track coach at Conway High School and the University of Central Arkansas. After playing on UCA’s 1947 championship football team, Bright began his coaching career in 1949 at Conway Junior High School and was later the athletic director, head football coach and head track coach at Conway High School.

Bright went to work at what’s now UCA in 1958. He was the head football coach at the school from 1965-71. His 1965 and 1966 teams earned shares of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship.

Bright left coaching following the 1971 season. He later served as UCA’s director of housing. Bright previously was inducted into the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame and the UCA Sports Hall of Fame.

Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton — Born in 1876, Clayton moved with his family to Pulaski County when he was 10. He attended school while working as an errand boy to earn extra money for the large family.

Clayton left home at age 12 in 1888 to live with his older brother, Albertus, a jockey in Chicago.

“Lonnie” Clayton was soon working as an exercise rider at stables owned by racing legend E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin. Clayton became one of only two 15-year-old jockeys to ever win the Kentucky Derby. Aboard Azra, he came from behind in the stretch to win the Kentucky Derby by a nose in May 1892.

Clayton was second in the Kentucky Derby in 1893, third in 1895 and second in 1897. To provide for a family that included eight siblings in Arkansas, Clayton bought property and built a home in what’s now North Little Rock in 1892. The home, located at 2105 Maple St., still stands.

At the peak of his career in 1895, Clayton posted 144 wins and was in the money in 403 of 688 races.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 1959. Andrew Meadors of Little Rock is the organization’s president, and Ray Tucker serves as the executive director.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Museum on the west side of Verizon Arena is open each Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. It includes an 88-seat theater with a video highlighting the careers of Arkansas sports greats along with a touch-screen kiosk with a database of all Hall of Fame inductees.

Members of the Hall of Fame vote each year on inductees. Membership dues are $50 annually. Membership forms can be obtained by going to the organization’s website at

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Hall of Fame Class of 2012

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

You remember that night of Monday, April 4, 1994, don’t you?

The national championship in basketball was on the line when a 6-6 junior named Scotty Thurman hit the most famous shot in University of Arkansas basketball history with 51 seconds left.

Thurman’s three-point shot snapped a 70-70 tie against Duke.

Arkansas went on to win the national championship, 76-72, over a Duke team that was amazingly playing in its sixth Final Four in seven years and its fourth championship game.

We all cheered when Russellville native Corliss Williamson was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

I was home alone that night. My wife and son had gone to south Texas to visit relatives. I was the political editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at the time, obsessed with the second year of the Clinton administration and the coming midterm elections. Watching the game on CBS provided a nice respite from politics.

It was a warm night in Little Rock. I can remember going out onto my back deck to listen to the radio postgame coverage once the television coverage had ended. I could hear the cars honking up on Cantrell Road. Over at Reservoir Park, they were setting off fireworks.

Thurman, Williamson, their teammates and their coaches will be honored Feb. 3 when the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012 is inducted during the annual banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.

This is the second time in its history that the Hall of Fame has inducted an entire team. Arkansas is still a football state, so it was probably to be expected that the first team to be inducted would be the 1964 national championship Razorback football squad. It was inducted in 2010.

It was a no brainer, however, for the second team to be the Razorback basketball champions from 1994. The man who coached that team, Nolan Richardson, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. Thurman was inducted in 2010, and Williamson was inducted in 2009.

There also will be 11 individuals inducted as part of the Class of 2012.

One of them is Lee Mayberry, who joined with Todd Day to lead Arkansas to the 1990 Final Four in Denver, where the Hogs lost in the national semifinals to Duke. Day was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.

The Class of 2012 will consist of six people from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category.

In addition to Mayberry, those being inducted from the regular category are former Oaklawn Park track announcer Terry Wallace, former Newport High School head football coach Bill Keedy, former Razorback basketball player U.S. Reed, former Razorback football player “Light Horse” Harry Jones and Little Rock native and former Oklahoma State University head football coach Pat Jones.

Those being inducted from the senior category are former Forrest City star athlete Elmer “B” Lindsey, former college coach and NFL scout Bob Ford of Wynne and former Southern Arkansas University women’s basketball coach Margaret Downing.

Those being inducted from the posthumous category are former University of Central Arkansas head football coach Raymond Bright and 1892 Kentucky Derby winning jockey Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inducted its first class way back in 1959. Here’s a short look at some of those in the Class of 2012:

— Harry Jones: The Enid, Okla., native lettered for the Razorback football team from 1964-66. He was an All-Southwest Conference selection in 1965 and developed a national reputation for his breakaway runs on offense, earning the nickname “Light Horse.”

Jones played safety on the 1964 national championship team, ending the season with 44 tackles and two interceptions. During the 1965 and 1966 seasons, Jones rushed 166 times for 974 yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught 29 passes for 598 yards and five touchdowns.

He was the first Razorback to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated following Arkansas’ 1965 win over Texas. Jones was selected in the first round of the 1967 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles and played for the Eagles from 1967-70.

— Pat Jones: The future coach developed an interest in football while growing up in Little Rock. He was a lineman for the Forest Heights Eagles in junior high, a guard for the Hall High Warriors in high school and a linebacker and nose guard for the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys in college before transferring after his freshman season to the University of Arkansas.

Jones was the head coach at Oklahoma State from 1984-94 after having served five years as an assistant at OSU under Jimmy Johnson. His teams compiled a 62-60-3 record and went 3-1 in bowl games. During the five-year stretch from 1984 through 1988, the Cowboys were 44-15 with records of 10-2 in ’84, 8-4 in ’85, 6-5 in ’86, 10-2 in ’87 and 10-2 in ’88.

Oklahoma State won the Gator Bowl after the ’84 season, the Sun Bowl after the ’87 season and the Holiday Bowl following the ’88 season.

Jones coached nine All-America players at Oklahoma State and later was an assistant coach for the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders under Johnson, Dave Wannstadt and Norv Turner.

— Bill Keedy: A Newport native, Keedy attended Arkansas State University and is still a member of the radio broadcast team for Red Wolf football games. Keedy had a successful run as the head football coach at Paragould High School in the early 1970s. Following the 1975 season, he went to Sylvan Hills. After just one season as the head coach there, Keedy returned to his hometown of Newport in 1977. He compiled a 175-48-3 record at Newport before retiring. His overall record as a high school head coach was 199-55-4.

Keedy was the district coach of the year 17 times, and his teams reached the playoffs 19 times. Newport won state championships under his leadership in 1981 and 1991. Greyhound teams also reached the championship games of 1988 and 1989. Newport made it as far as the semifinals eight times.

Keedy, who was a member of the high school all-star coaching staff 10 times, was later inducted into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

— Lee Mayberry: Nolan Richardson recruited Mayberry out of Will Rogers High School at Tulsa, where he had led his team to the 1988 state championship. Mayberry would wind up scoring 1,940 points during his college career at Arkansas.

Mayberry, one of the best point guards in school history, was an All-Southwest Conference selection in 1990 and 1991 and an All-Southeastern Conference selection in 1992. The four teams Mayberry played on at Arkansas had a combined record of 115-24 and made the NCAA Tournament all four seasons. The Razorbacks were 25-7 his freshman season, 30-5 his sophomore year, 34-4 his junior year and 26-8 his senior season.

Mayberry was selected in the first round of the 1992 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. He played from 1992-96 for the Bucks and from 1996-99 for the Vancouver Grizzlies.

— U.S. Reed: If Thurman made the most famous shot in Razorback basketball history, the second most famous shot was almost certainly made by U.S. Reed. He hit a shot from just past the half-court line at the horn in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Austin in 1981 as the Razorbacks defeated the defending national champions from Louisville, 74-73.

I was sitting at courtside that afternoon in Austin, covering the game for Arkadelphia’s Daily Siftings Herald. I’ll never forget it. Abe Lemons, then the head basketball coach at the University of Texas, came out of his office after the game and led the Arkansas pep band in calling the Hogs. What a day.

You can still watch the shot (and hear Paul Eells’ radio call of “Arkansas did it, Arkansas did it, Arkansas did it”) by going to YouTube.

Arkansas lost its next game in the tournament to LSU at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans (I was at that game also), but Reed’s shot in Austin will always live in Razorback lore.

Reed had helped lead Pine Bluff High School to a state championship in 1977 and was part of the Razorback team that made it to the 1978 Final Four. Reed, a guard, was a starter by his sophomore year. The Razorbacks made the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament in 1979, losing to an Indiana State team led by Larry Bird.

In 1979, Reed also played on the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the World University Games. The four Razorback teams on which Reed played went 32-4, 25-5, 21-9 and 24-8, making the NCAA Tournament all four seasons.

We’ll take a look at the other members of the Class of 2012 in a later post.

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Archarch. . . ouch! (John Ed understands)

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Hopes were so high for Bob Yagos and his wife, Val, of Jacksonville going into last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

Their 3-year-old thoroughbred, Archarcharch, had won the Arkansas Derby just three weeks earlier and now was being touted by many racing analysts as a longshot worth keeping an eye on in Louisville.

Meanwhile, extensive media attention had focused on 70-year-old trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs, who has been in the business for five decades and finally had a horse in the Kentucky Derby.

Not only that, the jockey was his son-in-law, a 50-year-old veteran rider named Jon Court.

Thoroughbred racing can bring owners, trainers and jockeys alike to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

Saturday, April 16, in Hot Springs had been the highest of highs for Bob and Val Yagos, Jinks Fires and Jon Court.

On the first Saturday in May in Kentucky, it was a different story.

Archarcharch stumbled coming out of the No. 1 post position and was never a factor in the race. The horse pulled up lame just after the finish. Those across the country who were watching the race on NBC had a sickening feeling as they saw Archarcharch being loaded into an ambulance.

X-rays revealed a fracture in the left front leg, and it was announced that Archarcharch would be retired from racing.

It could, of course, have been even worse.

Ruffian. Go For Wand. Charismatic. Swale. Holy Bull. Barbaro.

The list of great horses who had career and even life-ending injuries is long.

Arkansan John Ed Anthony understands.

In May 1993, the chairman of Anthony Timberlands Inc. stood at the top of the sport of kings. He had joined Harry Payne Whitney and the famed Calumet Farm of Kentucky that year in being the only 20th-century owners to win the Preakness Stakes in back-to-back years.

The highest of highs.

In June 1993, however, things began to change for Anthony, a 2001 inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Prairie Bayou, who had been the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and the winner of the Preakness, shattered a leg in the Belmont Stakes.

“The horse was strong and sound, had never had any physical problems, was on one of the safest tracks in America, just galloping along at the back of the pack, not even extended, and took a step and shattered his leg,” Anthony later told The Baltimore Sun. “More than anything, the emotion I felt was absolute astonishment.”

The lowest of lows.

John Eisenberg would describe it this way in the Sun: “Wild-eyed, unable to stand, the horse was taken by ambulance from the track to the Loblolly barn. After conferring with veterinarians, Anthony reluctantly agreed to have the horse euthanized a half-hour after the race. He is still haunted by his decision.”

“They kept telling me no horse had recovered from such an injury,” Anthony told the Sun. “I kept saying, ‘Death is always an option, but why do we have to do it now?’ They finally convinced me the situation just wasn’t going to change. But I have often wondered if it wasn’t the right time to try some of the radical procedures that are out there. The horse was a classic champion.”

Condolence letters poured in from around the world.

A year later, none of Anthony’s 37 3-year-olds proved worthy of running in the Triple Crown races. The best of the 1994 crop, Bayou Bartholomew, had been injured in the Arkansas Derby and retired.

Thus John Ed Anthony never had the chance to do what others in the 20th century could not do — win the Preakness three consecutive times.

Whitney had won with Bostonian in 1927 and Victorian in 1928, but Beacon Hill finished fifth in 1929.

Calumet won with Faultless in 1947 and Citation in 1948, but Kentucky Derby winner Ponder ran fifth in the 1949 Preakness.

Anthony had started Loblolly Stable with his wife Mary Lynn in 1975.

Loblolly began gaining attention as Cox’s Ridge won important races in 1977 and 1978. Then came Temperence Hill’s 1980 Belmont Stakes victory along with the Preakness victories of Pine Bluff in 1992 and Prairie Bayou in 1993.

John Ed and Mary Lynn divorced in 1988 after almost 28 years of marriage but continued for several more years as the co-owners of Loblolly.

“You divorce your husband, but you don’t divorce your friend,” Mary Lynn once said.

Mary Lynn married Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Robert Dudley, and Anthony also remarried.

In 1994, though, John Ed and Mary Lynn decided to desolve Loblly.

“If you want to blame someone, blame me,” Mary Lynn told the Sun that year. “John Ed and I have worked together well on Loblolly, but I have a new life, and it was getting harder to fit racing into it. And then Prairie Bayou was so devastating. I realized I had reached the point where the highs didn’t make up for the lows.”

Loblolly’s mares, yearlings and weanlings were sold at auctions in Lexington, Ky.

John Ed Anthony, however, wasn’t about to leave the racing game he had so come to love. He quickly created Shortleaf Stable.

“The name is symbolic,” Eisenberg wrote. “The shortleaf is a species of pine, a smaller, higher-quality species than the loblobby, which is more common in Arkansas.”

Shortleaf Stable would be smaller than Loblolly had been, but there would be quality.

Anthony, a Bearden native, was born in February 1939 and graduated in 1961 from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He briefly enrolled in law school but returned home when his father died. He knew the family timber business in the vast pine woods of south Arkansas was his calling and wanted to help his grandfather operate that business.

Anthony’s ancestors had settled the area in the 1840s. In 1907, his grandfather, Garland Anthony, began operating a small sawmill near Bearden. By the 1930s, the man affectionately known across the Gulf Coastal Plain as Mr. Garland had built one of the largest timber operations in the South.

From its headquarters in Bearden — just three miles from the original mill –Anthony Timberlands operates sawmills and other wood products businesses across south Arkansas.

Mr. Garland died in 1982 at age 97. John Ed Anthony’s grandchildren are the seventh generation of their family to work in those forests.

“We believe the seven generations of heritage invested in our lands, plants and communities require a higher standard than simply operating for a profit,” Anthony says. “Each succeeding generation is challenged to leave a better forest and a better company than when they arrived.”

Anthony, who recently completed a term on the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, stresses quality in both his timber and racing operations. He has used some of the best trainers in the business — D. Wayne Lukas, John Veitch, Shug McGaughey, Joe Cantey.

The emphasis on quality extends to other areas.

In September 2006, the $5.8 million Anthony Chapel complex opened at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs following a major donation by John Ed Anthony and his wife, Isabel Burton Anthony. There’s a six-story, wood-and-glass chapel that’s an architectural wonder along with a bride’s hall, a groom’s quarters and the 57-foot Anthony Family Carillon, an electric bell tower. The complex was designed by Fayetteville architects Maurice Jennings and David McKee.

“I think horses have to be secondary toward some higher purpose in life,” Anthony once told Mike Downey of the Los Angeles Times. “Except maybe if you’re in the Pony Express and the Indians are chasing you, how fast a horse can run is not really very important in the whole grand scheme of things.”

Anthony, though, will long be remembered as having been among the greatest American thoroughbred owners of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

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A Derby Day to remember

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Red Smith has long been recognized as one of the greatest sportswriters in American history.

He spent more than four decades writing columns, first for the New York Herald Tribune and later for The New York Times.

Smith, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for distinguished commentary, once said: “There are more stories per square foot at the racetrack than anywhere else in sports. If there are 80 horses running today, there are at least 80 stories, most of them more interesting than who won or lost a ballgame.”

I thought of Red Smith’s words as I drove down Central Avenue shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday.

It was Derby Day at Oaklawn, and the town was hopping. There were so many potential stories here, I thought to myself, thinking yet again like the newspaper editor I once was.

I was late arriving at the track — the gates had opened at 10 a.m. and the first of 12 races had exited the starting gate at 12:05 p.m. — because I had spent the morning attending the 70th annual meeting of the Arkansas Historical Association in Little Rock.

Perhaps it was better this way. I avoided the morning traffic jam, I still arrived in plenty of time for the Arkansas Derby and I was able to contemplate the magnitude of this event as I looked at the parking lots, the yards and the side streets filled with cars.

Following the deadly storms of Thursday night and the cold winds of Friday, the weather Saturday could not have been more beautiful. A crowd of 62,364 — numbers surpassed in this state only by a Razorback football game in Fayetteville — turned out to watch a long shot with Arkansas owners win the Arkansas Derby.

I have a hard time remembering a better day at the track. It’s not about winning money for me. I can have a fine time without ever placing a bet. It’s about people watching, visiting with friends, eating and soaking in the unique atmosphere of Derby Day.

When you think about it, you realize that thoroughbred racing is the only professional sport in which our state is in the major leagues.

We don’t have a major league baseball team.

We don’t have an NBA, NFL or NHL team.

But we do have Oaklawn. With the success of the 3-year-olds that have competed in this race in recent years, the Arkansas Derby certainly has solidified its standing as a leading Triple Crown prep race.

It was good to see that the state’s top two sports columnists — Wally Hall and Harry King — were at Oaklawn on Saturday. Frankly, it amazes me that Little Rock television stations will lead their sportscasts with what in essence is a glorified football practice rather than one of the top events in American racing.

Oh well.

My print bias is showing.

In the introduction to a collection of stories on thoroughbred racing titled “Finished Lines,” Frank Scatoni writes: “There is an old saying, often attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, that adequately sums up man’s relationship with the horse: ‘There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.’

“Anyone, from the smallest child to the most wizened old curmudgeon, who has ever seen a horse run — unfettered, graceful and with the look of eagles in his eyes — knows this saying to be true. Men, women and children alike find their affections running deep for the thoroughbred.

“Unlike any other sport (with the possible exception of baseball), horse racing has been a breeding ground for quality literature. Talented writers have found the grace, beauty and sheer athleticism of the thoroughbred the inspiration for which to wax poetic about the sport, the animal and, most important, man’s relation — physical, spiritual and psychological — to this near-perfect creature and the races it runs.

“William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway wrote about the sport: Faulkner about the 1955 Kentucky Derby showdown between Swaps and Nashua; Hemingway — in ‘A False Spring’ — about attending the jump races in France, penniless and in dire need of a long shot.

“Hunter S. Thompson, offbeat chronicler of America’s political traditions, spent a week at Churchill Downs covering the 1970 Kentucky Derby, won by 15-1 shot Dust Commander. Humorist A.J. Liebling, who spent many a year penning columns for The New Yorker, was a huge fan of the sport and wrote about it regularly for that bastion of literary tradition. Sports Illustrated hit the newsstands in 1954 to give us almost 50 years of sophisticated racing coverage with Whitney Tower and William Nack.”

Indeed, Saturday was the kind of day that invites colorful prose. I’ll try to spare you my own feeble attempts to write eloquently on the subject of a Derby Day held on a perfect April afternoon in Hot Springs with the exception of these observations:

— I was glad to see Charles Cella’s thoroughbred, Uncle Brent, win The Northern Spur stakes race. Arkansas is fortunate to have one of the few family-owned tracks remaining in the country, especially since the man known around the track as CJC has raised his own children to share his love for the sport and for Hot Springs.

The Cellas bring a touch of class to Oaklawn, never allowing the gaming aspect to overcome the color and tradition of thoroughbred racing.

“People waste countless hours debating whether thoroughbred racing is a sport or a form of gambling, when the answer is simple and obvious: It’s both,” Daily Racing Form editor Steven Crist wrote in “Finished Lines.” “Without wagering, which ultimately provides all of the economic fuel for the racing game, only a few wealthy eccentrics would raise horses, as if they were champion orchids or poodles. Without the emotional impact of the sport that surrounds the gambling, racing would be no more compelling than jai-alai or slot machines, a way of generating numbers and payoffs.”

For the Cellas, this family tradition is about more than generating numbers.

— I like the addition of the corporate tents on the infield for the Racing Festival of the South. It gives the Arkansas Derby the feel of a Triple Crown race and introduces new people to the sport.

— I noticed more hats on ladies than ever before this year. Hats have always been de rigueur for the Kentucky Derby. Now, the trend seems to be growing for the Arkansas Derby. It’s a welcome trend. Go ahead, ladies. Start shopping for the perfect hat for next year’s Arkansas Derby.

— Thanks for keeping me on your list to receive an Arkansas Derby tie, Mr. Cella and Eric Jackson. Those silk ties from Italy are another outstanding tradition (there’s a well-written story on that tradition in the April issue of Arkansas Life magazine). The 2011 tie is especially beautiful. I wore it to the track on Saturday, and I wore it again today. Heck, Harry King and I still wear Arkansas Derby ties from the early 1980s.

Melissa — my wife of almost 22 years who I hauled to both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness infields shortly after we were engaged in 1989 — and I stayed until the end on Saturday. As the crowd cleared out and the sun began to set, we stood along the rail to watch the marathon (a mile and three quarters) known as The Trails End, a race that didn’t begin until almost 7 p.m.

The traffic remained gridlocked on Central Avenue even after that 12th race, so we stepped into Stubby’s so I could indulge in some ribs.

A man at the next table — a fellow who obviously attends big races across the country — was talking on his cell phone to a friend.

“I’ll see you in Kentucky,” he said. “I wish you could have been here today. It’s not Santa Anita, but I like it down here.”

So do we.

For me, Arkansas Derby Day is a special day on my calendar — marked annually along with events such as the Grady Fish Fry, the Battle of the Ravine, the first day of dove season and the Slovak Oyster Supper.

I saw old friend Kelley Bass on the infield Saturday. He was attending his 32nd consecutive Arkansas Derby.

I can claim no such record. But since I’ve placed eating an Oaklawn burger on the infield on Arkansas Derby Day among the entries on the Natural State bucket list, it was fitting that I had two Oaklawn burgers in my hand at the time.

One for me.

One for Melissa.

Yes, I still left room for those Stubby’s ribs. By 8:15 p.m., the traffic on Central Avenue was moving again. We got in the car and said so long to live racing for another year.

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Off and running at Oaklawn Park

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

So often, it seems, winter weather plays havoc with the operations at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.

It happened again Friday when a frozen surface prevented Oaklawn from opening its 2011 race meet on schedule. The safety of the jockeys and horses must always come first.

They were off and running on Saturday, however, and more than 20,000 people turned out for the festivities.

That’s right — festivities.

The thing that continues to set Oaklawn apart from so many tracks in this country is the fact that a trip to Hot Springs — especially on a Saturday — is an “event” in this state. People get dressed up, invite their friends and discuss on the way to Hot Springs what they’re going to eat for lunch.

Unfortunately, such “event” tracks have become a rare breed across the country.

At Pimlico in Baltimore, for example, they dress up once a year for the Preakness Stakes. But on other days, Pimlico can be a dull, dreary, empty place.

I’ve written on this blog before how I would accompany a friend to Pimlico on fall Saturdays during the late 1980s when I lived in Washington, D.C. On a rainy Saturday, the wind would whistle through the old facility with few people in attendance. A line at the window? There was no such thing.

Pimlico and nearby Laurel recently received an emergency cash infusion just to keep their doors open.

Across the American landscape, countless other tracks have become sad, empty places — mere adjuncts in most cases to adjoining slot facilities.

Oaklawn is different. Yes, the so-called games of skill attract people 52 weeks a year. From January until the middle of April, though, the live racing is still the thing. Charles Cella and his sons will see to that.

One of my favorite books at home is a collection of paintings by Richard Stone Reeves called “Crown Jewels of Thoroughbred Racing.” Reeves’ work is accompanied by essays on various tracks, including an essay on Oaklawn by Hot Springs native Randy Moss.

I’m proud to call Randy my friend. We worked together at the old Arkansas Democrat. We hired Randy away from the Arkansas Gazette — the first major defection in the newspaper war — just after the Arkansas Derby and just before the Kentucky Derby in 1982. The Democrat ended up with three staff members in Louisville on the first Saturday in May — Randy, Wally Hall and yours truly. It was a week to remember.

Randy initially was known for his handicapping abilities but became quite a talented writer. Now, he’s known as a seasoned broadcaster. He can do it all, frankly.

The book was published back in 1997, but much of what Moss wrote then still holds true today. In fact, thanks to the introduction of Instant Racing and those other games of skill, Oaklawn is doing better now than it was 14 years ago.

“No palm trees line the entrance to this racetrack, and its paddock isn’t one of those botanical gardens that make horseplayers want to fold up their Daily Racing Form and splash on suntan lotion,” Moss writes. “It doesn’t have a Phipps or a Hancock on its board of directors. Thomas Jefferson never raced there and overalls outnumber neckties by three-to-one in the grandstand even on Sundays.

“But ask well-traveled horse lovers to recite their favorite racetracks and chances are good that Oaklawn Park will pop up in the conversation. For a little country track in Hot Springs, Ark., on a two-lane road between nowhere and no place, Oaklawn has made quite an impact on the racing world.

“During the track’s rapid rise to prominence in the late 1970s and early 1980s, racing executives from throughout the country and even reporters from Sports Illustrated and The New York Times were dispatched here in hopes of determining what made this unlikely racetrack so special. They usually returned home with a hangover and a stretched-to-the limit credit card, reporting that they couldn’t figure out the secret formula but sure enjoyed the heck out of the search. But without even knowing it, they knew it. The key to Oaklawn has always been simple. The track is one big party.”

You’re right, Randy. That’s indeed the secret to success. It remains fun, even for those who wouldn’t know a thoroughbred from a mule. If you’re only a casual fan of the races, try going to Aqueduct in New York one of these days and then compare it to the Oaklawn experience. Let me know what you think.

“It certainly didn’t hurt the track’s cause that the list of available major-league entertainment options in Arkansas is somewhat limited during the months of January through December,” Moss writes (I can just see that wry smile on his face as he wrote “January through December.”) “Oaklawn was clearly the place to be, and there they were, from every walk of society. Some viewed the races as an important cultural event, and dressed accordingly, but others preferred to wear ballcaps and jeans and sit on an infield blanket rather than a clubhouse chair. Mingling among them were the 10-gallon cowboy hats of Texas ranchers.”

Moss relates the marvelous story of the year when a young governor named Bill Clinton (yet another Hot Springs boy) showed up to present the trophy to the winner of the Arkansas Derby.

A New Orleans writer — with a vintage Nawlins accent — by the name of Ronnie Virgets asked Clinton, “Are you the owner of this horse?”

“No, I’m the governor of this state,” Clinton replied.

Virgets stared at him and then exclaimed: “Why you son of a gun! I’m older than you are!”

“From the politicians to the policemen, these were good-time folks, unlike the hard-core players that populated many big-city racetracks,” Moss writes. “Oaklawn was no architectural wonder, and its naive bettors never were treated especially well by the track or horsemen. But even on a losing day, patrons never seemed to lose sight of the notion that this was fun. People planned junkets for months in advance, and when they arrived in town, they were going to have a good time or deplete their bankroll trying.”

Many of the rich and famous of the thoroughbred racing world would find their way to Hot Springs without really realizing where they were.

Moss relates the story of Cuban-born trainer Laz Barrera remarking that he had never been to Oklahoma. Told that he still hadn’t been to Oklahoma, Barrera replied: “Well, wherever we are, it’s a long way from California.”

What many consider the glory days at Oaklawn began in the late 1970s and lasted until the introduction of casino gambling in Mississippi in the early 1990s.

Moss described it this way back in 1997: “Although great horses still are flown in for the Racing Festival of the South stakes, the crowds and enthusiasm have dimmed somewhat in recent years. The Clydesdales have been replaced by a tractor, the infield critters and wagon rides are gone, the price of a barrel of oil has dwindled by two-thirds, riverboat casinos in Mississippi and Louisiana have taken away many of the celebrants and some fans now stay home for the convenience of watching the track’s races on simulcast screens in Shreveport, Dallas-Fort Worth, Oklahoma City and West Memphis.

“But Oaklawn is still known as the place to be when the last week of the season rolls around, when the dogwoods are in full bloom and the sparkle returns to the old lady’s eyes.”

The old lady has received a remarkably successful facelift since those words were written.

Along came Eric Jackson’s Instant Racing invention.

Along came the other games of skill.

Up went the purses.

An amazing group of Triple Crown winners have won prep races at Oaklawn in recent years.

The buzz in the national media is positive.

For Arkansans who had let Oaklawn drop down on their list of leisure time activities, the track has once more become the place to see and be seen.

I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: I’m not sure that these aren’t the good ol’ days.

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New Orleans — a racing town

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

I’ve long enjoyed thoroughbred racing.

One of the many reasons I like New Orleans is because, among other things, it’s a racing town.

I hope some of the thousands of Arkansans in the city for the Sugar Bowl found time to make it out to the historic Fair Grounds Race Course. The horses run each Thursday through Monday this time of year at the Fair Grounds.

Union Race Course, which today is the site of the Fair Grounds, was laid out along Gentilly Road in 1852, making it the oldest thoroughbred racing site in the country that’s still in operation. Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the Fair Grounds, but it was partially rebuilt in time to host the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in April 2006.

Other restoration work was completed in time for the start of the 135th racing season that began on Thanksgiving Day 2006.

Here’s how The Associated Press began its story late that afternoon: “They hauled off soil tainted by Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters and rebuilt a grandstand roof ripped free by the storm’s wind. After more than a year of renovations, costing about $16 million, a Thanksgiving tradition — horse racing — returned to New Orleans on Thursday.

“The annual winter meet has started on Thanksgiving Day in all but a few years since 1934. Until last year, when Katrina forced the Fair Grounds to move its season to Louisiana Downs near Shreveport, people like 16-year-old Joe Talamo had spent nearly every Thanksgiving in memory at the venerable New Orleans track, where live oak trees, hundreds of years old, grace the infield.

“Talamo, who grew up in suburban Marrero and is now an apprentice jockey, won the first post-Katrina race under a clear blue sky and in front of a swelling crowd.”

It was fitting that someone who had been coming to the Fair Grounds every Thanksgiving since he was a young child was aboard that first post-Katrina winner. It was also fitting that the horse was trained by a Louisiana native, Larry Robideaux. He had been running horses at the Fair Grounds since 1960 and had last won an opening race in 1968.

“Much as with the New Orleans Saints’ return to the Louisiana Superdome in late September, thousands flocked to the track simply to be part of the rebirth of what had long ago become a quintessential New Orleans experience,” the AP reported.

Patsy Rink brought 13 grandchildren that day along with a number of other relatives.

“I used to come here as a child,” she said. “We always came Thanksgiving Day, and we came as a family. We’re just thrilled to be back. I’m looking forward to seeing all my friends. … People from New Orleans love the track. It’s part of us.”

The 1,200 dining spaces for that Thanksgiving sold out in 35 minutes when they became available.

The AP noted: “Spectators — from hard-core types, losing themselves in the Racing Form, to gatherings of sharply dressed socialites sipping bloody marys — meandered from the grandstand to the flower-laden paddock. The smell of fried turkey, a Louisiana holiday tradition, wafted in the air. Crooner and actor Harry Connick Jr. was there with his dad, a retired Orelans Parish district attorney. Carolina Panthers quarterback and Louisiana native Jake Delhomme was listed as the owner of a horse named Seventy Two Reno in one of the 10 races. Delhomme’s father, Jerry Delhomme, was the trainer of the horse, which placed fourth.”

Jazz trumpeter Kermit Ruffins played the call to the post before being joined by regular track bugle player Les Colonello in a stirring rendition of “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

It wasn’t the first time the place had to be rebuilt. A massive fire had destroyed the grandstand on Dec. 17, 1993, but temporary facilities were erected and that year’s race meet continued. Construction began in July 1994 on a $27.5 million grandstand. Completion of the grandstand was delayed due to scandals in the gaming industry (nothing is ever boring when it comes to Louisiana politics), but the facility finally opened on Thanksgiving Day 1997.

For years, many old New Orleans families have made it a tradition to spend Thanksgiving at the Fair Grounds for opening day. Things became a bit complicated this past November when the city’s beloved Saints found themselves playing football in Dallas that afternoon. Fair Grounds management (the track is now owned by Churchill Downs Inc.) responded by moving up the races so patrons could be home in time to watch the Saints post a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Cowboys.

When Union Race Course was laid out in 1852, there were already two tracks — the Metairie and Louisiana courses — that had been operating since 1838. Unable to compete with the Metairie course, Union Race Course ceased operations from 1857 until 1859. The Metairie Trotting and Pacing Club leased Union in 1859 and renamed it the Creole Race Course. Many notable horses competed there, including the trotter Ethan Allen, who was known as the Pride of New England.

During the Civil War, the Creole Race Course evolved into the Mechanics’ and Agricultural Fair Grounds and was leased by several promoters. Among them was a notorious Mississippi riverboat gambler by the name of George Devol. There was thoroughbred racing, harness racing, quarter horse racing and even cavalry racing. There were also boxing matches and baseball games.

Soon the place became known simply as the Fair Grounds and was quite popular with New Orleans gamblers even though the quality of the horses was poor. The good horses, you see, had been confiscated by Union troops.

Down the road, the Metairie Jockey Club reorganized at the end of the war. The course was rebuilt and meets were run there from 1867-72. But a fight developed between the younger and older members of the club. In 1871, the younger members announced the formation of the Louisiana Jockey Club with plans to conduct spring and fall meets at the Fair Grounds. Plans to turn the old Metairie course into a cemetery came to fruition soon afterward.

The inaugural day of racing for the Louisiana Jockey Club at the Fair Grounds was April 13, 1872. The first race was — get this — a two-mile hurdle with eight jumps. The feature race was won by Monarchist, a son of the great Lexington, in two consecutive two-mile heats. Gen. George Custer of all people had a horse name Frogtown run second in a pair of two-mile heats. In attendance that day was Grand Duke Alexis of Russia.

Talk about history.

The first post parade occurred in 1873. The starter, who when he wasn’t at the track was described as a journalist and a manager of tragedians (I think I’ll start using that when people ask me what I do) “called the horses to walk, after the French style, up and drawn the homestretch, in procession. This new system would have succeeded admirably had it been carried out in proper spirit by the jockeys.”

That’s how a newspaper described it.

Parimutuel wagering later was introduced as an option, and the Fair Grounds was the only track in the country by 1900 to have accepted and continued the system.

Some other memorable moments included:

— Former President U.S. Grant attended part of the spring meet in 1880.

— Electric lights were used in the grandstand for the first time in 1882 and a steeplechase course was installed.

— Pat Garrett, the man who killed Billy the Kid, raced a stable at the Fair Grounds in 1893.

— The Fair Grounds was converted into an Army camp during the summer of 1898 for Spanish-American War maneuvers. That same year, one jockey had been suspended for pistol practice in the jockeys’ room.

— Frank James, the brother of Jesse James, was appointed betting commissioner in 1902. Like I said, Louisiana politics is never boring.

— Diamond Jim Brady attended part of the winter meet in 1906.

I could go on and on. Arkansans enjoy racing as well as football. I hope some of them had the chance to drop by the Fair Grounds and warm up for the Oaklawn meet that begins later this month.

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Summer in Saratoga and Hot Springs

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Walking into The Pancake Shop on Central Avenue in Hot Springs is a bit like stepping back in time.

That’s especially true in the winter and spring months when the live meet is in progress at Oaklawn Park. It’s not the daily newspaper the breakfast patrons are reading during those weeks. As Southern Traveler put it in a 2006 article, “It’s sometimes hard to get in, but if you keep your ears peeled, you’ll likely hear educated opinions from locals who study the Daily Racing Form like a valedictorian studies textbooks.”

Earlier this month, I took a visitor from Washington, D.C., to Hot Springs for the day. We left Little Rock early with our first stop being The Pancake Shop for breakfast. As usual, there was a wait. We were happy to take two stools at the counter. I likely would stand if necessary for those buckwheat blueberry pancakes and that great sausage. Owners Keeley Ardman DeSalvo and Steve DeSalvo have done a tremendous job maintaining this Arkansas institution.

Steve, a well-known financial adviser during the week who mans the cash register on busy weekends, came over to where we were sitting, and the subject immediately turned to racing.

Regular readers of this blog know that I love thoroughbred racing. They also know that I love Hot Springs.

We talked about Steve’s planned August trip to Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (I’m jealous), and I began thinking about Hot Springs’ old moniker as the Saratoga of the South. The column I’ve written for this Saturday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will focus on that topic.

There are indeed many similarities between Hot Springs and Saratoga Springs.

You can start with the tracks. Saratoga Race Course is the oldest continually operating thoroughbred track in the country and home to the Travers Stakes, America’s mid-summer derby that occurs late each August. In this era of the sport’s decline, I can think of few places where going to the races remains an event — something you circle on the calendar and dress up for. Saratoga, Oaklawn and Keeneland come to mind.

The 142nd season at Saratoga Race Course opened July 23 and runs through Labor Day. Travers day is Aug. 28. Despite heavy rain, the daily average attendance for the first four days of the Saratoga season was 18,113. The largest opening-day crowd ever was 32,913 in 2002.

Racing is an important part of the economy in both cities.

Ken Ivins, the city finance commissioner for Saratoga Springs, puts it this way: “It’s not just the track season but also the people who are up here for several months training the horses, the people who are buying the hay, the veterinarians and many others.”

Famed trainer D. Wayne Lukas has noted the similarities between the two towns. Lukas has spent the entire meet in Hot Springs each of the past two seasons, saying how much he likes a smaller place where life revolves around racing whenever the horses are running.

There are many other similarities between the two towns.

Both tracks have added hundreds of video gaming machines in recent years.

Both have parks that grew up around natural springs — Saratoga Spa State Park and Hot Springs National Park.

Both have spas where visitors can still enjoy natural mineral baths.

Both have historic downtown hotels. In Hot Springs, it’s the Arlington. In Saratoga Springs, it’s the Adelphi.

Unlike the Arlington, which has never closed though it could stand some serious capital investments, the Adelphi at Saratoga Springs had to be brought back from the dead.

The hotel’s website notes: “The first time Sheila Parkert saw the Adelphi Hotel, it was an abandoned building about to be torn down. That was a long way from what it was a century earlier, and it was a long way from where Parkert and her late husband, Gregg Riefker, thought they could take it. Built in 1877, the hotel had been considered a Saratoga Springs jewel from the moment it opened, an occasion that owner William McCaffery celebrated by hiring the 77th Regiment Band of Saratoga to play from the second-floor piazza, which ran the length of the hotel’s facade.

“But a century later, when Parkert and her husband — a pair of Nebraskans in their 20s — took their first good look at the property, the Adelphi was enough of a blight that it had been slated for demolition.

”’At the time, it was painted red,’ Parkert said. ‘It had been closed up from the time we had lived here. The people who had it had compeltely pulled up stakes, and vandals had taken everything out of it.”’

The couple from Nebraska had passed through Saratoga Springs in the early 1970s while on a road trip and fallen in love with the place. They were able to buy the Adelphi in 1979 for just $100,000.

“We were really kids,” Parkert said. “Urban renewal was a big thing here, and this town was up for grabs in the ’70s. My God, they were tearing down everything. If you could stop the wrecking ball, you could buy something for $10,000. All the mansions on Union Avenue, you could buy anything you wanted. It was a big ol’ land grab. It had gotten to be big news that they were going to tear this place down. We had gone to France a lot, and we had seen what people had done with old hotels. We were just young enough and dumb enough to think this could work.”

Parkert was 27 at the time.

A similar story can be told about the Saratoga Arms on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Built in 1870, it had been The Putnam, The Windsor and The Walton. It wound up being a transient hotel before it closed. In 1998, Saratoga native Kathleen Smith and her husband Noel began bringing that structure back to life.

Hot Springs is fortunate that many of its most historic buildings remain intact. Unfortunately, a number of them sit empty. There’s the Medical Arts Building, long known as Arkansas’ first skyscraper. The 16-story art deco structure was constructed in 1929 and was the tallest building in Arkansas until Winthrop Rockefeller built the Tower Building in downtown Little Rock in 1960. An investor with deep pockets, a love of history and a strong business sense is needed to turn it into a condominium project.

There’s the Howe Hotel (later the DeSoto Hotel), constructed in 1926 by William Howe. It has received a fresh coat of paint and is looking for a buyer.

There’s the National Baptist Hotel on Malvern Avenue and the Riviera Hotel on Central Avenue, also in need of investors with vision.

The linchpin of downtown development, however, might just be the redevelopment of the Majestic Hotel, which anchors one end of Central Avenue. It’s a bleeding sore at this point. Arc of Arkansas had promised to renovate it into apartments, but nothing has happened.

It’s a landmark that needs to be saved. The oldest part of the hotel was built in 1902 on the site of the 1882 Avenue Hotel. An eight-story addition was constructed in 1926 on the site of the 1830s Whittington House. The Lanai Tower was added in 1960. While Al Capone liked the Arlington, Bugs Moran normally called the Majestic his home away from home when he came down for rest and relaxation.

If the people behind the Majestic renovation can get financing approved and do a quality job of renovation, it could signal a new day for downtown Hot Springs. Full-time residents downtown will add to the urban fiber, supporting more restaurants and other businesses in the process. I will suggest at the end of Saturday’s newspaper column that three of Hot Springs’ most famous restaurants — Coy’s, Mrs. Miller’s and Mollie’s — be resurrected in the Majestic complex.

Success could begat success.

If residents were to fill up the Arlington, developers could move forward to renovate the Medical Arts Building, the Howe Hotel, the National Baptist Hotel and the Riviera Hotel for residential use. The National Park Service could lease out the four bathhouses that currently sit empty. Capital investments could be made to improve the rooms at the Arlington Hotel, the Velda Rose, the Park Hotel, The Springs Hotel & Spa (formerly The Downtowner) and the Austin Hotel. In a post back on Feb. 18, I discussed the shortcomings of some of those facilities.

I’m told there may soon be movement on the Majestic project.

And after I wrote that Feb. 18 post, the new manager of the Arlington called, said there were some improvements planned and said he would have me down for lunch one day once those improvements are in place. I look forward to the invitation.

Add it up — eight bathhouses humming with activity, hundreds of new downtown residents living in historic structures that have been carefully renovated, classic restaurants brought back to life, better downtown hotels — and you have the Saratoga of the South shining as never before.

I can dream, can’t I?

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Apple Blossom fever

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

If you don’t already have a reserved seat at Oaklawn for the Apple Blossom Invitational on April 9 — or if friends have not already invited you to sit in their box — plan on being in the infield or spending some serious cash for reserved seats.

Go to and you’ll find reserved seats starting at $249 for that Friday afternoon. When I checked today, a table for the day in the Post Parade Restaurant was going for $1,765. A box near the finish line was going for $2,353 (how do you come up with that number?) and a box down front against the windows was going for $3,900.

I must disagree a bit with my friend and former boss Wally Hall, who wrote this morning that the Apple Blossom will be the greatest sporting event in the state’s history. As stated in an earlier post, that title will continue to rest with the 1969 Arkansas-Texas football game. After all, it was the only college football game being played on that first Saturday in December, and people only had three networks to chose from in those days.

The Apple Blossom will be run on a Friday afternoon rather than a Saturday. Because of that, most Americans won’t see it on television. They will read about it later. Yes, the crowd in Hot Springs on April 9 will be much larger than the crowd in Razorback Stadium was on that drizzly day 40 years ago. But the national significance of the race just won’t be the same. I doubt the president will attend and present the trophy afterward (though it would be neat if he did).

Still, it’s big. It’s big for Hot Springs, and it’s big for Arkansas.

As longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote of the planned race between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta: “It’s the matchup that thoroughbred fans have been waiting for. Charles Cella, embracing the role of matchmaker, started making calls last fall. It didn’t take long for him to get a commitment from Jerry Moss, Zenyatta’s primary owner. Jess Jackson, who owns Rachel Alexandra, wasn’t as agreeable initially, but Cella eventually won him over.”

Miklasz goes on to write that Cella, a St. Louis businessman whose family has a long history in the city, has been “absolutely great for the racing industry. He helped generate significant star power for Smarty Jones in 2005 by setting up a $5 million bonus incentive that had racing fans and media buzzing (yes, ol’ Bernie made a mistake. That was in 2004. You can tell Missouri is not much of a racing state).

“And the charismatic Smarty Jones won the big prize for his owners by prevailing in the Kentucky Derby after winning the Rebel States and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. Cella paid up the $5 million and said it was worth every dollar.

“A showdown between the undefeated mare Zenyatta and 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra will spark a tremendous amount of positive interest in the sport. But there is some risk involved; the $5 million purse stands only if both princesses show up for the Apple Blossom. And there’s a strong chance that both starlets will have one prep race before heading to Oaklawn, so there’s always the possibility of injury or loss of form.”

Cella told his hometown newspaper: “It sets up spectacularly. It’s East vs. West. It’s the 2009 Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, vs. No. 2. It’s a horse who has never lost, Zenyatta, vs. the horse, Rachel Alexandra, that did not lose in 2009.”

Rachel Alexandra breezed six furlongs in 1:14 Wednesday over a fast track at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. She will run there March 13 in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes. Trainer Steve Asmussen called the workout “ideal” and “way easier” than her Feb. 18 workout when she went five furlongs.

Back in Hot Springs, meanwhile, Steve Arrison is at it again over at the Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. He’s printing 50,000 trading cards of the two thoroughbreds to give out as free souvenirs.

“We’ve done a series of trading cards in the past,” Arrison said. “Most of those have featured President Bill Clinton and his connection to his hometown of Hot Springs. We did a card featuring the racehorse Smarty Jones, which proved tremendously popular with the public.”

The first public distribution of the cards will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Hot Springs Visitor Center in the Hill Wheatley Plaza on Central Avenue. Oaklawn will disribute free copies of the cards the following Saturday.

If the weather is good, how many people do you think will be at Oaklawn on April 9? It’s a weekday remember, but it might be an unofficial holiday in Arkansas. Will there be 70,000? 80,000? More?

The buildup to this race might be as fun as the race itself.

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Thanks, Mr. Cella

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Charles Cella has done it again.

The owner of Oaklawn Park knows how to do things in a big way while earning media exposure in the process. As I’m sure you’ve heard, Cella announced today that Oaklawn Park will increase the purse of the Apple Blossom on April 3 from $500,000 to $5 million if both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta will show up to race.

If it happens, it will bring one of the most anticipated races in years to Hot Springs. It also will be the largest purse for a filly and mare race in the history of North American thoroughbred racing. National media attention will be focused on Arkansas for days leading up to the race.

Cella, of course, is the man who invented the Racing Festival of the South back in 1974. The festival includes a stakes race a day on the final seven days of racing each year, ending with the Arkansas Derby.

Today’s announcement reminded me of the one Cella made in 2004 when he stated that any horse that could sweep the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby would win a bonus of $5 million in celebration of Oaklawn’s centennial year.

Along came Smarty Jones.

“In 1904, my grandfather had given $50,000 to the winner of a handicap in honor of the St. Louis World’s Fair,” Cella once told me. “I multiplied $50,000 by 100 and came up with $5 million. I didn’t realize at the time that the whole thing would play out like a Hollywood script. As it turned out, that money was the best investment I ever made. You could not have drawn it up any better. Due to all the publicity Smarty Jones received, other trainers began giving Oaklawn a closer look.”

Chad Garrison later wrote in the St. Louis Business Journal: “Charles Cella may be the only person in the world who could make a $5 million bet, lose the bet and feel good about it.”

After Smarty Jones won the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby, Cella began negotiating with his insurer, Lavin Insurance of Goshen, Ky. Cella had insured the first $2.5 million with Lavin. It was just two days prior to the Kentucky Derby before Lavin insured the remaining $2.5 million.

The $5.8 million Smarty Jones won at the Kentucky Derby was the most ever paid to a horse for one race. At Oaklawn, more than 7,000 people showed up that first Saturday in May just to watch the simulcast.

Insurance underwriters likely insured the first $2.5 million in 2004 based on the fact that only one horse (Sunny’s Halo in 1983) had won all three races since the Rebel began in 1961. With the chances of winning less than 1 in 40, a premium of less than 10 percent of the bonus probably was required. Smarty Jones went into the Kentucky Derby with 4-to-1 odds, meaning that the premium on the second $2.5 million likely was 25 percent or more.

Smarty Jones went on the win the Preakness, becoming the most famous 3-year-old in years and capturing the hearts of Americans who had never before followed racing.

A year later, Arkansas Derby winner Afleet Alex won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Suddenly, the racing world was noticing that the previous two Arkansas Derby winners had captured four of six Triple Crown races.

The run of success continued in 2007 after Curlin won the Arkansas Derby. After finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, Curlin won the Preakness and finished second in the Belmont. He would go on to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park and the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Monmouth Park en route to being named the Eclipse Award Horse of the Year.

Now, we face the tantalizing prospect of Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra dueling at Oaklawn. Rachel Alexandra won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year as a 3-year-old filly. Zenyatta was the runner-up as a 5-year-old mare. Oaklawn is neutral territory between Rachel Alexandra’s winter base in New Orleans and Zenyatta’s base in California. Owner Jess Jackson will not run Rachel Alexandra on a synthetic surface. But he will run on Oaklawn’s dirt track. Santa Anita has a synthetic track, which is why Rachel Alexandra did not take on Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita last October.

Both horses have experienced success at Oaklawn. Zenyatta had her first Grade 1 stakes victory in the Apple Blossom in 2008 in her only start outside of California that year. She is now undefeated in 14 races. Many thought last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic would be the final race of her career. Fortunately, it was announced on Jan. 16 that she will race again.

Last year, Rachel Alexandra won the Martha Washington and the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn. She had a record victory in the Kentucky Oaks in Louisville the day before the Kentucky Derby and then became the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years. Also last year, she won the Haskell and the Woodward.

Cella said at today’s news conference: “We have always pursued a goal of bringing the world’s best racing to Arkansas. That is what led us to create the Racing Festival of the South more than 30 years ago. We have been even more fortunate in recent years.”

He says Oaklawn has been “fortunate.” I believe you make your luck. Cella, his sons, general manager Eric Jackson and the others at Oaklawn are making big things happen in Hot Springs on a regular basis.

Cella, who was once a nationally ranked squash player, told me a couple of years ago: “In all sports, the satisfaction comes from knowing how hard you have worked and how well you have prepared. If you lose but are fully spent at the end, that’s OK. When you win, that’s lagniappe.”

I’m ready for some lagniappe on April 3.

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