Day At The Track

71yo Gene Vallandingham still has the passion

04:47 AM 23 Mar 2012 NZDT
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Gene Vallandingham Lemoyne Svendsen
Gene Vallandingham
Lemoyne Svendsen

As the clock approaches 11 p.m., it's safe to say most senior citizens are in bed with a warm class of milk, if not already asleep. As that hour approached last Saturday night (March 17) at harness racing's Cal Expo, with the rain falling and the track a sea of slop, 71 years young Gene Vallandingham was out doing what he loves driving his mare Amazon Dot.

While they were narrowly denied the victory by favored Beach Beach Beach, it was a noble effort by both man and mare over the off going after carving out all the fractions and putting away a strong challenge turning for home.

Of course, it would have been sweeter to end up in the winner’s circle for the 2,925th time in his career instead of completing the exacta, but Vallandingham isn’t complaining. By the way, those trips to the post have yielded more than $13 million in earnings.

“I guess I’m one of the last old timers left in California,” Gene noted. “I can tell you that I still feel the same way I did when I started driving in 1965. I have been very lucky and I look forward to driving each and every night we’re racing.”

And what about when Mother Nature is less than sympathetic?

“I don’t mind driving in the rain, as long as we can see. If there’s mud, it can make things difficult when it gets all over your face. It really does make you appreciate a warm night.”


Franks Best, who used a strong late kick to get the job done at most recent asking; and Shelby County, fresh from a victory in the slop last week, get the top billing at Cal expo in Saturday night’s (March 24) $4,500 Winners-Over Trot.

Franks Best is a 5-year-old son of Armbro Scribe and the American Winner mare Inside Edition who is looking to add to a $126,000 bank account and sports a 1:57 mark that was established at Cal Expo last season. Lemoyne Svendsen will be in his usual spot in the sulky.

Sent off the 8-5 choice in his last appearance, the Johnson color-bearer sat next-to-last in the early stages, then started to pick up momentum while racing with second-over cover on the final bend. Franks Best exploded in the lane with his :27.4 final quarter carrying him to a length and a quarter decision.

Shelby County was his most immediate victim that evening after carving out all the fractions for driver/trainer Rocky Stidham and returned last weekend to get her picture taken over a sloppy track.

The Ben Kenney-owned Chip Chip Hooray mare has clicked in four of her nine appearances on the year, including a 1:57.1 career-best mile on February 10. No matter the conditions or the way the race shapes up early, she is going to be a major player right back.

The Stidham barn has two strong looks at the outcome with Putoneonnetformom also representing the shedrow this weekend. The 8-year-old Trot For Joy homebred carries the banner of Jeff, Gerald and Diana Cimini with James Kennedy doing the honors. He was third in his last try behind Franks Best and posted his most recent score in coast-to-coast fashion on February 4 in a dominating performance. Giles L S Hanover and Meringue round out the line-up.

Live racing resumes at Cal Expo on Friday (March 23) & Saturday (March 24) at 6:00 p.m. (PST). On every live card, Cal Expo offers free parking & free admission after 4:30 p.m. On Friday, Cal Expo offers Happy Hour from 4:00-7:00 p.m. on which Beer; Well Drinks & Wine are offered at $4 each, while a Burger with fries is offered at $5.

Cal Expo currently offers a reduced 15 percent takeout rate on all Pick 4’s. Additionally, all Late Pick 4’s now come with an increased $20,000-guaranteed gross pool. Also, the Friday Late Pick 4 will offer a 0% takeout on all winning wagers made on track or at, while the Saturday Late Pick 4 will be broadcast on TVG.

by Mark RATZKY

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