By Warren Eves
Owners like Walter Cluer are badly missed in horse racing.
“He was the best,” says Ray Odom, Sr., who is in his 55th year as a thoroughbred trainer at Turf Paradise.
Cluer, a millwork founder and manufacturer from Phoenix, bought 1400 acres of desert in 1954. It’s the area now known as Bell Road and 19th Avenue. Since the acreage was 25 miles from downtown Phoenix many felt Cluer had made an unwise purchase. Turf Paradise opened on January 7, 1956 and continues to operate to this day.
“He was a horseman first and a racetrack owner secondly,” says Odom who has two horses in training. “As a result of that we had the greatest racetrack ever. We’d have a horseman’s meeting before the meet was over. If somebody said something like I’ve got leaky stalls in barn 9, he’s say, I don’t see a thing here that can’t be done.”
Odom, 88 years young, lives in Sun City. “It gives me something to do,” says the one-time radio personality. He was a fixture at KHAT(1280), doing a music show. “That’s all we played all day long,” says Ray. “I was on the board of directors with the country music association. Gene Autry and Tex Ritter were on it too.”
They built a radio booth for Odom on the grounds at Turf Paradise. Odom brought radio to the racetrack in Arizona thanks to Cluer.
Notes scribbled across my official program–Spent Fat Tuesday with friends in the famed Fairgrounds clubhouse dining area. We had easy access to the paddock, taking the elevator from the fifth floor to the ground floor. As soon as we stepped out we had to walk only a few yards to the point where Charlie “Vagabone” Fay was stationed. He worked the test barn last year in New Orleans and this year he’s the security man in the paddock for schooling, etc……………If there’s a negative at the Fairgrounds on a big day it’s their valet parking. Don’t go there. It’s the second time I’ve seen them botch this service up bigtime!………………We fully understand loyalty and it’s nice to see in the competitive world of horse racing. Trainer David Cotey rode Woodbine bug rider Skye Chernetz on the filly Almira Fawn. The newly turned four-year-old made her first start for Michael Maker with Rosie Napravnik aboard. It had to rank as one of the most significant rider changes of the year. Sometimes these subtle changes will lead you to the cashier’s window. We noted that Ms. Chernetz got the 10-pound allowance on Almira Fawn back on August 6 but could claim only 5 pounds the next time she rode the filly……………….Speaking of changes. We really liked the chances of Rio Strikes Gold in the fifth at the Fairgrounds on Fat Tuesday. We liked the big frame of Rio Strikes and she had posted a recent drill. We thought, going in, Rio Strikes Gold had a big chance if he could leave the gate on time and get the lead. That’s exactly what happened. Rio Strikes Gold set the pace, got clear at odds of 29-1, only to lose in crunch time to Razmataz who was making his first start for Tom Amoss. We caught a nice $1-buck $82.50 exacta, but oh how sweet it could have been the other way around……………..We liked the lanky frame of Abraham when making his debut for trainer Todd Pletcher. He graduated from the maiden ranks on February 16 over a wet track but was very green and getting out late. I continue to be amazed at how many factions continue to give Pletcher their blue-bloods. He can’t possibly concentrate on each and every one of them to arrive at the ultimate goal. Abraham, like so many Pletcher sophomores, was on the lead every step of the way. In my way of thinking if you are trying to get to the Kentucky Derby do you want your colt to be on the lead in his early experiences? I don’t think so………….No doubt about it, Dice Flavor’s huge late surge to win Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate was impressive. The Scat Daddy colt had made all previous four starts on grass. Eighth early on he angled out into the lane, checked briefly, found a clear running lane and won drawing off with ease. He had to run a FF fast than the 23.01 timer suggested because he was coming from so far back. Patrick Gallagher appears to have a quality colt for Oda Racing Stable and US Equine. Jose Valdivia has been his pilot in all five starts…………If you ever play the races at Hawthorne you might want to pay attention to Schillerthekiller who was claimed back by trainer Clay Brinson on Feb., 24, for $7,500. He’s done well with the now five-year-old gelding in the past. That’s all you need to know. Look for huge improvement next time to the post…………..Michael Matz has been removed from my trainers’ watch list that I keep. For reasons I cannot explain the one-time equestrian star who won the Kentucky Derby with Barbaro is not winning. He’s 62 years young and considered a complete horseman. He’s the same trainer who won the Belmont with Union Rags but his stock is not finding the winners’ circle of late………….I have to agree with Dean Towers who writes Brush and Crush in Harness Racing Update. He believes the sport should rally around Jeff Gural at the Meadowlands. Gural has got pro-active and has hired his own investigator. And Towers reports with the hiring of an investigator some problems have come with the move. “I suspect he’s hoping that if someone wants to race at the Meadowlands who is doing, he’ll go somewhere else to race,” writes Towers. The meeting, by the way, is going great so maybe more race meet operators should take note……………..Gary Contessa has a very nice colt in Rydiluc. He won with a second over trip on March 3 at Gulfstream Park to score his third win in a row. Edgar Prado was aboard as he got away cleanly in a wide path. Rydiluc raced second over full of run and had the lead turning off the top. He exhibited a fluid trying and reaching stride to the wire.