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‘Derby Innovator’ is as good a book as it gets

By Warren Eves

Barry Irwin’s book Derby Innovator is as good as it gets.

It’s a plethora of intriguing stories.

Here’s one story involving Don “The Flamingo” Fleming, the editorial chief of the Daily Racing Form.

Irwin tells story after story. Here’s an example:

“Early one afternoon in the summer of 1976 at Del Mar racetrack, I received a phone call in the press box with a tip to beat it downstairs to the valet parking area near the main entrance gate to the seaside track.

When I got down there, the Del Mar security officers were just wrapping up an incident involving Y. Charles “Chet” Soda, one of the original partners of the Oakland Raiders who always spent his summers at the beach. The chairman of the California Horse Racing Board was a tall, heavy-set gentleman who wore the kind of thin mustache favored by actors of an earlier era. The 68-year-old had pulled his car up to the front gate at Del Mar. In order to proceed to the restricted parking area, he needed a credential for his car, which he did not have.

Soda tried to explain to the two officers in charge that he had taken his wife’s care and he was anxious to get inside to play the daily double.  One officer spoke to Soda while the other officer stood directly in front of the car. Soda must have really wanted to get down on the double, because at one point , out of frustration, he took his foot off the brake, and proceeded to prop one of the security officers onto the hood of his car.

The officer, enraged, opened the driver’s door, pulled Soda from the car, pushed him down to the ground and cuffed him.  Soda then was escorted to a holding cell in the security office.  He was “released on his own recognizance” later that evening.

I interviewed the officers and witnesses, sprinted back to the press box elevator, phoned the Flamingo and told him what had happened.  I then asked him what to do.  I had the scoop. I was excited to have a real-life breaking news story to write. If I worked for a real newspaper, I would not have had to make the call. But I worked for the national house organ for racing, aka Daily Racing Form.

The Flamingo thought about it and finally said “Hmm. You go ahead, go ahead and write it, but just sit on it. I will phone you back.”

I had not finished writing my report by the time The Flamingo called back to tell me “the Ambassador doesn’t want to run the story.”

Interestingly, the following morning, the major San Diego daily newspaper put the incident where nobody could miss it as its front-page headline story. Yet, Daily Racing Form–self proclaimed as “America’s Turf Authority since 1894″–contained not a single word about this incident.

Things had become so sensitive at Bimini Place, that I found myself unable to even get a normal sports story in print.  Jockey Don Pierce, a specialist in come-from-behind rides, was a top jockey on the circuit and regularly rode for Charlie Whittingham in big races. Pierce had one flaw–he had trouble getting out of the gate.

So I decided to interview Pierce and do a story about a guy who was incredibly successful in spite of a weakness. Word got back to the Flamingo, who told me to stop writing the story because he feared a potential lawsuit. if Pierce sued the DRF for the loss of income from as little as a single mount. I thought it was a preposterous notion.

Irwin’s book takes you behind the scenes in horse racing circles like never before.

Notes scribbled across my official program–That sure was an impressive win by Stanford in the Harlan’s Holiday on Dec., 17………….Veteran jockey agent Vince DeGregory knew Garrett Gomez well. “I know when he came out to California he brought his own agent,” he recalls. “Success never changed him one bit. “Then there was a time when Harry Hacek had his book. He asked me if I wanted to take his book when Garrett was having substance issues. I told him no.  Later on I remember talking to him near the jocks room. He said he had things under control. But when he died, he was away from them all–his friends and family. Drugs just got ahold of him. It’s oh so sad.”……………..As a turf writer I never was close to Garrett even though I had talked and interviewed him many times. When I was well connected with the Barbary Coast and racebook manager Muggsy Muniz, I got Garrett accommodations at that famed property. The only thing we asked him to do was to go to the racebook and sign a photo for Muggsy. He never made it down to the racebook counter as planned. Muniz left Michael Gaughn’s Barbary Coast in 2001. He passed away on March 23, 2016………………Driver-trainer Lloyd Daulton passed away Nov., 18 at the age of 88. We watched him win many a race over a long period of time……………..An announcement came regarding veteran jockey agent Vince DeGregory and Tom Knust. DeGregory, who is recovering from spinal surgery, is going back to work as soon as his back is strong enough. In the meantime Knust will handle the business of jockey Rito Almanza. It’s a heart warming story, because Knust has said that DeGregory will get the percentage when Almanza wins a race. Wow! Talk about a good samaritan. That would be Knust who knows DeGregory has been out of action since he parted ways with an apprentice Chad Lindsay and had surgery. Almanza, from Peru, has already has a win in the west and has been getting on horses for Doug O’Neill and others. He’s a close friend of Rafael Bejarano who is also a Peruvian.

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About The Author

Warren Eves
Warren Eves is a senior turf writer from the state of California who calls Pearl River, Louisiana his home. The one time editor of the Pasadena Independent Star News moved on to handle publicity for racetracks coast to coast. Eves gained his first exposure to the racetrack through a school buddy the late Art Lerille, Jr., who eventually became a trainer in California. Warren worked as farm manager for crack two-year-old trainer Ray Priddy, before holding on track jobs at the racetrack. He worked for Hall of Fame trainer M.E. "Buster" Millerick, Allen Drumheller, Jr., and Dick Moon. Eves has a well rounded background in all breeds. He developed Quarter Horse Report in 1979 with Ed Burgart, track announcer, at Los Alamitos Race Course. It was an innovative publication which revolutionized the industry with actual descriptions of the workouts. While handling publicity at Saratoga Raceway in upstate New York Eves was named employee of the year in 1970. He also handled publicity for Sunland Park, Centennial Park, Ascot Park, Thistledown, and two harness meetings in California. Eves then went into the 900-line business with his best plays and has compiled his own Kentucky Derby ratings for many years. In 1997 he began going back and forth to Las Vegas teaming up with Ralph Siraco to create the long runining radio show Raceday Las Vegas. Eves has produced and directed many horse racing shows on both radio and television. In 2010 he got a call from Mark Geiger. That's when he began writing www.pricehorsecentral.com. Eves, with a reputation of a trip handicapper, is known for his video tape scrutiny. He currently monitors horse racing in for a major horseplayer. While writing for Ridder Publication at the Pasadena Star News his investigative reporting was highly regarded by his peers. Often on the cutting edge, Eves has been given the green light to write about what issues he sees fit to cover. Have a question. His book "Hold All Tickets" is soon to be made available for those who come to this site. It's a factual account of actual events and happenings that took place in the 70s, 80s and 90s. If Warren doesn't know the answer to a question you may have, he'll tell you up front. Eves won't drop it there, however, he'll find someone who knows the answer and get back to you.

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