Horse Racing : Swaps Connection Was Profitable

Rex Ellsworth was talking about John Galbreath, just a few days before the 90-year-old Columbus (Ohio) sportsman died last week.

The Ellsworth-Galbreath connection was Swaps, the 1955 Kentucky Derby winner.

In that year, just a few months after Galbreath, a widower, married Dorothy Bryan Firestone, he watched Swaps beat his wife's Summer Tan in the Derby. Swaps was brought to Louisville, Ky., by a couple of Westerners named Ellsworth and trainer Mesh Tenney.

Swaps had the blood of Khaled, Hyperion and War Admiral in his pedigree, and a year later Galbreath made a million-dollar deal with Ellsworth to buy a 50% interest in the horse as a stallion prospect.

Ellsworth said that because of taxes, he asked Galbreath to pay him the first $400,000 on the barrel head and the remaining $600,000 a year later.

Later, Galbreath visited Ellsworth's ranch in Chino to see Swaps and offer another $1 million for the remaining 50% of the stallion.

This is where the story breaks down somewhat. It has been written that Galbreath didn't care for the conditions at Chino and wanted to take Swaps back to his farm in Kentucky.

"That was never part of it," Ellsworth says. "Galbreath wasn't at my place long enough to even look around. He was in the office and out. The reason he wanted the rest of Swaps was because owning only half still wasn't enough to get him recognized back home. But when he bought me out and brought Swaps back there, then they paid attention."

Part of the deal was that Ellsworth would retain two lifetime breeding shares. As a stallion, Swaps was not spectacular, but just two of his offspring were enough to make Galbreath's $2-million investment worthwhile. Primonetta, a daughter of Swaps, was the champion older filly or mare in 1962, and Chateaugay, a son of Swaps, gave Galbreath his first Kentucky Derby win in 1963.

The early betting is that the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, the nonprofit group that has operated the track on a lease arrangement with the state since 1970, will get a 20-year extension, starting in 1990, when the State Race Track Leasing Commission makes a decision later this year.

Win or lose, however, the politically well-connected Thoroughbred Club will have been in a fight. The list of Del Mar lease applicants shows that the seaside track, with its seven-week season, is a coveted entity.

Four of the five rivals of the Thoroughbred Club might be described as heavy hitters, with the fifth, headed by Dr. Leon Bloom of Encino, a somewhat unknown contender.

The four other bidders, however, are well-known and represent racing interests from virtually every section of the country:

--John Brunetti, a construction man from New Jersey, is president of Hialeah. He bought a home near Del Mar a few years ago.

--The Ogden Corp., a concessionaire that has operated horse and dog tracks in the East and Midwest, shares an application with James Nederlander, who operates 30 theaters in New York, Los Angeles and other cities.

--Pat Flavin is a horse owner-breeder who owns about 33% of a harness track and has a lesser investment in a thoroughbred track in Chicago.

--Earl Scheib, a California owner-breeder, is said to be personally worth $20 million and heads an auto-painting company that has a current stock value estimated at $50 million.

One horse who won't be running at Del Mar this season is Fairly Omen, the 6-year-old gelding who was the claiming star this summer at Hollywood Park.

Fairly Omen was claimed in a race April 16 at Santa Anita for $16,000 by trainer Julie Neumann. After a last-place finish in his next race, Fairly Omen won five straight at Hollywood, starting at a $12,500 claiming price and moving up to $30,000.

Now, though, Fairly Omen will get a rest.

"I don't think he'd like running at Del Mar, where the track is deeper than it is at Hollywood," Neumann said.

Until recently, Fairly Omen was Neumann's only horse. But now a 3-year-old colt owned by Terry Okuda, one of Fairly Omen's owners, has been turned over to Neumann, a 32-year-old former jockey who was issued her first trainer's license in 1981.

Before coming under the care of Neumann, Fairly Omen won 6 of 31 starts and was victorious in only 2 of 13 races last year.

"I first noticed him when he ran (and finished third) in a ($20,000 claiming) race at Hollywood Park last fall," Neumann said. "He looked like the kind of horse who would run well over that track."

In Fairly Omen's first race for Neumann, he had a valid excuse. Coming out of the far turn, he hit the fence and stumbled three times, fortunate that he didn't go down.

Every time Neumann has run Fairly Omen, she has given him a quarter-mile blowout through the stretch the day before the race.

"After that, he knows he's going to run the next day," Neumann said. "You can't even walk him on race day, he gets so anxious."

Neumann, who hopes that the success of Fairly Omen will help her get more horses, said the horse has been winning because "he's got the heart of a dinosaur."

Asked what her reaction would be if Fairly Omen were claimed by another trainer, Neumann just shrugged. "At least I'd be able to say that we've done well during the time we were together," she said.

There should be little chance that Fairly Omen will be claimed at the price he is now running for, especially since one of his tendons resembles the rocker on a rocking chair.

Horse Racing Notes

Bet Twice bled while running third in the United Nations Handicap at Atlantic City and joins the long list of prominent horses running with Lasix. Some of the others are Lost Code--when he returns from surgery--Alysheba, Cutlass Reality, Ferdinand, Great Communicator, By Land by Sea, Private Terms and Kingpost. It's a good thing for this group that this November's Breeders' Cup races are being run at Churchill Downs instead of in New York, where Lasix isn't permitted.

There was a reverse Lasix twist when Magdelaine won the Matchmaker at Atlantic City. Because of a difference in Lasix rules between New Jersey and California, the 5-year-old mare wasn't allowed to run with the medication. Trainer Terry Knight didn't find out until the day of the race. . . . Ole Bob Bowers, who sired John Henry, was destroyed after complications from kidney-stone surgery in Michigan. Ole Bob Bowers, 25, had a stud fee of $3,500 last breeding season. As a runner, he was plagued by injuries, but won the Tanforan Handicap in what was then world-record time in 1968.

Ladbroke, the English bookmaking firm, is moving quickly in the United States. Besides its announced purchase of Golden Gate Fields this week, Ladbroke is also close to buying The Meadows, a harness track near Pittsburgh.

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