Lava Man's narrow victory over A.P. Xcellent in the Hollywood Gold Cup not only made horse racing history, it provided one of the most exciting stretch runs of the year.
But to a small group of family and friends of Tom Grether, the real feature race that day was run at Hollywood only 33 minutes later.
The 80-year-old Grether, a former stockbroker and longtime thoroughbred owner and racing enthusiast, was excited about the prospects of Intangaroo, a 3-year-old filly making her first career start in that Saturday's 11th and final race.
Grether had been battling advanced Parkinson's Disease, and wasn't sure he was up to a trip to Hollywood Park or the simulcast facilities at Santa Anita nearest his residence.
But that wasn't about to stop Grether - who also loved to gamble - from making a bet. When the entries were drawn Thursday and Intangaroo got into the race, Grether gave his son Carl $400 to take to the track.
He never got to watch his horse run. The next morning Grether collapsed at home. The physical therapist with him at the time performed CPR until an ambulance arrived, but Grether never fully regained consciousness.
Grether was being kept alive on a respirator as his $400 was bet on Intangaroo and the ticket brought back to the hospital. When the last members of Grether's immediate family had made it to the hospital late Saturday afternoon to say their goodbyes, the respirator was unhooked.
Grether would hang on for another dozen hours or so before taking his last breath early Sunday morning, and the ticket was in his hand when Intangaroo stormed from far back in the colors of Tom Grether Farms Inc. to win going away at odds of 11-to-1.
His friends say Grether would have been overjoyed not just at the $5,000 he would have collected, but that another of his horses had made it to the winner's circle.
"He typified the old-fashioned owner that just loved to come to the barn in the afternoon and walk the aisle and pet their horses, and loved the animal for the animal's sake," said Howard Zucker, one of Grether's trainers and close friends.
"I trained a horse for him called Crafty C.T. that most racing fans remember him for. I never saw anyone happier at winning a race than him. I'm always happy when I win a race, but it was double the pleasure to win one for Tom."
Funeral services for Grether are to be held July 9.
Grether undoubtedly would have wanted to parlay, but Hollywood isn't racing that day.
Randy Moss has been the lead analyst for ESPN/ABC Sports thoroughbred racing coverage since 1999.
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