OLDSMAR — Tampa Bay Downs racing secretary Allison De Luca remembers the last race for Alysheba, who closed a Hall of Fame career in 1988 with a win in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic to earn horse of the year honors at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
"Best day I ever had at the races," said De Luca, then a 32-year-old racing secretary at the former Sportsman's Park in Cicero, Ill.
"It was such a great card, and I had a great box (seat), almost on the finish line, sitting with a couple of family members and racing officials. It was the last race that day and getting real dark when Alysheba won."
Downs spokeswoman Margo Flynn was 27, watching from her Salem, N.H., residence in 1987 as Alysheba lost his Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
That same year, Anthony Granitz was a 24-year-old trainer at Arlington Park on the day that Alysheba conditioner and Hall of Fame inductee John "Jack" Van Berg became the first U.S. trainer to gain 5,000 wins at the Arlington Heights, Ill., track.
"I've raced against (Van Berg), but one of my fondest memories came at the Barretts 2-year-old sale (in Pomona, Calif.)," said Granitz, a Downs trainer. "We were bidding on the same filly and I outbid him. He told me, 'Son, you bought a real nice horse.' That meant a lot coming from a Hall of Famer."
Van Berg, 77, a native of Columbus, Neb., will be the headliner next month at the Downs. He is slated to be the auctioneer March 3 at the annual Hearts Reaching Out fundraiser for the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, Downs Division.
The auction-dinner and golf tournament raise money for services provided to track backside workers. Services include computer and English classes, a health fair, soccer and softball games, and church services. Sharyn Wasiluk is the Downs' RTCA president.
Racing and sports memorabilia are available at the dinner-auction (5:30 p.m.) in the track frontside pavilion tent. The golf tourney (11 a.m.) kicks off the day at Cheval Golf and Country Club in Lutz. Both events are open to the public. For information, call (813) 854-1313 or (813) 494-1870.
Granitz has been the auctioneer in the past. "I don't mind getting bumped and replaced by a Hall of Famer," he said.
Van Berg ranks fifth all time with 6,517 wins. He is expected to be at the Downs for the March 2 card and autograph his book. Jack, From Grit To Glory.
"Other trainers told me that (Van Berg) would always be the first one to congratulate somebody when they did something big," De Luca said. "He's a pretty humble person for all the success he had."
MORE HORSES: The $100,000 Super Stakes (Race 8, 3:55 p.m.) heads today's card at the Downs.
DOGS: The $64,000 Sprint Classic resumes today at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg with qualifying in Races 6 (8:55) and 10 (10:11).