Noticeably absent from last year's 75th anniversary meeting at Del Mar was starter Gary Brinson, but when this year's racing season opens at the seaside track next Wednesday he'll be back in his customary position, on the ground near the starting gate, button in hand.
Brinson, who's been working on gate crews for 39 years and had been head starter at the seaside track north of San Diego since 1997, asked Del Mar president Joe Harper if he could take off the 2012 meet. Brinson didn't want to stray from the Los Angeles area so he could take care of his ailing father, retired trainer Ross Brinson. The elder Brinson died last month at the age of 101.
Brinson is also the starter at Betfair Hollywood Park – the late Marje Everett hired him for that job in 1984 – and he was able to go back and forth from the Inglewood track to his father's home throughout the day to check on him.
“I'd school horses in the morning, then go see him and he'd say, ‘I'll go back to the track with you,'” Gary Brinson said of his father, “but it was hard for him to get around. I had him walking, but there were a couple of times when I'd go see him he'd fallen and need paramedics. They'd patch him and he'd be home that night. He wouldn't give up. He would have been 102 in September.
“I said to Mr. Harper I couldn't make it down last year, and he told me I could have my job back. That's a good job down there and those people have treated me so well.”
John Lopez, one of the many top assistants that Brinson said make his job easy, handled the starting chores in 2012.
“Gary went through a tough time caring for his father,” said Harper, “and anyone who has done something similar – any of us who has had to care for aging parents – knew how hard that was for him. He was a devoted son and was doing the right thing, so there was no doubt we were going to let him do it. And now we're very happy to welcome him back. He's one of the great starters and we're glad to have him return to Del Mar.”
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