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I got home about 9 p.m. tonight and had two messages on my cell phone informing me that Fermo Cambianica had passed away earlier in the night. I had written about Fermo a couple times lately, knowing the end was near. But it still sends a shock wave through your body when you hear those words.

How could he go so fast? It was just three weeks ago that he was taken from Santa Anita to Arcadia Methodist after falling down. At age 79, he hadn’t been feeling well for the last few months and tests revealed the worst. His illness was terminal but he was upbeat and coherent in the hospital. But after being moved into a convalescent home down the street from Santa Anita, his home away from home, his health declined at an alarming rate. He was able to make it out to the track on Wednesday to visit friends and be part of a winner’s circle ceremony after a race was named in his honor. His great friend Ellis Davis wheeled him around every square inch of the plant so Fermo could see his legion of friends and spend one last day at his favorite track. I’m not religious, but thank God he (and we) got that opportunity.

Fermo was the unofficial and unpaid pressbox steward. He ran copies of entries and past performances, saved programs and charts for me a hundred times if he did it once. Faxed pp’s to all of us countless times when we were out of town or didn’t feel like making the drive over. Xeroxed and distributed his picks to all the mutuel clerks downstairs. Closed the windows and turned off the lights each night before he left. I often kidded him that he acted as if he were paying Santa Anita’s electricity bill.

He was a huge Angels and Clippers fan, having turned against the Lakers and Kobe after Shaq was traded to Miami. He personally held Kobe responsible for the split and would get great joy when the “gunner” had a bad shooting night. Even when he would score 50, Fermo would point out how many shots it took him to do it. He loved the quarter horses, too, having worked publicity at Los Al years ago. The only two times I ever saw him get really mad were when the self-service betting machine wasn’t turned on early enough to bet a 440 at Los Al, and when he couldn’t get the TV department to put the Clipper game on. Over the years, I tried to reciprocate some of his favors and generosity. An occasional dinner at Domenicos in Monrovia, a bottle of wine before I knew he didn’t drink, rides to Hollywood Park once in a while. But I know I got the better end of this friendship, and so did most of his colleagues.

The press box won’t be the same without rolly-polly Mr. C, the former Long Beach State point guard and Arthur Murray ballroom dancer, who loved his gnochi and chocolate ice cream. We will miss you, Fermo.

On the racing front:

After a slow start to the meet, trainer Doug O’Neill broke his own Santa Anita record by scoring his 55th winner of the season…Mel Stute got off the schneid when KIM’SKLASSYLADY broke her maiden in the 5th…BONFANTE outdueled BATTLE WON in a thrilling edition of the off-the-turf San Simeon. The race was won when Aaron Gryder snuck through on the rail, saving just enough ground to outduel the runner-up by a scant nose…NAUGHTY RAFAELA won a blahsville edition of the Santa Barbara…one winning ticket in the Pick Six, bought at Del Mar ITW…Julio Canani took back 3rd race winner GRAFTON for $70,000….believe it or not, Victor Espinoza still trails Garrett Gomez by one winner heading into the final day. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Gomez held on despite shipping out of here two weeks ago to ride at Keeneland?

On Friday, the first serious rain of the meet made for short fields and uninteresting racing…both Jorge Periban and Jorge Alcala won races. Are these two cagey trainers really the same person?

On Thursday, three wins for jockey Michael Baze and two training wins for Jack Carava, whose main client La Canada Stable is poised to win the owner’s title for number of wins at the meet.

Tomorrow closes out the meet with the traditional San Juan Capistrano. Congratulations to Santa Anita on a solid meet with good racing. My personal highlights were Lava Man winning his second straight Big Cap and the development of terrific 3-year-old fillies RAGS TO RICHES and MAGNIFICIENCE. Back to the Cushion Track on Wednesday.

To view Free Samples of Thursday, Friday and Saturday Premium Plays, click on the links below: Premium Plays for Apr. 19Â Â Â Â Â Â Premium Plays for Apr. 20Â Â Â Â Â Premium Plays for Apr. 21Â Â Â

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