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For Barajas, Arlington home to lots of memories
By Mike Spellman | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/30/2009 1:14 PM

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Asked to list some of his favorite memories at Arlington Park, former track superintendent Javier Barajas is quick to tick off the 2002 Breeders' Cup ("It was drizzling and raining all week - we still came up with a real good track,"), the inaugural Arlington Million in which John Henry nosed out The Bart, and the day Cigar visited Arlington in 1996.

But his biggest thrill came in 1973.

"I'll never forget when Secretariat was walking through the tunnel, I was 2 feet away from him," Barajas said. "What a beautiful chestnut."

It wasn't all good times, however.

Arlington had a meet to forget in the summer of 2006. Horses were suffering catastrophic injuries both during afternoon races and in the morning workouts. That summer, the track was under intense pressure to do something about its main dirt course, which eventually was replaced by a synthetic strip, and at the center of it all was Barajas.

"It's sad. I hate to talk about that, but sometimes you get in bad spells and it's happened in different countries and different states, and they've had worse seasons than we had," he said. "It just started steam rolling. Believe me, I tried everything to find out. We had every expert in the country come in to look at it and (they said) it was perfect, the best race track they've ever seen.

"Sometimes you get some bad spells and sometimes you get some real good spells. The horses are athletes, just as much as football players. They're tough, but football players get hurt too."