One one-hundredth of a second.
Actually, it was .016 of a second, or 16 one-thousandths of a second.
That’s the margin by which Paul Lozolla’s horse, Baller, qualified for the Retama Park Derby, running next Saturday at the track in Selma.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a horse racing fan.
I’ve been going to the racetrack and playing the ponies since the late 80’s, I find it beautiful to watch them run.
But I’ve never had more fun than I did last Saturday night at Retama Park.
I happened to sit down next to Lozolla right as the trials for the race began, four of them running back-to-back.
Baller was in the second trial of four, and a nervous and pumped Lozolla and I watched and wagered on the horses leading up to his horse’s race.
“My horse is ready,” he told me, obviously excited about his chances to make the derby.
There was just one problem, his horse had drawn a post on the outside of the track, in the No. 10 post position.
In the previous three races we had watched, the winners all came from the inside post positions, the horses running on the inside of the track.
It appeared there was what is called a “track bias,” when one part of the track seems to be faster than the other.
“Six horses won that day from the No. 1 hole,” Lozolla said. “Before the race we were talking to some guys and they all said the outside horses had no chance to win.”
But for the seventh race, Baller and the horse in the No. 8 post, Dm La Jolla Cartel, beat that bias, closing late to catch the No. 3 horse, Trickitty Track, and finish first and second.
“They both started behind the horses on the inside, but closed late and caught up,” Lozolla said. “Baller was coming real fast on the outside.”
He would lose the race by just a head — after not so great a start.
Baller stumbled out of the gate and veered a couple of lanes to the right before straightening out.
“He ran an excellent race after the start,” Lozolla said. “Our trainer, Josue Ponce, has him in good condition. You can tell the change from when we took him to Josue, he just looks great right now.”
Ponce has had the horse since February, after Baller underwent surgery to remove chips in his knee late last year.
Then came the hard part for Lozolla that night, waiting to see if Baller’s time of 20.03 seconds would hold up to make the derby.
Baller had the ninth fastest time after the next trial, and with one race remaining, Lozolla and I joked that he needed traffic trouble in the last trial for his horse to qualify.
“We were talking how the horses (in the last race) had to fall down at the break, or pinball off of each other for my horse to have a chance,” Lozzola said.
The race went off and incredibly it happened, five of the horses in the middle all pinballed off of each other, and the winner won with a time of 19.89, about a length-and-a-quarter in front of the second-place finisher.
“We had to have him win by a length or more,” Lozzola said.
A very nervous Lozolla, and myself, went outside to hear the track announcer read off the horses that qualified for the derby.
Staring with the fastest qualifier, the announcer named the horses one-by-one.
When he got to the 10th qualifier, he said, “And the final spot for the Retama Park Derby, Baller.”
The seond-place horse in the last trial ran a 20.046, .016 seconds behind Baller.
Lozolla leaped into the air, screaming, and I was right there with him, high-fiving and congratulating him — and maybe just as excited as he was.
Baller’s time was just .3 seconds behind the fastest qualifier, giving Lozolla hope that his horse can win the derby.
“To win the Retama Park Derby, I think he just needs to have a clean trip,” Lozolla said. “He doesn’t necessarily have to fire out of the gate, but if he gets the clean trip I think he’s going to do well.”
“If he gets out of the gate in good shape, I think he has a good chance to win.”
Baller, with the slowest of the qualifying times, will likely be one of the longest shots on the board, at least until Lozolla hits the window.
“I think he’s going to be long right before the race, but when it gets there I’m going to bet on him a little bit,” Lozolla said. “I’m going to wait until right before the race goes off.”
Baller’s sire is Jess Zoomin, a descendant of quarter horse royalty, Mr. Jess Perry, and his mom was Panther Speed.
Lozolla paid $13,000 for the horse at the Texas Quarter Horse Association sale in 2017 as a yearling.
Baller now has three wins in 12 races, with one second and one third, and has won more than $34,000 in his career.
The Retama Park Derby is next Saturday, July 27, is 400 yards and carries a $40,000 purse.
I’ll be there, rooting for and wagering a little on Paul Lozolla’s horse, and if he gets that clean trip, Lozzola and I might make a little pocket change.