There’s a void in the press box at Fairplex Park this year, but not by choice.
If there’s one place Jerry Antonucci would like to be, it’s at the rustic track where he had made camp since 1973, covering the races for various publications in Southern California, starting with the defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner in 1970 and adding to his resume the last two years as press box supervisor during the Fairplex meet.
For Antonucci and Fairplex, it was love at first sight. “Back in 1973, the stands would be packed and fans would come by and talk with me from my seat in the open press box,” Antonucci recalled. “You got a sense of being at a race track more than you did at other tracks, and you didn’t need binoculars to watch the races. At bigger tracks, horses seemed 100 miles away on the far turn, but at Fairplex you were right on the action.
“I loved Fairplex from a handicapping standpoint, as well. In 37 years, I made a profit in 33 of them, whether it was $5 or $1,000. I had the innate ability to ferret out the real class in most every race.”
Antonucci and racing were an ideal union. His absence makes for an unnatural portrait, sort of like Churchill Downs without the Twin Spires.
Jerry didn’t make it to Fairplex this year. Surgery for a brain tumor saw to that. An arduous and life-threatening ordeal ensued, and although still vibrant at 64, he no longer lists himself as an ink-stained wretch, but this story has a happy ending.
Jerry, who will be honored by Fairplex Park for his dedicated service later this meet, tells it this way:
“On April 6, I went to the eye doctor for a nine-month checkup for my detached retina, which I suffered a couple of years earlier. They took pictures of my (right) eye and the doctor said my optic nerve was bleeding and he referred me to a neurologist, who had me take an MRI on May 17. I got home at noon that day and the doctor called 15 minutes later and told me I had a brain tumor the size of a lemon. He wanted me to go to Provident Saint Joseph Hospital in Burbank (which is about 10 minutes from my house) and check into the emergency room, and I was not to drive myself there. He explained it was a very serious problem.
“On May 20, I had the surgery. I was in ICU one day and on May 22 was moved into the general population of the hospital. I was released on May 25.
“I used a walker to get around for two days and then realized I didn’t need it. My recovery after that was amazing, however, my wife, Bonnie, told me, ‘This surgery could be a life-changing experience.’
“I was planning on going back to work July 18 (the first draw for Del Mar) but on July 9 I began running a temperature of 103 degrees and was admitted to the same hospital on July 12.
“I had the 103 temperature for nine days and the doctors put me on several antibiotics. Finally, they got the right one and my temperature was normal the final two days of my stay.’
“When I was sent home, I was very weak; I had lost 26 pounds (196 to 170) and had no appetite. They had a nurse come to my home for the next 10 days and she g