Los Alamitos' Racing Secretary, Steward to Retire
Racing secretary Ron Church and steward George Slender will retire at the end of the track's 2015 meet.
December 18, 2015
Los Alamitos Racecourse has announced the retirement of its longtime racing secretary, Ron Church, and one of its stewards, George Slender, effective at the end of the track’s 2015 season.
Church, whose nickname is "Churchie," has been producing racing cards at Los Alamitos since 1985, following up a similar position at Pompano Park in Florida. Church also spent time as a jockey's agent, and began as an entry clerk in the racing office before advancing to racing secretary.
"I came out in the mid-1970s and I was Jim Dreyer's agent," he said. "I also worked for Donald Allison and Danny Mitchell. Dreyer then recommended me to Curly Smith for a position in the racing office. That's how I got my foot in the door. I worked in the racing office and learned a lot from Curly.
"Years later I was clocking horses at Bay Meadows one morning and Frank ‘Scoop’ Vessels and Dennis Moore came walking by. We talked for a while and they mentioned how they were going to need a racing secretary. By the time they walked away I think they had hired me. Millie Vessels called me a few mornings later to make my hiring official.”
For the past 15 years, Church has been one of the busiest racing secretaries in the state, carding anywhere between 200 to 150 program per year. He wrote the conditions that differentiate every race that runs at Los Alamitos and a great working relationship with trainers and owners alike.
"My major concern was always to give the horses an opportunity to run," he said. "Our goal was always to put together the best racing program possible for our loyal patrons. I worked with some great people and horsemen over the years. Pete Wood, Sheila Hart, and Scott Craigmyle come to mind and surely my present staff led by Ed Reese and so many other dedicated employees.
“I also owe a lot to Jimmy Dreyer,” he added. “I worked for him when he was riding and he helped me when I first got hired here. Of course, I have to thank Dr. Ed Allred for everything he's done for this industry and his continued support of our Quarter Horse racing program. It's been great working at Los Alamitos and I've had a lot of fun. Time really flew. I can't believe it's been 30 years, but it really has been fun."
Church, along with his wife Debra, will vacation in Hawaii in January. He plans to do a lot of traveling and will continue to strive to lower his golf handicap. Church will stay in touch in racing at Los Alamitos. He has been retained by the track as consultant to interim racing secretary, Ed Reese.
An ROAP-accredited steward with the California Horse Racing Board, Slender over the last 43 years has officiated at every track in California, working Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and all-breeds fair race meets. From 1959 to 1972, Slender, a former horse trainer, held positions as placing judge, paddock judge, horse identifier and starter.
Slender comes from a horse-racing family. His father trained horses in Northern California for 30 years. His brother, Tucker, was the official starter at Santa Anita Park until his retirement, and now Tucker's son, Jay, is the starter in Arcadia and Del Mar.
While attending high school in Santa Rosa, George Slender worked with his father around the barn on weekends and summer vacations, but his interests turned to baseball, football, and basketball in college. He signed a baseball contract and played minor league ball until he was drafted into the Army. After his discharge in 1958, he returned to the racetrack to train horses and work on the starting gate. In 1968 he became a junior official at Quarter Horse meets, then he was elevated to steward in 1972. He was recently inducted into the Santa Rosa Junior College Sports Hall of Fame.
"Stewards wear many hats and sometimes make difficult decisions," explained Slender. "To be a good steward, integrity comes first, above and beyond anything else."
Earlier this month, Slender was recognized by the Racing Officials Accreditation Program as one of five winners of the 2015 Pete Pedersen Award, presented annually to stewards who have made important contributions to the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing industries.
Pedersen, for whom the award is named, worked as a steward in California for 50 years before retiring at the age of 85 in 2005.
Slender was also recognized with a resolution in his honor at the December CHRB Board meeting held at Los Alamitos Race Course. Slender was presented with a recognition plaque by CHRB Chairman Charles Winner.
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