Monday, March 23, 2009
Saturday I took a day trip up to Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, where I had the pleasure of visiting with well-known Thoroughbred owner Kjell Qvale in the turf club. The 89-year-old Qvale – still sharp as a tack – is an iconic figure at Golden Gate Fields, where he served as president for 25 years. He has raced horses in Northern California for more than 50 years, and among the many champions he has owned was Silky Sullivan. Qvale purchased Silky Sullivan after his racing days were over and owned him until he passed away in 1977 at the age of 22.
Earlier Saturday morning, just after my arrival at the track, I trudged out to the Infield to take a picture of the memorial that marks the final resting place of Silky Sullivan. The great horse is buried beneath flowering shrubs surrounded by a white picket fence, halfway between the tote board in the center of the Infield and the far turn of the grass course.
Silky Sullivan, a chestnut colt by Sullivan foaled in 1955, was well known for his come-from-behind racing style. Called the “California Comet,” Silky would gallop along in a race until the rest of the field was many lengths in front of him, then switch to rocket gear and blow past them. He once came from 41 lengths back to win a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race.
Purchased as a yearling in Del Mar by Phil Klipstein and Tom Ross, Silky Sullivan made 27 career starts, with 12 wins, 1 second, and 5 thirds. Silky Sullivan won the Golden Gate Futurity in 1957 and the Santa Anita Derby in 1958. His total career earnings were $157,700, a substantial amount for the 1950’s. He was trained by Reggie Cornell, the uncle and mentor of today’s Hall of Fame trainer, Ron McAnally.
After his retirement in 1965, Silky Sullivan was paraded each year at Golden Gate Fields for Saint Patrick's Day and at Santa Anita for the Santa Anita Derby. He was wildly popular with California racing fans, and even had his own secretary to answer his mail.