The historic Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park honors the California-bred Thoroughbred racehorse owned and bred by Mr. and Mrs. Louis K. Shapiro and trained by Buster Millerick.
Native Diver (1959-1967) was the first California-bred winner of $1 million and the first three-time winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup -- a record that stood until 2007, when it was matched by Lava Man.
Known as the “Black Beauty” of California racing, Native Diver was the seventh racing millionaire, earning a total of $1,026,500 in 81 career starts with 37 wins, 7 seconds and 12 thirds. He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1978.
In the same way Zenyatta has captured the minds and hearts of today's race fans, bringing excitement and new hope to California racing, Native Diver in his day must have evoked similar emotions from his fans. One of them was racing journalist, Martin Kivel, who nearly waxed poetic in his description of the great horse:
"When Native Diver won the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar recently it was more than just a horse race. It was a performance by California’s most popular thoroughbred that seemed, in a way, to have human qualities woven into its fabric.
We sort of had the feeling that Native Diver was saying “thanks” to the people who cheered him as he came on the racetrack and had put their money where their hearts were by betting him down to a prohibitive 1-5 favorite.
It was as if the “Black Beauty” understood how they felt, these fans of his who set up a clamor of “bring on Kelso,” as he returned to the winner’s circle after a wire-to-wire victory that found him equaling the track record under a 131 pound package."1
In a later article, Kivel said,
"There’s something about Native Diver that seems to put electricity in the air every time he walks out on a race track. It’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s the way he holds his head, sort of high and mighty like. Or, perhaps it’s because he typifies the meaning of the word thoroughbred – always running the best he knows how."2
Native Diver winning the 1966 Gold Cup.
The flashy gelding, said by trainer Millerick to enjoy Jello and lettuce, was accustomed to receiving standing ovations from the throngs when he entered the winner’s circle. He is best known for his incredible Hollywood Gold Cup three-peat, eloquently described by Press-Telegram writer Dave Lewis following the Diver’s third Gold Cup:
"The Gold Cup was responsible for another colorful chapter in racing history Saturday when the “Black Beauty” of California racing, Native Diver, won the rich event for the third consecutive year to become the seventh horse ever to win a million dollars.
Native Diver, first California-bred to reach that plateau, collected $102,100 for the win to push his earnings to $1,002,850 and join such other greats as Kelso, $1,977,896; Round Table, $1,749,869; Buckpasser, $1,419,114; Nashua, $1,288,565; Carry Back, $1,241,165; and Citation, $1,085,760.
Whereas the other members of the millionaire’s club earned their money in big chunks, the Diver scratched it out the hard way, amassing his wealth in 80 trips to the post, winning 36 races with seven seconds and a dozen thirds. Thirty-two of his victories have been in added-money events, far and away a California record.
Ironically, the high-spirited son of Imbros has won only three $100,000 races, and all of them have been the Gold Cup. Eight wins were in races worth $50,000, the other 25 in races worth $25,000 or less."3
Native Diver is buried in the paddock at Hollywood Park under a monument designed by California artist Millard Sheets.
1 Independent (Pasadena), Aug. 18, 1965, p. 25.
2 Pasadena Star News, Jan. 26, 1966, p. C-2.
3 Press-Telegram (Long Beach), July 17, 1967, p. C-1.
Photos courtesy of Hollywood Park.