Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Country Tough Looks Tough for Wednesday's 6th Race

Here's a look at Country Tough schooling in the paddock at Santa Anita during Monday afternoon's races. He appears fit and ready for his race on Wednesday, and is one of my current favorites because he's such a ham. Notice how he stops to pose and never takes his eye off the camera!

Jockey Joel Rosario, who is currently 6th leading rider in the nation, will have the mount on Wednesday. Country Tough is trained by Howard Zucker for Dream Walkin Farms, Inc., a partnership that includes country music star Toby Keith and Brad Penny, starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Zap! of the Week: Christmas Week Action at Santa Anita

Zap of the Week

Larry Zap brings you some early morning video of American Lion, Mega Heat, Papa Clem, Euroglide, and more during Christmas week at Santa Anita. Cameo appearances by a very cute kitten (Barney the barn cat) and puppy (Hanna, new puppy belonging to trainer Jeff Mullins)! Enjoy.

For more information about Larry Zap, see Contributors on the About tab.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

John Henry Statue Unveiled on Opening Day at Santa Anita

Laffit Pincay at the tail, with Ron McAnally framed by the life-size bronze statue.

Among the festivities on Opening Day of Santa Anita's Diamond Anniversary meet Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009, was the unveiling of the new life-size bronze statue of the great John Henry. A huge crowd gathered in the paddock gardens between races to watch Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally, who conditioned John Henry, do the unveiling.

Eduardo Inda, Ron McAnally, Laffit Pincay Jr., Dr. Jack Robbins and Lewis Cenicola pose in front of newly unveiled bronze of John Henry.

The bronze was sculpted by artist Nina Kaiser, who was also in attendance for the unveiling. Also on hand were retired Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr.; trainer Lewis Cenicola, former exercise rider for John Henry and assistant to McAnally; trainer Eduardo Inda, who worked for McAnally for more than 20 years; and Dr. Jack Robbins, a director of Oak Tree Racing Association, one of the organizations that commissioned the work.

Artist Nina Kaiser (second from right) looks on during dedication ceremonies.

John Henry won 12 stakes at Santa Anita during the 1980's and was one of the most popular racehorses of all time. His likeness, installed in front of historic Kingsbury Fountain, makes a glorious addition to the track entrance.

Installation of the 2,000-lb. bronze in the paddock gardens a few days before Opening Day.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Budweiser Clydesdale Ready for Opening Day at Santa Anita

A team of the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales are stabled at Santa Anita Racetrack awaiting their scheduled on-track performance on Opening Day of the 75th Anniversary Santa Anita Winter-Spring Meet on Saturday, Dec. 26.

This particular team is from Booneville, Missouri and travels strictly in the western United States. It is one of six traveling hitches of the majestic horses, which are on the road approximately 11 months a year. Clydesdales were once used as workhorses to pull heavy loads, but the Budweiser horses are now just used for appearances at fairs, parades, and other festivities.

Each of the traveling hitches consists of 10 horses. The horses stand about 6 feet at the shoulder and weight about 2,000 pounds. According to Anheuser-Busch regulations, the horses must be bay in color, have four white stocking feet and a white blaze on the face, and a black mane and tail.

They have been a popular opening day tradition at Santa Anita, and it is always a delight to watch these gentle giants perform!

Santa Claus Spotted at Santa Anita!

I caught some rare footage of the jolly elf actually working a horse (without a sleigh) at Santa Anita Racetrack on Christmas Eve! Enjoy a glimpse of the early morning activity at the Great Race Place as we approach opening day of the 75th Anniversary race meet on December 26, 2009. Merry Christmas from Santa Anita!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas from Santa Anita!

With apologies to those in the country's frozen heartland, here in Southern California we're enjoying brisk mornings warming up to sunny afternoons as we gear up for the gift we traditionally open the day AFTER Christmas -- Santa Anita's Winter-Spring meet!

There is electricity in the air in anticipation of the 75th anniversary meet. Even the horses can sense the excitement of the approaching Opening Day. And what an opening it promises to be! There will be a final on-track appearance by the great Zenyatta, a Zenyatta poster giveaway, a free Santa Anita wall calendar for each fan in attendance, the unveiling of the new bronze life-size statue of the great John Henry in the paddock gardens, and a performance by the famous Budweiser Clydesdales -- not to mention a super race card.

The card will feature two Grade 1 stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs, the traditional opening day Malibu plus the La Brea for fillies.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Surfer Girl Works at Santa Anita

Here's an absolutely lovely 4-year-old filly by the name of Surfer Girl that I watched work at Santa Anita this morning for trainer Mike Puype.

Surfer Girl is owned by Jim and Janet Rome’s Jungle Racing and managed by Little Red Feather Racing. She is Group 1 placed in Brazil and made a smashing U.S. debut at Santa Anita on March 28, 2009, when she finished second by a head to Flashover in a first condition allowance race.

Surfer Girl was timed in 1:01.8 for her 5-furlong work. She showed a lot of class on the track this morning and is certainly one to watch. And with a name like Surfer Girl, I'd say she belongs in California!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hooray for Hollywood Park's YouTube Channel

Mast Track wins the Native Diver Handicap, Saturday, 12/12/09.
Video courtesy of Hollywood Park on YouTube.

With the closing weekend of its 2009 Fall Meet -- featuring the $750,000 Cash Call Futurity -- quickly approaching, I wanted to give a shout out to the great TV department at the Inglewood, California track, who do a super job of making videos of Hollywood Park feature races available online!

Videos of their feature races are on Youtube at Hollywoodracetrack and have been featured on this blog in the past. The Hollywood Park channel currently features 100 uploads and more than 100 subscribers. I recommend subscribing to the channel to receive notifications of future uploads! Racing resumes for the Spring Meet in April, 2010.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Life Size Statue of Champion John Henry to be Installed at Santa Anita

Omar Valdez and Hugo Aguilar of Downey Tile installing the base for the life size bronze statue of John Henry in the Santa Anita paddock gardens.

Amidst all of the preparations for opening day of Santa Anita's 75th Anniversary Meet, work is under way to prepare the site for a life-sized bronze statue of champion John Henry near the Kingsbury Fountain in the paddock gardens.

The bronze will be unveiled by his long-time Hall of Fame trainer, Ron McAnally, on opening day, Saturday, Dec. 26, following the third race.

Commissioned by Santa Anita and Oak Tree Racing Association, the bronze was sculpted by artist Nina Kaiser and stands at John Henry’s height, 15.2 hands. Kaiser began work on the project more than two years ago following the death of the great horse at the age of 32.

Beloved by California racing fans, John Henry was the first two-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, in 1981 and 1982. When retired in 1985, John Henry was racing’s all-time leading money earner, with $6,591,860.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Historic Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park

Hollywood Turf Club President Mervyn LeRoy presents 1966 Hollywood Gold Cup to Mr. and Mrs. L.K. Shapiro, owners of Native Diver.

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.

Native Diver and jockey Jerry Lambert winning the 1965 Hollywood Gold Cup.

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."

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."

Native Diver winning the 1967 Gold Cup (O'Hara in front, minus his jockey).

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.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Future Stars: Jockey School Students Visit Santa Anita

Frank Garza Jockey School Students
Left to right: Marco Polo Morales, Dustin Bell, Martin Rosales, Frank Garza, Marcus Swiontek, Jon Ebbert, Jonathan Iuliucci, and Lee Hernandez.

A group of aspiring riders, all students of Frank Garza Jockey School in Somis, California, made a visit to Santa Anita Racetrack, where they posed for a photo this morning at Clockers' Corner.

Garza, owner and president of the school, has worked in the horse racing industry for more than 40 years. He won his first match race at the age of ten, and in 1967 began riding professionally on the California circuit for trainer Henry Moreno. Garza rode for 13 years throughout the United States.

Students at his school can choose from a variety of programs aimed at careers as jockeys, exercise riders, grooms and trainers. There are both resident and non-resident programs. For more information about the school, take a look at frankgarzajockeyschool.com.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Original Big 'Cap: South of the Border

A guest post by David J. Beltran

When Einstein crossed the finish line to win the 2009 $1-million Santa Anita Handicap, he added his name to a list of champions that have made it Santa Anita’s signature race. Many people don’t know that the concept for the storied Big ‘Cap actually has its roots in Mexico, with the Coffroth Handicap.

Coffroth Handicap 1924
A crowd filled the stands of Tijuana Racecourse for the 1924 Coffroth Handicap.

The Coffroth Handicap, started at Tijuana Racecourse, was named after the track’s president, San Francisco boxing promoter James "Sunny" Coffroth. The first running of the Coffroth only held a purse of $5,000 to the winner, but soon the race would increase in value when it was suggested by Tijuana’s presiding steward, George W. Schilling, that the purse should increase by $10,000 each year.

Outside of Oriental Park in Havana, Cuba or The Fair Grounds in Louisiana, winter racing at the time was non-existent in the United States. There was a revolution simmering in Mexico, and the Juarez racetrack had closed its doors. Tijuana racetrack was poised for serious growth thanks in part to a supportive social and governmental environment. First there was no competition from any other racetrack that operated during the winter months. Secondly, Prohibition had inspired many an American to venture into Mexico to misbehave, spend a little money and gamble at the various casinos that dotted the U.S-Mexico border. And with the Mexican government declaring the northern region of Baja California a free trade zone, American investors were able to set up business to support the border region of San Diego/Tijuana as a winter vacation getaway. With Coffroth’s Blue Fox Casino funding the racetrack venture the value of the Coffroth Handicap seemed to have no limits.

The early runnings of the Coffroth Handicap featured the best local runners from the current winter meet, but it was not until 1924 that the first BIG horse was lured into Mexico. His name was Exterminator -- the winner of the 1917 Kentucky Derby. “Old Bones,” as he was affectionately called, made a devastating debut south of the border to win an allowance race and was heavily favored to win the $40,000 Coffroth Handicap, but the best he could manage was a fourth-place finish.

With each subsequent running, the Coffroth Handicap not only increased in value but in the fields it attracted, such as top handicap horses Atherstone, Sunspero, Carlaris and Princess Doreen. The race reached its goal of $100,000 in 1928 when Crystal Pennant beat 17 rivals.

Crystal Pennant 1928
Crystal Pennant after winning the 1928 Coffroth Hadicap.

The following year, Golden Prince took home the $113,000 prize when he forged home ahead of 21 competitors. Sadly this was to be the final racing season at the old Tijuana racecourse. The racing permit was bought out by the management of the Agua Caliente Casino and Resort, and racing was to be held at the new $2.9-million dollar Agua Caliente Jockey Club.

The “new racetrack” simply transferred over the old racing calendar and proceeded. The inaugural running of the Agua Caliente Handicap in 1930 attracted 1928 Preakness winner, Victorian. Highweighted at 126 pounds, Victorian did not find the weight an obstacle as he went on to an easy victory.

Agua Caliente Handicap Post Parade 1930
Post parade for the first running of the $100,000 Agua Caliente Handicap, March 23, 1930.

The inaugural meeting at Agua Caliente proved to be a success, and the 1931 running offered a first place prize of $100,000. Entered was America’s top handicap runner, Sun Beau. Like Exterminator, Sun Beau prepped in an allowance race early in the meet and was heavily favored to win the big race. In a field of 10, Sun Beau found traffic early in the race. Once in the clear his rider made the decision to try and steal the race with five furlongs to run. Leading into the stretch, Sun Beau began to fade from his early efforts when he used himself up evading traffic. With nothing left, Sun Beau finished fifth, beaten by the unaccomplished Mike Hall.

The following year was perhaps the most famous of all Agua Caliente Handicaps. It was the race in which Phar Lap made his only North American start. Phar Lap was a managerial coup, and the Agua Caliente promotional machine was revving its engines in hopes of having The “Terror of the Antipodes” make one start before the big race. But the hyped International Handicap between Phar Lap, American Derby winner Reveille Boy, Preakness winner Dr. Freeland and local favorite Scimitar never left the drawing table. Phar Lap had suffered a quarter crack in one of his hooves and was sidelined for most of his stay in Mexico.

Phar Lap's trainer, Bobby Woodcock trained the horse by keeping him moving in long walks. The day of the big race finally came, and Woodcock feared that his horse would not only be a target of gamblers but the riders in the race. To throw everyone off, Woodcock brought Phar Lap over from the stables and saddled him two hours before post time.

In the race Phar Lap broke slowly then was taken in hand and out towards the center of the course to prevent him from being boxed in or crowded. As the field made its way around the clubhouse turn, Phar Lap was well behind the field. When the field straightened out on the backside, Phar Lap made one gigantic run at the leaders. Making the lead with a half mile to run, Phar Lap coasted until Reveille Boy made a run at him and seemed well on his way to overtake Phar Lap. But the great Aussie champ turned it up another notch and won drawing away.

Phar Lap
Phar Lap in the winners' circle after the $50,000 Agua Caliente Handicap. Pictured are trainer Tommy Woodcock and jockey Billy Elliot.

Fourteen days after this great victory, Phar Lap would die under mysterious circumstances at a ranch in Menlo Park,California. Emotionally stirred by this tragedy, many believed the great horse was poisoned, but in reality Phar Lap died of a rare form of colic.

The Agua Caliente Handicap was caught in the rigors of the Depression, and the purse was reduced to $25,000. The 1933 and ’34 runnings were won by Gallant Sir, ridden by George “The Iceman” Woolf and John “Red” Pollard of Seabiscuit fame, respectively. 1935 saw the end of the great racetrack in Tijuana as a new president of Mexico, Lazaro Cardenas, sought to close the gambling empire run by Americans. It was not until 1938 that both Agua Caliente racetrack and its signature race joined forces in an effort to revitalize racing in Northern Mexico. Seabiscuit made his only start outside of the United States as he scored an easy win in the $12,500 race.

With the opening of Santa Anita in 1934 and the lifting of Prohibition, Agua Caliente racetrack no longer had the stronghold it had during the early 1930’s. Agua Caliente was reduced to an arena for lower level horses but remained a popular attraction for horseplayers during the 1950’s and 60’s. Caliente offered a varied betting menu, which made its Anglo neighbors seem drab in comparison. With Quinellas, Perfectas and the 5-10 (racing’s first pick-6) Caliente lured the American bettors into Mexico for the only Sunday racing in the Western region.

Run by John Alessio, Caliente saw an opportunity to make racing history by reviving the Agua Caliente Handicap and luring the great Round Table. At the time, Round Table was $30,000 short of being racing’s newest millionaire, and the winning share of the Agua Caliente Handicap would put Round Table over that mark.

Round Table winning Agua Caliente Hcp
Round Table winning the 1958 Caliente Handicap.

Assembling a host of local runners, Caliente assured trainer William Molter that Round Table would not carry more than 130 pounds. More than 30,000 people crammed into Caliente that day. Round Table, ridden by William Shoemaker, had a close call on the clubhouse turn as Shoemaker found himself in a tight running position. But “Shoe” was able to get the big horse out in the clear and won the race with a decisive move on the far turn. Round Table won by nine lengths in track-record time for the 1-1/16-mile distance.

Round Table winners circle
Round Table in the winners' circle with trainer William Molter, Jockey Bill Shoemaker and Caliente General Manager John Alessio.

After the 1958 running, the Agua Caliente Handicap would never be run again. While the Santa Anita Handicap has seen monumental growth from its birth in 1935, the great race has its roots and owes its very concept to the great tracks of Tijuana, Mexico.

Author's Note: Agua Caliente was destroyed in a 1971 fire. Rebuilt, the “new” Caliente opened in 1974 and eventually closed its doors in 1992. Today Caliente is no longer the racetrack it used to be and has been converted into a private home of a failed local politician, its infield retrofitted with a soccer stadium.

All photographs property of David Beltran Collection.

David J. Beltran was born in Chula Vista and raised in San Diego and Tijuana. He has been attending the races since he was an infant, both at Caliente and the Southern California race tracks. Beltran is the author of the book The Agua Caliente Story (Eclipse Press 2004), a correspondent to Caballo, a racing magazine in Mexico, and a writer for the Argentine racing daily, Turf Diario. He recently published an article in HorsePlayer magazine covering betting on South American imports. Beltran also breeds Thoroughbreds and is a blood-stock agent specializing in Argentinean racing and breeding stock. He lives in Chula Vista with his wife, daughter, and two dogs.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Jockey Joe Talamo to Represent U.S. in Hong Kong

Southern California rider Joe Talamo will represent the United States in the 12th annual Cathay Pacific International Jockeys’ Championship at Happy Valley on Wednesday, December 9.

Twelve international jockeys will participate in an opening ceremony featuring a spectacular pyrotechnic show that will light up the Happy Valley skyline. The world-class riders will then compete in three legs of racing, with the jockey accumulating the most points winning the championship. Jockeys are assigned their mounts randomly in the three handicap races.

Last year, Douglas Whyte, Hong Kong's leading jockey for the last 9 seasons, won his second consecutive Cathay Pacific International Jockeys' Championship and third overall. The South African-born 37-year-old failed to win any of the three legs of the championship, but took home the first prize by finishing second in all three legs.

First leg of the 2008 Cathay Pacific International Jockeys Championship at Happy Valley Racecourse. U.S. jockey Cornelio Velasquez closed down the center of the track on Super Genki, wearing down fellow American Garrett Gomez on Classa Suprema, who finished third. Finishing second was Hong Kong based jockey Douglas Whyte on Bobo Win.

Talamo will also ride California Flag for trainer Brian Koriner in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint (1200m) on Saturday, Dec. 13. The Sprint is one of four international group 1 events at Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong. Worth a total of $8 million in purses, the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races also include the Hong Kong Cup (2000m), the Hong Kong Mile (1600m), and the Hong Kong Vase (2400m).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Zap! of the Week: Another Look at Zenyatta's 13th Win

For those of us who can't get enough of the great mare and her prancing antics, Larry Zap brings you Zenyatta winning the 2009 Lady's Secret stakes at Oak Tree at Santa Anita Park. Relive the race that brought her career record to 13 for 13. Nicely narrated by Zap. Enjoy!