by Jon White
December 15, 2021
As the kick-off of the winter-spring Santa Anita Park meeting on Dec. 26 approaches, I was inspired to put together a list of some -- just some -- of my many favorite races that I’ve seen at Santa Anita through the years. They are listed below in chronological order:
FEBRUARY 20, 1977 -- SAN ANTONIO STAKES
I first laid eyes on Santa Anita in November 1974. I was on vacation with a friend. We had driven to Los Angeles from my home in Spokane, Wash. On my first day in L.A., we visited Santa Anita even though it was closed. Not only was there no live racing, it was long before a track would be open for simulcast wagering. We parked near the Motel 6 across the street from Santa Anita, then walked around. From outside the fence, we stood near where the hillside turf races start and looked at the giant grandstand.
In February 1977, I spent a week attending the races at Santa Anita with my late father. It was one of our all-time favorite memories. I was standing near the winner’s circle with my dad as we watched Ancient Title win the Grade I San Antonio Stakes. Ridden by Sandy Hawley, the 7-year-old Gummo gelding prevailed by one length as the 5-2 favorite for trainer Keith Stucki.
As Ancient Title was led into the winner’s circle, track announcer Chic Anderson told the crowd that Ancient Title had become the first California-bred millionaire.
“That’s wrong,” I told my dad. “Native Diver was the first California-bred millionaire.”
I was working for the Daily Racing Form at that time. When my dad and I had walked into the track for the first time that week, I told him: “I promise you that I’m going to be working here someday.”
That prediction came true on Dec. 26, 1981.
Ancient Title was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
JANUARY 5, 1980 -- MALIBU STAKES | WATCH
While at home in Spokane and on vacation prior to returning to work for the DRF at the start of the 1980 spring meet in February at Yakima Meadows, I decided to fly down to L.A. to see Spectacular Bid in the Grade I Malibu Stakes.
I phoned my uncle Ollie in Buena Park, a city about 35 miles south of Santa Anita. He said I could stay with him.
My uncle picked me up at LAX. But because my uncle would be working, he could not take me to Santa Anita. I had to find a way to get to the track on my own. That meant taking a bus from Buena Park to downtown Los Angeles. Once downtown, I had to transfer to a bus going to Santa Anita.
The bus from downtown to Santa Anita was full, with many people studying their Racing Form on the trip, which made me feel right at home.
I was standing right by the winner’s circle for the 1980 Malibu. My eyes were glued on Spectacular Bid, who trailed early in the field of five with Bill Shoemaker aboard. Rosie’s Seville set the pace. Craig Roberts trained Rosie’s Seville. I knew Roberts well because I had previously interviewed him many times when he was training at Longacres, the beautiful track near Seattle that closed for good in 1992.
Flying Paster was third early. Nearing the half-mile pole, the Bid moved up alongside the Paster. They were about two lengths off the lead at that point.
Approaching the quarter pole, Flying Paster and Spectacular Bid advanced toward the lead as a team.
Spectacular Bid and Flying Paster continued moving in tandem to around the eighth pole. But then Shoemaker tapped the Bid with the whip only one time right-handed leaving the eighth pole. Responding with instantaneous power, the Bid quickly spurted away from Flying Paster. Seemingly as quick as a flash of lightning, the Bid opened a three-length lead well before reaching the sixteenth pole.
With the issue no longer in any doubt, Shoemaker let the Bid just coast home. After the gray colt crossed the finish, I immediately looked at the time on the board: 1:20 flat. That sliced three-fifths of a second off the track record.
Imbros (who would go on to sire Native Diver) had set Santa Anita’s seven-furlong track mark of 1:20 3/5 in 1954. Jacinto (1965), Lightning Mandate (1975) and Beat Inflation (1977) would match that 1:20 3/5 clocking.
The Malibu was the first win in Spectacular Bid’s perfect nine-for-nine campaign in 1980. He literally ran out of competition that year. The final start of his career was a walkover in the 1980 Woodward Stakes. He was voted 1980 Horse of the Year and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.
Spectacular Bid’s track record of 1:20 stood for 30 years. It was not broken until Twirling Candy won the 2010 Malibu in 1:19.70.
NOVEMBER 8, 1981 -- OAK TREE INVITATIONAL | WATCH
This win by John Henry was truly remarkable.
John Henry raced in third early before taking the lead coming into the stretch for the first time in this 1 1/2-mile grass affair. John Henry continued showing the way until Spence Bay and jockey Fernando Toro surged to the front in upper stretch. It it appeared that John Henry was going to get beat as the 2-5 favorite. With a sixteenth to go, Spence Bay had the lead by about a neck. But displaying tremendous heart, as John Henry so often did, he came back on to win the 1 1/2-mile grass race by a neck under Bill Shoemaker.
Randy Winick trained Spence Bay. Many years later, I would work as a California Horse Racing Board steward with Winick and Darrel McHargue at Fairplex Park. Between races one afternoon, the subject of the 1981 Oak Tree Invitational came up.
Winick shook his head, still in disbelief oh so many years later that Spence Bay lost that race after it looked like was going to win it.
“That was vintage John Henry,” Winick said.
John Henry was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
DECEMBER 26, 1982 -- PALOS VERDES HANDICAP
I am a Washington-bred. The most accomplished Washington-bred Thoroughbred of all time, Chinook Pass, won the 1982 Palos Verdes Handicap with Laffit Pincay Jr. in the saddle.
Chinook Pass was a gelded son of Native Born. I was at Yakima Meadows the day that Native Born finished second in the 1966 Yakima Derby.
In the 1982 Palos Verdes, 3-year-old Chinook Pass completed six furlongs in a sizzling 1:07 3/5 to win by 3 1/2 lengths while trouncing older foes.
In Equibase.com’s statistics section, Chinook Pass is listed as the holder of the American record of :55 1/5 for five furlongs on dirt. He set the mark at Longacres on Sept. 17, 1982.
But Chinook Pass ran five furlongs even faster in the 1982 Palos Verdes. His five-furlong fraction time was :54 4/5. That clocking is not a record because it’s not a final time.
Back then, Eclipse Award votes had to be submitted prior to the end of the year. In the Santa Anita press box moments after the 1982 Palos Verdes, Daily Racing Form’s esteemed breeding columnist Leon Rasmussen said to me: “I wish our Eclipse Award votes didn’t already have to be turned in. After seeing Chinook Pass run like that today, I’d change my vote to him for best sprinter.”
The filly Gold Beauty was voted the 1981 Eclipse Award for champion sprinter. Chinook Pass did get the 1982 Eclipse Award in this category. He remains the only Washington-bred Eclipse Award winner.
To this day, Pincay says Affirmed was the best horse he ever rode, while saying Chinook Pass was the fastest horse he ever rode.
MARCH 7, 1982 -- SANTA ANITA HANDICAP | WATCH
As a reporter/columnist for the DRF at the time, I saw the Big ’Cap in person for the first time in 1982. And this certainly was a great race at the Great Race Place.
John Henry and Perrault, two outstanding equine athletes, staged a furious battle down to the wire while being ridden by two of the sport’s greatest jockeys. Bill Shoemaker was aboard John Henry. Laffit Pincay Jr. piloted Perrault.
As a throng of 72,752 fans looked on, Perrault “drifted out under left-handed whipping and forced JOHN HENRY wide through the final seventy yards,” Warren Williams wrote in the DRF chart comments. Following a stewards’ inquiry, “PERRAULT was disqualified and placed second for impeding JOHN HENRY.”
Fan favorite John Henry thus made history by becoming the first two-time winner of the prestigious Santa Anita Handicap.
OCTOBER 11, 1982 -- ANOAKIA STAKES | WATCH
Landaluce is the best filly I ever saw race in person. As a 2-year-old in 1982, she was being compared to Ruffian. Following a seven-length debut win at Hollywood Park that year on July 3, she won the six-furlong Hollywood Lassie Stakes just one week later by 21 lengths in 1:08 flat to obliterate Terlinqua’s stakes record by four-fifths of a second.
Laffit Pincay Jr. was aboard Landaluce in the Lassie. Ray Sibille rode runner-up Bold Out Line. After the race when I spoke to Sibille, he said with tongue in cheek that he thought he had won because he couldn’t see anyone in front of him.
Ross Fenstermaker trained Precisionist, who burst on the scene as a 2-year-old in 1983 with a 7 1/2-length debut win at Hollywood Park en route to the Hall of Fame.
Following Landaluce’s 21-length tour de force, Fenstermaker said: “She’s as impressive a 2-year-old filly as I’ve ever seen. And I saw Ruffian.”
After the Grade II Hollywood Lassie, Landaluce cruised to a 6 1/2-length victory in the Grade I Del Mar Debutante. That was followed by a scintillating win in the Anoakia while making her Santa Anita debut. Landaluce became the first horse ever listed at 1-9 in the program at Santa Anita. Bettors sent her away as a 1-20 favorite.
Landaluce won the seven-furlong Anoakia by 10 lengths in 1:21 4/5 to break another stakes record.
After the Anoakia, Landaluce raced only once more. She won the Grade I Oak Leaf Stakes at 1 1/16 miles by two lengths on Oct. 23. Shockingly and sadly, at 5:30 in the morning on Nov. 28, Landaluce died. The necropsy report showed that the daughter of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew had succumbed to a severe bacterial infection. Dr. Bennie Osburn, associate dean of research at the University of California at Davis, reported that Landaluce had died from Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli.
A book written by Mary Perdue titled “Landaluce: The Story of Seattle Slew’s First Champion” is coming out next summer.
FEBUARY 3, 1985 -- CHARLES H. STRUB STAKES
Long before this, Precisionist had become one of my all-time favorite racehorses. He won the Grade I Charles H. Strub Stakes at 1 1/4 miles by a nose with Chris McCarron in the irons for trainer Ross Fenstermaker to complete a sweep of Santa Anita’s Strub Series for 4-year-olds. The series also consisted of the seven-furlong Malibu Stakes and 1 1/8-mile San Fernando Stakes.
The Strub Series no longer exists. I do miss it. All that’s left is the Malibu.
Only five horses ever swept the Strub Series. They were Round Table (1958), Hillsdale (1959), Ancient Title (1974), Spectacular Bid (1980) and Precisionist (1985).
Winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Aqueduct later in the year after sweeping the Strub Series, Precisionist was voted a 1985 Eclipse Award as champion sprinter.
Precisionist was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.
NOVEMBER 1, 1986 – BREEDERS’ CUP TURF | WATCH
It took a stellar performance by the extraordinary grass runner Manila to win the 1986 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Manila won in a thriller, prevailing by a neck as a 3-year-old over another tremendous turf runner in 4-year-old Theatrical. The marvelous mare Estrapade finished third, with the great Dancing Brave fourth and sometimes-explosive finisher Dahar fifth.
Manila was voted a 1986 Eclipse Award as male turf champion. He certainly earned that honor after having defeated so many champions that year in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Theatrical returned the following year to win the BC Turf at Hollywood Park. He was voted a 1987 Eclipse Award as male turf champion.
Estrapade had distinguished herself earlier in 1986, taking both the Grade I Arlington Million and Grade I Oak Tree Invitational against male opponents. She was voted a 1986 Eclipse Award as female turf champion.
European champion Dancing Brave is certainly one of the finest Thoroughbreds to run in the Breeders’ Cup without winning. He went into the BC Turf off one of the most impressive wins ever seen in the prestigious Group I Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as a 3-year-old. With his record at the time of six wins from seven lifetime starts, Dancing Brave was the 1-2 favorite in the 1986 BC Turf. However, hot Southern California weather in the days leading up to the BC Turf took a toll on Dancing Brave, who lost considerable weight. Prince Khalid Abdullah (Juddmonte Farms) considered Dancing Brave the best horse he had ever owned…until Frankel.
Dahar, a son of the great Dahlia, was not a champion. But he loved Santa Anita’s turf course. Earlier in 1986, he had taken both the Grade I San Luis Rey Stakes and Grade I San Juan Capistrano for trainer Charlie Whittingham.
Manila and Theatrical battled for the lead throughout the final furlong. Gary Stevens rode Theatrical. About 40 yards from the finish, jockey Jose Santos dropped his whip. But that miscue did not prevent Manila from recording his sixth consecutive victory. His winning streak reached nine before the son of Lyphard finally lost the Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in 1987. He finished second to Talakeno.
After the Bernard Baruch, Manila made only one more start. He won the 1987 Arlington Million (with Sharrood second and Theatrical third).
Voted a 1986 Eclipse Award as champion male turf horse, Manila was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
NOVEMBER 1, 1986 -- BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC | WATCH
In 1986, I switched jobs on the Southern California circuit for the DRF from reporter/columnist to chart-caller. I called the DRF chart for the 1986 Breeders’ Cup Classic in which Skywalker and jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. won by 1 1/4 lengths. Turkoman finished second. Precisionist ran third.
I wrote these chart comments regarding the first three finishers: “SKYWALKER, in hand while forcing the early pace, took over approaching the three-eighths pole and opened a clear advantage on the far turn, drew well clear in the upper stretch, responded to steady left-handed pressure in the drive and held TURKOMAN safe. TURKOMAN, far back early after a good start, was fanned six wide into the stretch, gained strongly in the last furlong but could not reach the winner. PRECISIONIST, away alertly and an early pace factor, had to bide his time when boxed in around the clubhouse turn, moved up inside of HERAT early in the run down the backstretch to get near the lead between calls, dropped back a bit behind HERAT toward the end of the backstretch, could not close the gap on SKYWALKER on the far turn or in the drive but kept to his task well enough for the show.”
Earlier in the year, I had witnessed Skywalker’s win in the biggest race in the Pacific Northwest, the Longacres Mile. It was the last day that I was ever at Longacres. I flew back to Los Angeles in the plane with Skywalker, trainer Michael Whittingham and the colt’s groom.
MARCH 8, 1987 -- SANTA ANITA HANDICAP | WATCH
Of the thousands of charts I called for the DRF, this race was one of my favorites.
Attendance at Santa Anita that day was 67,440.
Broad Brush, with Angel Cordero Jr. riding for trainer Richard Small, eked out a nose victory. Ferdinand, with Bill Shoemaker up for trainer Charlie Whittingham, just missed and had to settle for being the runner-up.
For the DRF chart, I wrote this regarding the first two finishers: BROAD BRUSH bobbled at the start, appeared a bit headstrong when being held in reserve while lacking early speed, responded readily when asked to begin rallying in earnest after a half, got near the lead coming into the stretch while four wide, resolutely kept to his task through the drive while under right-handed pressure and was just up in the last strike to win by a slim margin in an extremely game effort. FERDINAND settled nicely into stride while being outrun early, was four wide into the backstretch, advanced to engage for the lead at the half-mile pole while still four wide, battled for the lead around the far turn, responded willingly when put to right-handed pressure through the final furlong, tenaciously maintained a narrow advantage through the final furlong to the last stride and just missed.”
Ferdinand and Shoemaker would go on to be voted 1987 Horse of the Year after winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic by a nose over Alysheba and jockey Chris McCarron in a dramatic showdown between those Kentucky Derby winners at Hollywood Park.
MARCH 6, 1988 -- SANTA ANITA HANDICAP | WATCH
In a rematch between the top two finishers in the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Alysheba turned the tables when winning the 1988 Big ’Cap by a half-length over Ferdinand. Chris McCarron again rode Alysheba. Bill Shoemaker again was aboard Ferdinand.
How about this? Attendance at Santa Anita that day was a massive 82,987!
For the DRF chart, I wrote this regarding the first two finishers: “ALYSHEBA, away in alert fashion and close up early after brushing with SUPER DIAMOND in the initial strides, dropped back early in the run down the backstretch while being unhurried, moved with a rush without being hard ridden to take the lead nearing the three-eighths pole while three wide, continued in front through the final three furlongs, responded when roused with the whip once right-handed soon after passing the furlong marker and once left-handed at the sixteenth marker, held on tenaciously in the last sixteenth to respond while being hard ridden and proved best. FERDINAND trailed while being patiently handled early after breaking in good order, moved with a rush at the same time as ALYSHEBA to get near the lead approaching the three-eighths pole while four wide, forced the issue on the far turn while outside of ALYSHEBA, kept after that rival through the drive but could never get past that rival while being shown the whip right-handed at intervals in the final furlong.
Alysheba would go on to be voted 1988 Horse of the Year. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
APRIL 9, 1988 -- SANTA ANITA DERBY | WATCH
Winning Colors, trained by D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by Gary Stevens, put on quite a show on this day. The big filly clobbered the boys by winning the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles in front-running fashion by 7 1/2 lengths prior to joining Regret (1915) and Genuine Risk (1980) as the only fillies to win the Kentucky Derby.
Attendance was 47,470.
For the DRF chart, I wrote this regarding the winner: “WINNING COLORS, away in alert fashion, established the early pace while under a snug rating hold, drew away on the far turn when asked somewhat, entered the stretch with a commanding lead, responded when roused with the whip periodically left-handed from the top of the stretch to midstretch, maintained a commanding advantage from midstretch to the finish while under a brisk hand ride and was a decisive winner.”
Winning Colors was voted a 1988 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
APRIL 8, 1989 -- SANTA ANITA DERBY | WATCH
Sunday Silence, trained by Charlie Whittingham and ridden by Pat Valenzuela, won in isolated splendor by 11 lengths before a crowd of 42,806.
For the DRF chart, I wrote this regarding the winner: “SUNDAY SILENCE, off a bit awkwardly and jostled in the initial strides, sat within close attendance of the early pace, advanced readily to take over nearing the five-sixteenths marker while three wide, began drawing away turning into the stretch, swerved inward when roused with the whip once right-handed soon after entering the stretch, then responded to left-handed pressure thereafter while drawing off for a decisive victory.”
Sunday Silence would go on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Easy Goer was the runner-up both times, then won the Belmont Stakes to thwart a Triple Crown sweep by Sunday Silence when he finished second.
Round four between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer occurred in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park when the 1989 Horse of the Year title was on the line. This time Sunday Silence won by a neck when holding off Easy Goer’s late charge.
Sunday Silence was indeed voted 1989 Horse of the Year. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.
FEBRUARY 3, 1990 -- THE LEGEND’S LAST RIDE HANDICAP | WATCH
When I was calling the DRF charts at Santa Anita in 1990, I was cognizant of how many times a retired jockey had not stayed retired. With that in mind, I felt that I had to try and decide how to handle the chart comments for Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker’s final ride.
Shoemaker had announced that his final day as a jockey would be Feb. 3, 1990. His very last ride would be in a $100,000-added stakes race at one mile on the grass called The Legend’s Last Ride Handicap. Shoemaker rode Patchy Groundfog for trainer Julio Canani.
Because it was such an important occasion, I felt it should be treated as such in the official chart. I wanted to include Shoemaker’s number of career mounts and victories for posterity. But I also realized it needed to be written in such a way as to be accurate just in case Shoemaker resumed riding in the future. I thought it was not absolutely impossible for Shoemaker to someday come out of retirement. If ever a retired jockey could resume riding if he so desired, it was Shoemaker, who was so small that he certainly would not be too heavy to come out of retirement.
Many wanted to see Shoemaker go out a winner, a la John Longden on George Royal in Santa Anita’s 1966 San Juan Capistrano Handicap. But Shoemaker and Patchy Groundfog, unlike Longden and George Royal, did not win. Patchy Groundfog finished fourth in a field of 11 as the 7-10 favorite of the 64,573 fans in attendance. Exemplary Leader, ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye, was victorious at odds of 12-1.
For the DRF chart, I wrote this regarding the first four finishers in the 1990 Legend’s Last Ride Handicap: “EXEMPLARY LEADER, outrun early, dropped back a bit after the opening quarter, saved ground on the far turn, rallied to get closer in the upper stretch, was taken up when blocked while along the inside rail approaching the furlong marker, accelerated to reach the front in deep stretch after finding room to come between SPLENDOR CATCH and PATCHY GROUNDFOG a sixteenth out and prevailed in a hard drive. HAPPY TOSS, close up early, had to bide his time all the way around the far turn when boxed in while still close up, was steadied for several strides when unable to get between Splendor Catch and the inside rail in the upper stretch, got through along the inner rail soon after passing the furlong marker and came home willingly to gain the place in a good try. ORAIBI, close up from the beginning, threatened through the drive while keeping to his task but could not outfinish the top two. PATCHY GROUNDFOG, with jockey William Shoemaker having announced that this would be the 40,350th and final ride of his career, came away in alert fashion, sat slightly off the lead through the early stages while outside SPLENDOR CATCH, had a short lead for several strides between calls after passing the furlong marker but then weakened slightly in the closing yards to finish fourth, keeping it at a record 8,833 lifetime victories for Shoemaker.”
It turned out that Shoemaker never did ride another race after he had announced his retirement as a jockey. But if Shoemaker had not stayed retired, the chart comments for the 1990 Legend’s Last Ride Handicap would not have then become inaccurate.
APRIL 20, 1991 -- MATCH RACE BETWEEN VALIANT PETE & GRISWOLD | WATCH
This was the first match race in the history of Santa Anita. The outstanding Quarter Horse Griswold and the exceedingly swift Thoroughbred Valiant Pete went mano a mano in a $100,000 winner-take-all four-furlong dash.
Griswold was backed down to 2-5 favoritism, while Valiant Pete left the starting gate at even money.
“On April 20, 1991, two world-record holders met at Santa Anita for a match race, except this match race didn’t pit two Thoroughbreds against each other,” Tracy Gantz wrote in “The Santa Anita 75th Anniversary Celebration” book. “This one was for breed bragging rights, as Thoroughbred Valiant Pete met Quarter Horse Griswold at a half-mile.
“Cowboy hats and belt buckles abounded, with Griswold fans descending on Santa Anita, certain that no Thoroughbred could beat a Quarter Horse.”
But the Thoroughbred did indeed beat the Quarter Horse at Santa Anita in 1991.
Battling side-by-side from the get-go, Valiant Pete won by a neck in a rapid :44 1/5 (not :44 2/5 as stated on Sadler’s Wikipedia page). The :44 1/5 clocking tied the Thoroughbred world record for the distance established by Franworth at Canada’s Stampede Park in 1986.
Julio Garcia rode Valiant Pete for trainer John Sadler. Kip Didericksen was aboard Griswold for trainer Dan Francisco. (Kip’s father, Duayne Didericksen, was the general manager at Les Bois Park when I worked as a steward there in the 1990s.)
NOVEMBER 6, 1993 – BREEDERS’ CUP DISTAFF | WATCH
This was my first year working as Santa Anita’s simulcast television paddock host. It was before the Breeders’ Cup later took over the simulcast of their races. In 1993, Kurt Hoover and yours truly were the television commentators for ALL of the races run at Santa Anita on that hot afternoon, including the seven Breeders’ Cup events. Yes, there were half as many Breeders’ Cup races in 1993 as there were this year at Del Mar.
The 1993 Breeders’ Cup Distaff came down to a photo finish for the win between Hollywood Wildcat and Paseana. Hall of Famer Delahoussaye was aboard Hollywood Wildcat for Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale. Chris McCarron rode Paseana for Hall of Famer Ron McAnally.
Delahoussaye dropped his whip about 70 yards from the finish, as noted by Durkin during his call of the race. Delahoussaye once discussed this race in an interview with Mike Willman on his radio program “Thoroughbred Los Angeles.” Eddie D. said that he “panicked” when he dropped the whip. But I sure could not see any evidence of that while watching the race live. Even when I look at a replay of the race all these years later, it appears to me that Delahoussaye totally kept his cool as Hollywood Wildcat won by a nose.
Hollywood Wildcat was voted a 1993 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly.
FEBRURY 17, 1996 -- SANTA MONICA HANDICAP | WATCH
In all my years as a television broadcaster for Santa Anita and HRTV, this was my all-time favorite post-race winner’s circle interview due to the class exhibited by the late Bob Lewis.
The 1996 edition of the Grade I Santa Monica Handicap featured a clash between a pair of high-profile 4-year-old daughters of Rahy in Eclipse Award winner Serena’s Song, trained by Lukas, and the undefeated Exotic Wood, conditioned by Ron Ellis.
Owned by Lewis and his wife, Beverly, Serena’s Song made her 1996 debut in the Santa Monica after being voted a 1995 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly. Exotic Wood, owned by Pam and Marty Wygod, was five for five going into the seven-furlong Santa Monica and was coming off a win in Santa Anita’s Grade II La Brea Stakes.
Living up to the pre-race hype, Serena’s Song, with Gary Stevens aboard, won what turned out to be an exciting edition of the Santa Monica by a half-length over Exotic Wood and Chris McCarron.
Bob Lewis could not have been any classier in what he said when I interviewed him in the winner’s circle for Santa Anita’s simulcast telecast after Serena’s Song’s Santa Monica victory.
When I asked Lewis for his thoughts on Serena’s Song’s performance, he said that before saying anything else, he wanted to congratulate the Wygods, Ron Ellis and Chris McCarron for the terrific performance by their filly Exotic Wood.
How sad that such good sportsmanship like that has become so rare.
Serena’s Song was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
MARCH 3, 2001 -- SANTA ANITA HANDICAP | WATCH
I enjoyed being a commentator on the KDOC-TV telecast of this race. I also enjoyed seeing Tiznow register an emphatic five-length victory. That’s because I had made a $1,000 win wager on Tiznow, who was sent off as the even-money favorite in the field of 12.
Chris McCarron, Tiznow’s regular rider, was aboard the 4-year-old California-bred Cee’s Tizzy colt in this renewal of the 1 1/4-mile Big ’Cap for trainer Jay Robbins.
In his final 2000 start, Tiznow captured the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs by a neck over Europe’s Giant’s Causeway. He was voted 2000 Horse of the Year.
In the final start of his career, Tiznow in 2001 became the first -- and still only -- two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner when he prevailed by a nose over Europe’s Sakhee at Belmont Park.
Tiznow was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
DECEMBER 28, 2003 -- SHE’S A OLYMPIAN WON NINTH RACE
Without question, this is a day that I will never forget.
There was a $151,840 pick six carryover at Santa Anita that afternoon. Early in the day, a $120 pick six ticket that I had crafted was shown a number of times on HRTV.
I had the first five winners on my pick six ticket: Yogi’s ($8.40) in the fourth race, Castor Troy ($7.80) in the fifth, Chadwicks Well ($9.60) in the sixth, Pesci ($4.60) in the seventh and Redattore ($4.80) in the eighth. I had singled Pesci and Redattore.
That made me alive to three horses in the ninth and final race: Purple Toi (2-1 favorite), Lobsterathepalms (5-2) and She’s a Olympian (30-1).
She’s a Olympian won by 2 1/2 lengths. She returned $62.40 for each $2 win wager.
I actually had been tempted not to bet my own pick six ticket that was displayed on HRTV. Because this was just a few days after Christimas, I was not exactly rolling in dough at the time. But my policy throughout my entire time at HRTV was, if I am going to recommend a ticket on TV for people to bet, the least I can do is bet it myself. (Do you think the same can be said for the folks at TVG?)
And so I hit the pick six that day for $45,981.
NOVEMBER 7, 2009 -- BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC | WATCH
The Oak Tree meeting in the fall of 2009 was when I began making the morning line at Santa Anita. Zenyatta took an undefeated 13-race winning streak into the Breeders’ Cup Classic while facing males for the first time.
I installed Zenyatta as the 5-2 morning-line Breeders’ Cup Classic favorite. This drew criticism from Andy Beyer in the Daily Racing Form. Much to my relief, the bettors did indeed make Zenyatta a 5-2 favorite.
This is my all-time favorite Santa Anita race. In fact, it remains the most exciting race I have ever witnessed anywhere. Luckily, I got off the HRTV set near the paddock just in time to watch it near the sixteenth pole amidst the crowd of 58,845.
Zenyatta’s 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic triumph also generally is considered one of the three greatest moments at Santa Anita since it first opened its doors in 1934. The other two are the career finales by Seabiscuit when he won the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap and jockey John Longden’s victory aboard George Royal in the 1966 San Juan Capistrano Handicap.
Zenyatta was “dead last” in the early stages of the 2009 Classic, as Trevor Denman noted three times during his call of the race. With about a quarter of a mile to go, Denman observed that Zenyatta was still so far behind that she would have to be “a super horse” to win.
But in a rally for the ages, Zenyatta electrified those in attendance and thousands more watching on television. She won by one length in what Denman so beautifully characterized as an “un…be…lieve…able” performance.
Zenytatta became the first -- and still only -- female Thoroughbred to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. She also was the first horse to win two different Breeders’ Cup races.
Trained by John Shirreffs and ridden by Mike Smith, Zenyatta conquered 11 male Classic opponents, including eight Grade I winners.
Zenyatta would extend her unbeaten winning streak to 19 before she lost the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic in her final career start by a head to Blame at Churchill Downs.
Voted 2010 Horse of the Year, Zenyatta was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
APRIL 7, 2012 -- SANTA ANITA DERBY | WATCH
I’ll Have Another, trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Mario Gutierrez, won this race by a nose at 4-1. Creative Cause, the 4-5 favorite, finished second. Blueskiesnrainbows came in third.
I had hopped on the I’ll Have Another bandwagon following his 2012 debut in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4. I had made him 12-1 on the morning line. His closing price was a ridiculous 43-1. He won by 2 3/4 lengths.
Even though I’ll Have Another was coming off a five-month layoff, the Kentucky-bred Flower Alley colt won the 1 1/16-mile Lewis in an excellent 1:40.84.
Because I’ll Have Another was 43-1, I figured that a lot of people would think his win was a fluke. But shortly after the race, I said to television colleague Kurt Hoover that I sure did not think I’ll Have Another’s win was a fluke.
“That final time was really good,” I said.
“I agree with you,” Hoover said. “Did you see how fast he ran the final sixteenth? He came home in six and change [6.32 seconds].
On March 3, Ron the Greek won the Santa Anita Handicap. Between races that day, I’ll Have Another had a marvelous six-furlong workout in 1:10 flat between races.
I timed I’ll Have Another’s workout from the press box on my phone. It was the first workout I had ever timed using a cell phone. Racing broadcaster Randy Moss, present in the Santa Anita press box that day, likewise timed the work on his cell phone.
My phone showed I’ll Have Another working six furlongs in 1:10.5. Moss timed the colt in 1:10.2.
Shortly after the workout, I bet $200 on I’ll Have Another in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2. When Pool 2 closed the next day, I’ll Have Another’s price was 23-1.
Four weeks after I made my Kentucky Derby future bet on I’ll Have Another, he took the Santa Anita Derby.
I’ll Have Another’s Santa Anita Derby victory cemented him as my pick to win the ensuing Kentucky Derby.
My 2012 Kentucky Derby selections for Xpressbet.com were:
1. I’ll Have Another
2. Daddy Nose Best
3. Union Rags
4. Creative Cause
Despite breaking from post 19, I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby by 1 1/2 lengths at odds of 15-1. He remains the only horse to ever win the roses from post 19.
I collected $4,620 for my $100 future wager on him. After I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby, I bet $500 at odds of 7-1 in Las Vegas that he would sweep the Triple Crown.
Two weeks after the Run for the Roses, I’ll Have Another won the Preakness Stakes by a neck at 3-1.
A field of 12 was entered in the June 9 Belmont Stakes. I’ll Have Another drew post position 11. Eric Donovan installed I’ll Have Another as the 4-5 morning-line favorite. Thanks to my bet that I’ll Have Another would win the Triple Crown, it meant I now had a 4-5 morning-line favorite at odds of 7-1 to make $3,500 if he won the Belmont.
Unfortunately, owner Paul Reddam announced on June 8 that I’ll Have Another would not be running the next day in the Belmont due to tendonitis in his left front leg. I’ll Have Anther, Reddam added, was retired from racing.
I’ll Have Another was voted a 2012 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.
NOVEMBER 2, 2013 -- BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC | WATCH
This race will be forever special to me because it meant whether I would win or lose the horse racing fantasy league that I am in.
I had gone into the Breeders’ Cup clinging to a narrow lead in the fantasy league, 300 points to Byron King’s 295. The Breeders’ Cup Classic would decide which of us would win the fantasy league title. From our eight-horse fantasy stables, I had three in the Classic, while King had none.
My three Classic starters were Game On Dude (the 8-5 favorite), Mucho Macho Man (4-1) and Flat Out (13-1).
If Game On Dude, Mucho Macho Man or Flat Out took the Classic, I would win the fantasy league. But if all three of those horses lost, then the title would go to King.
Mucho Macho Man, trained by Kathy Ritvo and ridden by an unretired Stevens, won the 2013 Classic by a nose. To say that I was thrilled by how that three-horse photo finish with Will Take Charge and Declaration of War turned out would be an understatement.
Thank goodness for me that Mucho Macho Man got the job done. That’s because Flat Out finished eighth, while Game On Dude ended up ninth.
NOVEMBER 4, 2016 -- BREEDERS’ CUP DISTAFF | WATCH
In my 2016 Breeders’ Cup recap for Xpressbet.com, I wrote the following:
“What a race!
“In an epic edition of the BC Distaff, three-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder and 2015 Eclipse Award winner Songbird staged a furious stretch duel all the way down to a nail-biting photo finish. The two champions were bobbing heads for supremacy as the wire loomed, accompanied by a roar from the Breeders’ Cup record Friday on-track crowd of 45,763.
“Some, including Larry Collmus, who called the race for NBC, thought Beholder had won. Others thought Songbird had won. It was that close. Michael Wrona, who called the race as Santa Anita’s track announcer, announced it as ‘a cliffhanger that could go either way.’ ”
“The photograph went Beholder’s way, but by only the skinniest nose imaginable in what very nearly was a dead heat. Beholder and Songbird ran so hard, both giving it everything they had, it was a shame that either of them lost.
“Consider all who were involved in this BC Distaff photo finish: Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella and Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens in connection with slam-dunk future Hall of Famer Beholder, and Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith in association with probable future Hall of Famer Songbird.”
Also in my Breeders’ Cup recap for Xpressbet.com, I wrote: “Songbird set an uncontested pace (:23.32, :47.16, 1:11.14) to the far turn, with Beholder lurking within close striking range. I’m a Chatterbox challenged Songbird briefly on the far turn before weakening in the final quarter-mile. When Stevens asked Beholder to go after Songbird on the far turn, Beholder responded readily and moved up to lock horns with Songbird at the quarter pole. From there, all the way to the finish, it was a Breeders’ Cup tussle for the ages.
“Beholder, a 6-year-old, spotted three pounds to Songbird, a 3-year-old. Final time of the race was 1:49.20. Additionally, according to Trakus, Beholder traveled 39 feet more than Songbird.”
As of this writing, Beholder and another special mare, Goldikova, are the only three-time Breeders’ Cup winners. Beholder won the 2012 Juvenile Fillies, 2013 Distaff and 2016 Distaff, all at Santa Anita. Goldikova took the BC Mile in 2008 and 2009 at Santa Anita and in 2010 at Churchill Downs.
I wrote this about Beholder’s owner, B. Wayne Hughes, in my Breeders’ Cup recap for Xpressbet.com: “Thank you, Mr. Hughes, for allowing racing fans to enjoy such a class act as Beholder when many an owner would have long ago sent a mare of her age and accomplishments to the breeding shed.”
Beholder becomes eligible for Hall of Fame induction in 2022. Considering Beholder is a four-time Eclipse Award winner, I would say she is a slam-dunk to get in.
NOVEMBER 5, 2016 – BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC | WATCH
When California Chrome sported a 1 1/2-length lead with a furlong to go, it appeared that the popular 5-year-old California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit was on his way to winning the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic as the 4-5 favorite.
But a 3-year-old by the name of Arrogate, who was the 8-5 second choice in the wagering, had other ideas.
I wrote this for Xpressbet.com in my 2016 Breeders’ Cup recap:
“Away from the gate alertly, California Chrome showed the way through moderate early fractions of :23.28, :47.15 and 1:10.96 without being hustled at all to do so, with Melatonin sitting just behind him. Arrogate, fifth early, moved into third approaching the backstretch.
“Heading toward the far turn and then all the way around that turn, jockey Victor Espinoza intermittently took several peeks back at the competition. Even with Espinoza still not asking California Chrome for run yet, they spurted away to a daylight lead of about three lengths midway around the turn. Melatonin began to retreat, eventually finishing a well-beaten fifth.
“Approaching the quarter pole, Arrogate loomed a threat -- indeed, the only threat -- to California Chrome. As Santa Anita track announcer Michael Wrona put it when California Chrome led by 2 1/2 lengths nearing the quarter pole: ‘Arrogate, the solitary 3-year-old, is sweeping after him in earnest as they race well clear of Melatonin.’
“The bettors had it nailed in that the 2016 BC Classic now had become strictly a two-horse race between California Chrome and Arrogate in the final quarter-mile.
“As California Chrome entered the stretch in front and running strongly, trainer Bob Baffert later said he believed at that point that Arrogate was going to run second. And Baffert felt that finishing second to California Chrome, ‘a great horse,’ as Baffert put it, ‘would be no embarrassment’ for Arrogate.
“Once straightened away for the stretch run, Espinoza now finally was asking California Chrome for run. When California Chrome led by 1 1/2 lengths with a furlong to go, it appeared the 2014 Horse of the Year probably was on his way to a perfect seven-for-seven 2016 campaign.
“Mike Smith, undeniably one of the finest big-money riders of all time, coaxed Arrogate while utilizing a left-hand whip from the top of the lane to just outside the sixteenth pole. Arrogate seemed to be responding just enough to be staying about a length or so behind California Chrome. But when Smith switched his stick and employed it with his right hand in the final sixteenth, Arrogate responded enthusiastically and appeared to find another gear. He surged past California Chrome in the final yards to prevail by a half-length in a thriller witnessed on a beautiful fall afternoon by a throng of 72,811 in attendance at The Great Race Place, the scenic battleground for this year’s Breeders’ Cup.”
You can view the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic on YouTube (Larry Collmus has the call): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vkj3jtY-RPY