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Walk of Champions dedicated Downtown

Several hundred people turned out for the dedication of the Arcadia Historical Society‘s Thoroughbred Racing Walk of Champions in Downtown Arcadia on Saturday, Sept. 27. First Avenue was closed north of Huntington Drive for the ceremony that included officials from the City of Arcadia and Santa Anita Park race track as well as Hall of Fame jockeys and relatives of many of the owners, trainers, and others recognized with 67 bronze plaques dotting the sidewalks along Huntington Drive from The Derby restaurant to Santa Anita Avenue, and a handful just north of Huntington both sides of First Avenue. Society TRWoC committee members Sandy Snider, Gail Marshall, and Beth Costanza were introduced and praised for the project hailed as a historic and high-profile project for Downtown Arcadia that will be enjoyed for generations to come.

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A monument touting founding sponsor Santa Anita Park, a donor board featuring other major donor organizations and individuals, and a new bench with the words Walk of Champions have all been added at the northwest corner of First and Huntington, on the opposite side of the corner featuring the Society’s History Lives Here marker for the City Hall that originally occupied the corner lot.

Future plaques are expected to be placed in spaces on the south side of Huntington Drive and on both sides east to the City boundary, as well as along First Avenue leading to the Gold Line train station to be opened in 2016 and the adjacent Arcadia Transit Plaza which will be opened Nov. 6, 2014.

The TRWoC committee not only raised funding for the project but also did all the research and oversaw the design of the plaques which are two-feet square in size. The first 60 “Cornerstone Champions represent deceased entities, while the first seven of annual living inductees were also honored Saturday. Among the relatives and/or representatives of the inaugural Cornerstone Champions who were recognized at the event:

  1. Linda Mennis, niece of Robert Strub; great niece of Santa Anita Park founder Charles Strub

  2. Anita Baldwin DeAragon and Margaux Viera – direct descendants of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, founder of Arcadia and the first Santa Anita Racetrack (1907)

  3. Mykele Whittingham – granddaughter of trainer Charlie Whittingham

  4. Mel Stute – trainer of Cornerstone Champion Snow Chief

  5. Ron McAnally – trainer of Cornerstone Champions John Henry, Bayakoa and Paseana

This year’s new inductees were also announced, including Santa Anita Park owner Frank Stronach, who was unable to attend. Others who were inducted with representatives attending in person were:

  1. Veterinarian Dr. Jack Robbins, represented by son Jay Robbins

  2. Horse Tiznow (represented by trainer Jay Robbins; owner Pam Ziebarth)

  3. Horses Serena’s Song and Silver Charm (Jeff Lewis, son of owners Robert & Beverly Lewis)

  4. Jockey Eddie Delahoussaye

  5. Jockey Laffit Pincay, Jr.

History Lives Here marker of original City Hall updated and relocated a few feet around northwest corner of First Avenue at Huntington Drive.

History Lives Here marker of original City Hall updated and relocated a few feet around northwest corner of First Avenue at Huntington Drive.

The event included a live band, branded Walk of Champions mementos, and multiple vendor booths of the City of Arcadia and local Downtown Arcadia businesses. Guided walking tours were provided by Society volunteers. Among the many highlights noted by guides as provided by Sandy Snider:

  1. Original concept for Walk of Champions by Marshall and Costanza dates back to the 1990s; the current project under the auspices of the Arcadia Historical Society has been almost two years in the making.

  2. Original concept focused only on horses known for their exploits at Santa Anita Park. Current project includes horses, jockeys, trainers, plus owner/breeders and “others” who are associated with thoroughbred racing in Southern California (and partly Northern California). Emphasis is on California; an association with California is critical, thus we do not have some hugely famous horses such as Man O War or Secretariat.

  3. Funding for the 60 Cornerstone Champions came solely from donations, some very large (such as Santa Anita Park), but most at $1,000 and below. Donors of at least $1,000 are listed on the permanent Donor Board at the corner of First and Huntington.

  4. As we move forward, inductees for year 2014 and beyond must pay an upfront fee to cover costs associated with production, installation and maintenance. These annual inductee plaques do not have the Cornerstone Champion emblem, but rather “Inductee 2014.” The other distinguishing difference is that all Cornerstone Champion plaques include the birth/death dates at the bottom of the horseshoe.

  5. The nomination and selection process in the future will run roughly along the standards set by the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame, but will include other factors as determined by the TRWoC’s nominating committee.

  6. Why isn’t Zenyatta included here? Zenyatta is still alive, thus not a Cornerstone Champion, and she isn’t even eligible for inclusion in the national Hall of Fame yet because of the five-year “waiting period” after a horse retires from active racing. It is not a requirement that a Walk of Champions inductee (or Cornerstone Champion) be in the Hall of Fame, but the great majority are. The expense of producing the bronze plaques is another reason for waiting for history to officially determine Hall of Fame status

  7. Why 60 Cornerstone Champions instead of 50 or 70 or 100? That was primarily a decision driven by funds raised. We wanted at least 50 in order to make a big first impression, but we had a working list of 65 or so. We secured a couple of very generous last minute gifts that allowed us to ‘grow’ the list first to 55, then to 60. Even then it was painful to delete some of our favorites.

  8. Why is Lucky Baldwin included? Baldwin had the first racetrack in Arcadia (1907), was the City’s first Mayor, and he was a noted turf man who bred and raced champions across the country. Two of his horses and his lead jockey are also among the Cornerstone Champions.

  9. What is the breakdown on horses, jockeys, trainers, owners/others? Of the 60 Cornerstone Champions, 34 are horses, six are jockeys, 10 are trainers, and 10 are owners/breeders/others. Among “others” are race caller Joe Hernandez, racing secretary Jimmy Kilroe, charitable organization Oak Tree Racing Association.

  10. Who came up with the initial honorees? Many contributed, but a writer for Daily Racing Form actually put pencil to paper and wrote out a list straight off the top of his head at a party. Others in the racing industry reviewed the list and expressed their educated opinions and suggestions. Final decisions were made by the Walk of Champions committee. Future selections will be discussed by a broader group with much more anonymity.

  11. Plaques size and location? Each is 24” square (except the Santa Anita Park one mounted on a pedestal …. it is 28” square). Current spacing is roughly 40-feet apart, though allowances had to be made for driveways, etc.

Talking points for selected plaques:

  1. #1 (southwest corner of First and Huntington Drive) – William (Bill) Shoemaker – Arguably the greatest rider in California history (with Laffit Pincay Jr. sharing the honors). Born prematurely in rural Texas; so tiny he was kept warm in a box on an open stove door. Moved with family to California – went to El Monte High School until he dropped out to work with horses at Santa Anita. Noted sports writer Red Smith said of The Shoe, “pound for pound, the greatest athlete who ever lived. Among Shoemaker’s greatest mounts are the next two plaques, Spectacular Bid and Ack Ack.

  2. #14Horse Flying Paster (pronounced Pay-ster, not Pastor) – Just as with the horses on either side (Hill Rise and Snow Chief), Flying Paster was a California-bred. Breeder/owner was B.J. Ridder of Knight-Ridder newspaper (Pasadena Star News) fame. Ridder named his horses with newspaper printing terminology, and ‘flying paster’ was one of those. The Paster had the misfortune to be foaled the same year as the spectacular Spectacular Bid, and was beaten by The Bid in the Kentucky Derby in 1979.

  3. #16 and #17 (in front of Denny’s, corner of northeast corner of Santa Anita and Huntington Drive) – Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin and horse Rey el Santa Anita – Founder/Mayor Baldwin’s 1907 Santa Anita Racetrack was located kitty-corner from here (barn area on north end of park; actual racetrack at today’s Santa Anita Golf Course). Death of champion Rey el Santa Anita in 1919 prompted Lucky’s daughter Anita to construct a concrete Maltese Cross (Lucky’s racing insignia) over the graves of not only Rey, but also the other 3 American Derby winners. That Maltese Cross was removed to today’s Santa Anita Park in late 1940’s (located at Clubhouse entrance just next to Seabiscuit Court).

  4. #25 and #26 – Jockey/trainer John Longden and horse Majestic Prince – Jockey Longden retired in 1966 after 39 years as a jockey. Started training career in 1967 with a Kentucky Derby winner, Majestic Prince. Majestic Prince was purchased as a yearling for a record price by oilman Frank McMahon of Alberta Province, Canada. Longden, also from Alberta Province, was chosen as trainer and went off to a grand start in training with The Prince winning every single race of his 10-race career except the last, the third leg of the Triple Crown. Majestic Prince was a large horse at almost 1,200 pounds, and Longden was a very short person at a little under 4’11.”

  5. #32 through #36 – Note connections from one to the next here. Precisionist (#32) was owned by Fred Hooper (#33) who also owned Susan’s Girl (#34). Fred Hooper also sponsored some Latin American jockeys in their early U.S. racing careers, among them Laffit Pincay Jr. (#36 – inaugural 2014 inductee). Among Laffit’s famous mounts in a long and amazing career were both Susan’s Girl and Bayakoa (#35).

  6. #37Seabiscuit – Long associated with jockey George Woolf (plaque #67 near The Derby Restaurant), though Red Pollard was Biscuit’s regular jockey. Photographs are plentiful and interesting, and Seabiscuit was the subject in two feature films (1949, 2003).

  7. #39, #40, #41 – Each an inaugural 2014 inductee (not a Cornerstone Champion). Jockey Eddie Delahoussaye (#39), and horses Tiznow (#40) and Serena’s Song (#41).

  8. #42 – Horse John Henry ran 83 races in long and storied career. Sold as a juvenile for $1,000; offered for sale in a claiming race early on for $25,000. Over his eight-year racing career, he banked more than $6 million. Retired to the Kentucky Horse Park where he remained hugely popular with his racing fans. Lived a long and fruitful life at the Horse Park; died at ripe old age of 32.

  9. #43 and 44 – Jockey Isaac Murphy and horse Emperor of Norfolk – An African-American Kentuckian with ties to California through owner Lucky Baldwin. Murphy rode three of Baldwin’s four American Derby winners, including Emperor of Norfolk (Plaque #44). Murphy’s Kentucky grave was moved to the Kentucky Horse Park several years ago. Emperor of Norfolk’s bloodlines are significant and are represented by many in the Cornerstone Champion group (including Flying Paster, Majestic Prince, and the horse next door, Plaque #45, the great California-bred Swaps). In turn, bloodlines from Swaps are in the ancestry of recent Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, another California-bred, California Chrome.

  10. #48Native Diver (with trainer Buster Millerick at Plaque #49) – Native Diver died much too young at age eight (colic), but his stellar racing career was commemorated with his burial at Hollywood Park. When Hollywood closed for business earlier this year, the remains of The Diver were carefully recovered by archaeologists and transported to Del Mar where the Hall of Fame California-bred race horse will be re-interred and once again recognized for his significant accomplishments.

  11. #51Charles Whittingham (trainer). A legend whose plaque details highlight an amazing career. Champions trained by Whittingham include #50, Cougar II, and #52, Sunday Silence. Cougar II was the first Chilean-bred horse inducted into the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame.

  12. #53 through #56 – The only thing these champions have in common is the color gray. Free House (#54) and Silver Charm (#55) had a storied rivalry with each born in 1994 and competing against each other in the Santa Anita Derby, then the Kentucky Derby as three year-olds in 1997. Filly Silver Spoon (plaque #57), despite her name, was not a gray at all, but she was a competitor who defeated the boys in the 1959 Santa Anita Derby. She lost the Kentucky Derby to Tomy Lee, but turned the tables on him at Hollywood Park’s Cinema Handicap later that year. Brown Bess (plaque #59) and Paseana (plaque #61) are other outstanding fillies in this block full of champions.

— By Scott Hettrick


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