12/19/2003 12:00AM

Big-time track from the start

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Open a racetrack 2,500 miles from the hub of the sport, in a state where racing hadn't been conducted for a quarter of a century, and one might think success would take time, if it came at all.

That's exactly what Dr. Charles H. Strub and his investors did when they opened Santa Anita Park on Christmas Day, 1934. When the season ended, however, those brave enough to back the venture received a 55 percent dividend on their investment.

In time, each of the original 200 shares sold in Santa Anita (for $5,000 each) was worth $75,000 and had paid another $75,000 in dividends.

By refusing to think small and offering a purse of $100,000 for the inaugural Santa Anita Handicap - a staggering figure during the Great Depression - Strub succeeded in attracting some of the nation's top stables and best horses to the first season at the Arcadia, Calif., track.

Many of the country's leading stables and biggest stars will again be on hand when Santa Anita opens a new season of Thoroughbred racing Friday.

Test your knowledge of the track that over the years has been known by such names as "The Miracle Mile" and "The Great Race Place."

1. The initiative, approved by voters, that legalized parimutuel racing in California in 1933 called for the establishment of the California Horse Racing Board to oversee the sport.

The first chairman of this board was a staunch supporter of Strub and did all he could to support Santa Anita. He also did all he could to prevent another racetrack - Hollywood Park - from becoming a reality across town.

Some people believed the chairman was receiving payments under the table from Santa Anita. When he went to work for Strub several years later, the suspicions of many were confirmed.

Name this man.

2. In 1950, Santa Anita held a dedication ceremony, where it placed a massive, concrete Maltese cross from the old Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin estate in the eastern end of the paddock gardens.

The cross was built for Baldwin - whose racing silks were black and red, with a Maltese cross - in 1907, to mark the gravesite of the finest Thoroughbred Baldwin ever campaigned. The grave and cross were originally located in the palm-bordered, heart-shaped entrance to his stable, not far from the present-day Santa Anita.

The Baldwin champion is now in racing's Hall of Fame. Name him.

3. In 1940, the magnificent Kingsbury Memorial Fountain was constructed inside the main grandstand entrance gate at Santa Anita. The fountain honored Kenneth Kingsbury, chairman of Standard Oil Company of California and one of the original directors of the Arcadia track.

A bust was erected a few yards north of the fountain more than 30 years later to honor another Santa Anita pioneer, a man who was known for nearly four decades as "the Voice of Santa Anita."

Name him.

4. On the path used by horses going from Santa Anita's European-style paddock to the racetrack are three busts of jockeys, each of whom rode for the final time at Santa Anita:

* Johnny Longden, who rode the final race of his career in 1966. He retired the world's leading jockey with 6,032 wins.

* Bill Shoemaker, who rode the final race of his career in 1990. Shoe broke Longden's record in 1970 and retired with 8,333 winners.

* Laffit Pincay, who broke Shoe's record in 1999 and retired earlier this year with 9,530 winners.

Name the horses which each jockey rode to complete his career.

5. On March 1, 1947, the largest crowd to attend a racetrack in American history to that date - 83,768 - swamped Santa Anita. The lure was the 10th running of the Big Cap and Calumet Farm's Armed, who would go on to be voted Horse of the Year.

Armed didn't hit the board, but a gray ghost from Chile exploded from far back in the pack to score a major upset.

Name him.

ANSWERS

1. Carleton F. Burke was the first chairman of the California Horse Racing Board. His board turned down one request after another from groups wanting to build a racetrack, but it quickly approved plans put together by Dr. Charles H. Strub and his financial backers.

When backers of Hollywood Park sought a permit in 1936 to build a racetrack in Inglewood, Burke's board put up one roadblock after another.

Rumors about hundreds of thousands of dollars being spread around the capital in Sacramento were rampant.

Hollywood Park finally got the go-ahead in 1937. Not long thereafter, Burke quit the board and joined the staff of Santa Anita in the racing department.

By 1945, Burke had become presiding steward. Two years later, he was named director of racing, and, following the death of Strub in 1958, Burke was named vice president.

When the Oak Tree Racing Association opened its first meeting at Santa Anita in 1969, the Carleton F. Burke Handicap was one of its major fixtures. The race was run for the 35th time this past October.

2. In the latter half of the 19th century, Rancho Santa Anita, the estate of Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin, covered all of the present-day San Gabriel Valley and then some. Baldwin bred and campaigned some of the greatest Thoroughbred champions of that era.

One day after Baldwin saw the completion of his biggest dream, the opening of the original Santa Anita Park on Dec. 7, 1907, he was grief-stricken to learn that his greatest runner, Emperor of Norfolk, had died.

Champion at ages 2 and 3 in 1887-1888, Emperor of Norfolk won 21 of 29 starts, including the prestigious American Derby.

In all, Baldwin won the American Derby four times. The remains of his other winners - Volante, Silver Cloud, and Rey el Santa Anita - were later re-interred under the massive Maltese cross that Baldwin had erected to mark the grave of Emperor of Norfolk.

The cross and those buried beneath it were moved to the paddock gardens of the new Santa Anita Park in 1950.

3. When the first race in Santa Anita's history was run Christmas Day, 1934, Joe Hernandez was in the public address announcer's booth.

For the next 38 years, he never missed a race. Midway through the 1971-72 season, he was kicked in the stomach one morning by a horse. Despite being in great pain, Hernandez refused to go to the hospital and risk missing his first call. Just after uttering his famous, "Therrrrre they go," that afternoon, Hernandez collapsed. Back-up announcer Terry Gilligan rushed from the press box to the announcer's booth, summoned aid, and then picked up the microphone to finish the race call.

Hernandez was taken to the hospital, where he later died. In all, he called 15,587 consecutive races at Santa Anita.

4. Johnny Longden went out on top, winning the March 6, 1966, San Juan Capistrano Handicap in a thrilling finish with George Royal.

Bill Shoemaker retired Feb. 3, 1990, in a special $100,000 race called, "Legend's Last Ride." The Shoe finished fourth with Patchy Groundfog. Exemplary Leader won.

Laffit Pincay's last mount was on Trampus Too at Santa Anita on March 1, 2003. Pincay injured his neck when his mount fell, and he later decided to retire.

5. Twenty-two horses started in the 1947 Santa Anita Handicap - one fewer than the record set the year before.

Armed, under 129 pounds, was the 6-5 favorite but could finish no better than fifth.

An 8-year-old Chilean bred, Olhaverry, under jockey Mel Peterson, stormed from far back in the pack to score a 15-1 upset.

The crowd of 83,768 on hand that day would remain the Santa Anita and California record until 1985, when 85,527 were on track to see Lord at War win the Big Cap and make Bill Shoemaker the first jockey in history to surpass $100 million in career earnings.