04/04/2013 2:16PM

History challenge: Santa Anita still a gateway to Louisville

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Keeneland Library/Morgan Collection
Gallahadion finished 13th in the 1940 Santa Anita Derby before scoring a 35-1 upset in the Kentucky Derby 11 weeks later.

California’s involvement in the Kentucky Derby traces back a long way. Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, whose Rancho Santa Anita encompassed much of the San Gabriel Valley and who built the first Santa Anita Park in 1907, finished fourth in the 1886 Kentucky Derby with his colt Lijero.

In 1904, Elwood won the 30th running of the Kentucky Derby after having run 17 times in California that winter and spring, including finishing second in the inaugural Ascot Derby at Ascot Park, just outside of Los Angeles.

Morvich became the first California-bred to win the Kentucky Derby in 1922, when he went wire to wire to remain undefeated.

(In contrast, Florida did not even register its first Thoroughbred with The Jockey Club until 1936 and it was another 20 years before a Florida-bred captured the Derby – Needles in 1956.)

With the legalization of betting on horses in California in 1933 after an absence of nearly a quarter century and the opening of the current Santa Anita Park in 1934, the West Coast began to play a bigger role in preparing horses for the Kentucky Derby.

When the Santa Anita Derby was only five years old in 1940, Gallahadion finished 13th, only to come back 11 weeks later to score at 35-1 over future Hall of Fame inductee Bimelech in the 66th running of the Kentucky Derby.

With the 76th running of the Santa Anita Derby set for Saturday, test your knowledge of the race former longtime Los Angeles Times sports writer John Hall called the “Western gateway” to Louisville.

1. On Nov. 1, 1938, the legendary Seabiscuit won the most important race of his career – a match with War Admiral at Pimlico – followed by millions of Americans and recreated 10 years ago in the movie “Seabiscuit.”

That race, the second running of the Pimlico Special, netted the winner $15,000.

Eight months earlier, America’s richest race of 1938 was run – the Santa Anita Handicap – where the winner earned $91,450. And for the second year in a row, Seabiscuit missed winning the Big Cap by a nose. He was out-bobbed in the final jump by a colt who 11 days earlier had captured the fourth running of the Santa Anita Derby, the only horse ever to win the two races in the same year. Name the horse.

2. Commenting on the 1947 Santa Anita Derby winner, Joe Palmer of the New York Herald Tribune wrote sarcastically, “Every year the Santa Anita Derby is run something wins it, and before the shouting of the horseplayers had died down, the owner and trainer are crying, ‘On to Kentucky.’ ”

Palmer surmised that a change that was made to the conditions of the 1947 Santa Anita Derby may “have had something to do with the fact that the 3-year-olds which looked so good in California failed so badly when they come East.”

Who won the 1947 Santa Anita Derby, and what race condition was changed?

3. In 1949, it looked to the California racing community like the Santa Anita Derby was going to produce another Kentucky Derby winner.

The odds-on favorite in the Kentucky Derby (4-5) had finished second in the Santa Anita Derby to the horse who was the 9-2 second choice in the Louisville classic. The California race had been a battle between the two – so intense in fact that the stewards recommended to the California Horse Racing Board that one of the jockeys be suspended for the remainder of the year.

Name the one-two finishers in the 1949 Santa Anita Derby and their jockeys. How did the horses fare in the Kentucky Derby?

4. The 15th running of the Santa Anita Derby in 1952 (the race was not run from 1942-1944 because of the war) finally produced a Kentucky Derby winner.

This dark bay colt gave Calumet Farm its first win in the rich Santa Anita race and its record fifth in the Kentucky Derby. It also marked jockey Eddie Arcaro’s record fifth and final win in the Kentucky Derby.

Calumet came back the following year to win the Santa Anita Derby a second time.

One year after that, another Santa Anita Derby winner went on to capture the 80th Kentucky Derby. He would later play a role in the decision by Calumet Farm to leave California and not race there again for more than a quarter century.

Name the first two Santa Anita-Kentucky Derby winners.

5. Who was the greatest Santa Anita Derby winner ever? Historians might argue for some time over Swaps (1955) and Affirmed (1978). But on the question of who was the most popular and had the biggest national following when he arrived at Churchill Downs, this flame-red colt would probably top the list.

The day before the race, Daily Racing Form columnist Barney Nagler wrote, “No matter how it comes out tomorrow, they are going to remember the 1958 Kentucky Derby as belonging” to this colt. Name the horse.

Get the answers HERE.