03/21/2012 2:59PM

Hovdey: Family tradition carries on in California

Benoit & Associates
The Jay Em Ess Stable runner Canonize won his first try around two turns in Sunday's Santana Mile.

This is the way it used to work:

William Collins Whitney, the 19th-century political heavyweight and New York cable car magnate, did not get interested in Thoroughbred racing until his late 50’s. When he did, it was with a vengeance, and in the few years he had left (he died in 1904, at 63) W.C. Whitney led the American owner’s list twice and won the Epsom Derby.

His son, Harry Payne Whitney, raced the Hall of Famers Whisk Broom, Artful, Hamburg, Broomstick, Regret and Equipoise. H.P. Whitney’s cousins, John Hay Whitney and Joan Whitney Payson, were deeply involved in racing, as was H.P.’s son, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, whose widow, Marylou Whitney, continues the family tradition to this day.

When he wasn’t pumping oil or running cattle on his million-plus acre King Ranch in Texas, Robert Kleberg Jr. reveled in the success of his Thoroughbreds, most notably 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault and 1950 Kentucky Derby winner Middleground. His passion for the game was carried on by his daughter, Helen Kleberg Groves, and by her daughter, Helen Groves Alexander, who continues to be among the influential voices in racing today.

Of course, were W.C. Whitney or Bob Kleberg around right now they’d probably buy an NFL franchise and figure they were playing at the top of the sports world. But a hundred years ago, horse racing was the place for such egos to roam, and the inclination was passed through the generations with enthusiasm.

The historical references come to mind because of what happened last weekend at Santa Anita, when two of the three stakes events offered were swept by the Jay Em Ess Stable. On Saturday, over a sloppy surface suited more for hydroplanes than horses, Include Me Out splashed to victory in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational. Then on Sunday, in the $70,000 Santana Mile, the lightly-used Canonize indicated he could be a 6-year-old of consequence by winning his first try around two turns.

The sight of the Jay Em Ess silks in the winner’s circle is hardly a reason to stop the presses. Mace and Jan Siegel (the “Em”’ and the “Jay” in the stable name) were taking down major races as far back as 1979 when Ardiente won the Del Mar Handicap. Since then, the Siegel family has been represented coast-to-coast by such good ones as Urbane, Arson Squad, Rail Trip, Ramblin Guy, Suave, Hedonist, Love of Money, Boys at Toscanova, and champion Declan’s Moon.

Jan Siegel died in 2002 and Mace Siegel passed away last October, leaving their daughter Samantha to carry on the racing stable . . . or not. As with any passing of the torch, the succeeding generations of families involved in racing are faced with the decision to soldier on. In recent years, racing has seen famous colors gradually fade away or disappear completely with the death of such patrons as John C. Mabee, Allen Paulson, W.T. Young, Jack Dreyfus, and Edmund Gann.

The exceptions give hope that investment in racing still makes a modicum of sense. Ron Winchell, for one, has kept the colors of his father, Verne Winchell, flying proudly, as has Barbara Banke, widow of Stonestreet Stable’s Jess Jackson. But the fact remains: It is as difficult to replace significant investors in the sport as it is to cultivate new fans.

In Samantha Siegel’s case there was really never a question of what she would be doing when her father was no longer around. She already had taken over most of the day-to-day management decisions of their stable.

“I wish the business was in better shape,” Siegel said this week, still aglow over the weekend stakes success. “Hopefully it will settle itself, regroup, and be stronger. That’s usually what happens when you get too much of one thing – there’s a battle to weed out what doesn’t belong.

“It’s always been a way of life for me,” Siegel went on. “My parents got together because of their love for racing. Their first date was at the track. And all my friends are in racing. If I didn’t have it in my life, I really don’t know what I’d spend most of my time doing.”

Love hurts, though, and in the case of Include Me Out and Canonize there has been a lot more patience and pain involved than moments like last weekend.

“Include Me Out was training great as a 2-year-old and ready to run, which is unusual enough for a Ron Ellis horse,” Siegel said, taking a soft poke at her notoriously conservative trainer. “But in her first race at Del Mar there was a spill in front of her and she had to swerve hard to avoid it. She needed time after that.”

Include Me Out returned in the summer of 2011 to win a maiden race at Del Mar, even though there was yet another spill during the running.

“By then she must have thought she was in a demolition derby,” Siegel said.

Include Me Out was undaunted, though, and has been in steady competition since last October. She preceded her Santa Margarita win with a score in the La Canada Stakes at the meet.

As for Canonize, a gelded son of Aldebaran, he has managed to spread 13 starts and five wins over four seasons, recovering from ankle surgery along the way. He fancied a fast dirt track on Sunday just as Include Me Out skipped across the sealed and sloppy surface the day before.

“I took my Dad’s advice on Saturday and followed the filly from the paddock to the track,” Siegel said. “He always told me that if a horse likes the mud, they’ll walk across it like nothing’s different, but if they don’t they’ll dance. Our filly was walking, and the favorite was dancing.” The favorite was Ellafitz, who showed her speed and finished last.

With her current form, Include Me Out has placed herself firmly on the list of horses to watch for the Breeders’ Cup to be held out West this fall. The Ladies' Classic will be run over the same mile and one-eighth as the Santa Margarita.

“A sloppy track would be nice, but there’s three chances of rain here for the Breeders’ Cup,” Siegel said. “Slim, fat and none.

“The stable’s got a lot of bullets to fire, though,” she added. “Now it’s a matter of being lucky enough to get them to the big ones down the line.”