‘BIG IVAN’ REPRESENTED JOCKEYS SUCH AS MAHORNEY, CASTENEDA, BAZE & GUTIERREZ
ARCADIA, Calif. (June 22, 2017)–The Southern California racing community continued to mourn Wednesday upon the news of veteran jockey agent Ivan Puhich’s passing on Monday at age 89. “Big Ivan” as he was affectionately known from his early days at Longacres Race Course near Seattle to Agua Caliente south of the border, had been retired for several years and was living with his daughter in San Diego.
Born Dec. 22, 1927 in St. Helena, CA, and raised in Renton, WA, Ivan followed older brothers Nick and Stan to the track as a youngster, selling newspapers, mucking stalls and walking hots. With the outbreak of WW II, Ivan enlisted in the Marine Corps and saw combat in the South Pacific and later, in China.
Following the war and upon his return to base in San Diego, he obtained permission from his commanding officer to take leave in order that he could attend the 1948 Kentucky Derby.
“I’ll never forget it,” Puhich said in an interview 23 years ago at Hollywood Park. “I hitch hiked back there, in uniform and got in free. Calumet (Farm) ran one-two with Citation and Coaltown.”
Physically fit and an imposing figure at 6’5″ and 220 to 230 pounds, it was no secret that Puhich, who was gregarious by nature, was as adept with his oversized fists as he was with a condition book.
“When I got out of the service, I decided to box at Gonzaga (College, in Spokane, WA),” Puhich once related. “They had a really good boxing program there and I did well, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do.” (A photo of a pugilistic Ivan Puhich, a member of the 1951 Zags Boxing Team, currently adorns the walls of the Gonzaga University Athletic Department).
A member of the starting gate team at Agua Caliente for a time in the early 1960s, Puhich unquestionably made his professional mark as a top agent for riders such as William Mahorney, Marco Casteneda, Tyler Baze (who Puhich guided to an Eclipse Award as America’s Champion Apprentice Jockey in 2000), and miraculously, 25-year-old Mario Gutierrez, with whom he won the 2012 Kentucky Derby aboard the Doug O’Neill-trained I’ll Have Another.
A dyed in the wool San Francisco 49ers fan, Puhich was a regular attendee, rain or shine, at both Kezar Stadium and Candlestick Park, where his all-time favorite “Niner,” Joe Montana, took the team to unprecedented heights, winning four Super Bowls following his graduation from Notre Dame in 1979.
“The greatest quarterback of all-time,” Puhich would readily testify on behalf of the irrepressible Montana.
Puhich was pre-deceased by his infant son, Ivan, Jr. and another son, Steven. He is survived by his daughter, Robin Freeman and three grandchildren, Jeanie Freeman, Kevin Freeman and Brad Puhich. Ivan is also survived by extended family that includes a nephew, trainer Michael Puhich.
A celebration of life for Ivan Puhich will be held on an as-yet to be determined date during the upcoming Del Mar race meeting, which begins July 19.