If racing is to rejuvenate itself, and with apologies to The Lone Ranger, of all people, the sport needs to “return to the thrilling days of yesteryear.”

That’s the sentiment held by an ever-shrinking nucleus of racing fans, who long for the bygone days when there were equine immortals from A (Assault) to Z (Zenyatta).

But hold fast. With current generation superstars Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge and Game On Dude committed to the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 8, horsemen and fans alike are harkening back to memories of the good old days, when battles between the best were as common as sunny days in Southern California.

“The Santa Anita Handicap with horses like these is what racing needs,” says trainer Sean McCarthy, who also finds time to lend his expertise as an analyst on HRTV. “These days, races like this are hard if not impossible to put together.

“We missed out on Zenyatta versus Rachel Alexandra. There was talk of their racing against each other, but they never did meet, and they’re the races everybody wants to see. Fans want to see the John Henrys. Tracks need to get horses like that together.”

Of course, it takes more than the track to produce a race that captures mainstream interest and attracts horses that become household names, like Seabiscuit and Silky Sullivan. It takes a team effort. Before a field such as the one in prospect for the 77th Santa Anita Handicap breaks from the gate, the stars have to be properly aligned.

So far, they are. “Hi-yo, Big ‘Cap! Away!”


With Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge scheduled to clash in the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 8, Jon White points out the similarity to the 1988 renewal of the 1 ¼-mile event.

“The year before the ’88 Big ‘Cap, Ferdinand, at four an older horse, nosed out 3-year-old Alysheba in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Hollywood Park,” White said. “And then they had a rematch in the Big ’Cap. Similarly, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year here at Santa Anita, Mucho Macho Man, an older horse (five), won by a nose over Will Take Charge, a 3-year-old. And now they are scheduled to have a rematch in this year’s Big ’Cap.”

At the time of the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic, White was the chart-caller at the Southern California tracks for the Daily Racing Form. Consequently, he called the official chart for the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“That ’87 Classic really was a Classic,” recalled White, who these days makes the morning line at Santa Anita and provides pre-race television commentary for the track’s simulcast network. “It was a showdown between two Kentucky Derby winners, with the Horse of the Year title on the line. And the ride (Bill) Shoemaker gave Ferdinand that day was one of the greatest I ever saw.

“At that time, Shoe’s riding career was winding down. He knew that he wouldn’t be riding all that much longer and that Ferdinand might well be the best chance and possibly last chance he would ever have to ride a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner. Up to that time, Shoe had never won a Breeders’ Cup race. If all of that wasn’t enough pressure on Shoemaker, riding Ferdinand was not easy. Ferdinand was a colt who had a tendency to pull himself up once he got in front. Let me tell you, Shoemaker’s patience that afternoon was truly remarkable considering all that was at stake.”

This was what White wrote of the victorious Ferdinand in the chart for the 1987 Classic: “Ferdinand, within easy striking distance early while being patiently handled, moved up when used slightly nearing the far turn to avoid being boxed in, forced the issue on the far turn and in the upper stretch with the rider waiting as long as possible to ask his mount to go for the lead, responded willingly when asked to get a short lead leaving the sixteenth marker, then held on to prevail by a slim margin in an extremely game effort.”

“Shoemaker showed once again that he had ice water in his veins in an important race the way he sat, sat, sat from the top of the stretch until he got near the sixteenth pole,” White said. “Once he got near the sixteenth pole, he finally pushed the button, and Ferdinand went by Judge Angelucci to get the lead. (Charlie) Whittingham trained both Ferdinand and Judge Angelucci. Alysheba, who was far back early, rocketed home under Chris McCarron. But Ferdinand, thanks in large part to an absolutely perfect ride by Shoemaker, won by a nose.”

It turned out to be Shoemaker’s only Breeders’ Cup victory. As for Ferdinand, he was voted 1987 Eclipse Awards as champion older horse and Horse of the Year. Alysheba also was voted a 1987 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old colt. The following March 6, they had their rematch in the Big ’Cap, with 70,432 in attendance.

In the wagering for the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Ferdinand had been sent off as the even-money favorite, with Alysheba the 7-2 second choice. For their rematch in the Big ’Cap, Alysheba was the even-money favorite, with Ferdinand the 8-5 second choice.

“Alysheba raced a lot closer early in the Big ’Cap than in the Classic,” noted White, who also called the official chart of the 1988 Santa Anita Handicap. “Only four horses started in the Big ’Cap that year. Alysheba was third early, a couple of lengths or so in front of Ferdinand. Alysheba rushed to the front approaching the three-eighths pole. And right behind him, Ferdinand and Shoe also moved with a rush. All the way around the far turn, Alysheba had a short lead while being challenged by Ferdinand. The crowd went bonkers. Alysheba increased his lead to a length at the eighth pole. Ferdinand kept trying all the way to the end, but he never could get on even terms with, let alone by, Alysheba.”

The record shows that Alysheba won that thrilling 1988 Big ’Cap by a half-length over Ferdinand. Alysheba would go on to be voted 1988 Eclipse Awards as champion older horse and Horse of the Year.

“There’s no doubt about it, the ’88 Big ’Cap sure was a great race at The Great Race Place,” White said.


Brice Blanc gets a kick out of sports, almost as much from soccer as race riding, which is his chosen profession.

A native of France, it’s understandable why the 41-year-old jockey favors soccer, but in the past few years, he’s become relatively familiar with basketball, at which he’ll try his hand next Thursday when Santa Anita’s Jockeys play in the 47th annual charity game against Holy Angels School.

The game will be played at La Salle High School in Pasadena, with proceeds to benefit the Holy Angels athletic program, the Kentucky-based Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF) and the Eye on Jacob Foundation.

Sponsored by J. Paul Reddam’s CashCall and Meticulous Talent, game time is 7:15 p.m. and admission doors open at 6:15 p.m.

“I played soccer in Europe but basketball is lots of fun,” said Blanc, who piloted Ambitious Brew to an upset win in yesterday’s Sensational Star Stakes. “I was blanked last year but the year before, I scored a few baskets. I did have an assist last year, though. I was pretty proud of myself.”

In addition to active riders such as Blanc, Gary Stevens, Mike Smith, Joe Talamo, Rafael Bejarano, Corey Nakatani, Aaron Gryder, Edwin Maldonado, Tyler Baze, Mario Gutierrez, Orlando Mojica, Alonso Quinonez, Alberto Delgado, Julien Couton and others, retired Hall of Famers Eddie Delahoussaye and Laffit Pincay Jr. will be available to sign autographs and other memorabilia beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Delahoussaye and Pincay will also serve as honorary team captains along with game captains Smith, Stevens and Talamo. Tickets are $5 and with the purchase of two, fans will receive one General Admission ticket to Santa Anita, good for any race day through April 27. There will also be a Half Court Shot Contest at halftime, with the winner receiving a two-night stay in a luxury suite at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas.

Holy Angels Middle School, located on Campus Drive, just to the south of Santa Anita Park, has long educated many members of the racetrack community, and its church, Holy Angels, has been a source of strength for many as well.

The Eye on Jacob Foundation is named for Jacob Desormeaux, the 15-year-old son of Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux. Jacob was diagnosed several years ago with Usher’s Syndrome, a rare disorder that causes loss of hearing, imbalance, and eventual loss of sight in approximately 14,000 children in the United States.

HRTV’s Kurt Hoover, former Arcadia High School basketball standout, will again coach the jockeys’ squad.

La Salle High School is located at the southwest corner of Michillinda Ave. and Sierra Madre Blvd. in Pasadena, approximately four miles northwest of Santa Anita. Admission tickets and promotional tee shirts are on sale now at Champions! Gifts and Apparel in Santa Anita’s East Paddock Gardens, on-track, or through Holy Angels School.

FINISH LINES: Stable Superintendent Bobby Troeger reports that Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man will arrive from his Gulfstream Park base at Ontario Airport this afternoon at 3:15 p.m. The Kathy Ritvo trainee will then van to Santa Anita where he will prepare for the Big ‘Cap on March 8 . . . San Antonio Stakes winner Blingo, prepping for the Santa Anita Handicap, worked six furlongs Sunday with Aaron Gryder up in company with Supreme Commander for trainer John Shirreffs. Blingo was timed in 1:12.20 for six furlongs, while Supreme Commander got 1:02.60 for five furlongs, breaking five lengths in front of Blingo and finishing five lengths behind . . . Also working for the Big ‘Cap was San Antonio runner-up Imperative for George Papaprodromou with Kent Desormeaux aboard, going five furlongs in 1:03 . . . La Canada winner Spellbound, gearing up for the Grade I Santa Margarita Stakes on March 15, worked seven furlongs in company with Perfect Cursive for Richard Mandella. With Victor Espinoza up, Spellbound was clocked in 1:26.60, while her workmate got 1:28.40. “Real nice” is how Mandella termed the move . . . Trainer Barry Abrams said Lakerville emerged from his eventful second-place finish in the Sensational Star in good order and will be considered for the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile on March 8. “I’m happy,” Abrams said. “He didn’t have to run hard, so he’ll be that much better if I do run in the Kilroe.” . . . When Gary Stevens outfinished favored Baruta by a half-length to win Saturday’s sixth race aboard One Time Only, it marked the sixth time from 17 mounts this meet he won riding a horse for trainer Tom Proctor, a winning mark of 35 percent. Stevens also finished second five times and third once, for an in-the-money percentage with Proctor of 70. Overall, Stevens has ridden 131 horses for Proctor, winning 35, with 17 seconds and 17 thirds . . . John Sadler likes what he sees in Drayden Van Dyke, the meet’s leading apprentice rider. “I like the way he was taught,” the trainer said. “He has a good teacher in Tom Proctor. He’s ‘old school.’” . . . Probable for next Saturday’s Santa Ysabel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles: Artemis, Stevens; Awesome Baby, Mike Smith; Saintly Joan, Tyler Baze; and Swiss Lake Yodeler, Rafael Bejarano . . . Apprentice Irving Orozco loses his weight allowance Thursday. Starting Friday, Feb. 28, he rides as a journeyman.