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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
• MIKE LAKOW JOINS SANTA ANITA AS RACING DIRECTOR
• LEGENDARY AGENT O’BRYAN RECALLS MAGNITUDE OF BIG ’CAP
• CALIFORNIA CHROME TO WORK AT LOS AL FOR SAN FELIPE
EASTERN-BASED MIKE LAKOW HIRED AS RACING DIRECTOR BY SANTA ANITA PARK
Santa Anita Park has announced that Mike Lakow, who served for 12 years as Director of Racing for the New York Racing Association (NYRA) and who is currently a racing steward at Calder Race Course, has been hired as Racing Director and will assist Santa Anita Vice President of Racing Rick Hammerle, effective March 24.
“Mike brings a breadth of experience and close personal relationships with horsemen nationwide that will serve us well as we move forward into this era of expanded dates and opportunities here at Santa Anita,” said Keith Brackpool, Santa Anita Chairman. “Horse inventory is the backbone of our business and we’re confident that Mike is going to be a tremendous asset for us as we continue in our efforts to attract an ever-diverse and varied equine population to one of America’s finest racing venues.”
A Philadelphia native, Lakow, 57, has over 30 years of experience in the racing industry, having worked at tracks in New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Kentucky, Florida and Dubai, U.A.E.
“Thoroughbred racing is my passion and I am grateful the Stronach Group and Santa Anita Park have offered me the privilege to be part of their elite racing program,” said Lakow.
Following his tenure with NYRA, Lakow served as General Manager for John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms in Lexington, Kentucky, for five years. He was then chosen to head New York’s Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation in Saratoga Springs.
Lakow was hired as an Association Steward by Calder Race Course in April, 2013, and has served with distinction until the present time.
Santa Anita’s current Winter Meeting will run through April 20, and will be followed by a Summer Meet, to run from April 25 to June 29.
Santa Anita Park will host the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships for an unprecedented third year in a row on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
GREAT MEMORIES OF SANTA ANITA HANDICAP, BY GEORGE
Raised on a farm in Southern Illinois, he was delivering newspapers on horseback at the age of 12. Born Oct. 25, 1920 in Taylorville, Illinois, George O’Bryan would go on to become an exercise boy, jockey and, by the 1950s, one of America’s top jockey agents, winning five Santa Anita Handicaps while representing legendary Hall of Fame riders such as Ralph Neves, Manual Ycaza, Donald Pierce and Laffit Pincay, Jr.
O’Bryan’s son, Craig, who won his first Big ’Cap as an agent in 2005 with Gary Stevens and Rock Hard Ten, currently represents Stevens, who will reunite with Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man in the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino on March 8.
“I was delivering newspapers for the Decatur Herald & Review,” recalled the man who came to be known on backstretches across America as “Black Heart,” in deference to his well-documented ability to move competing riders off of horses in favor of his own. “I’d meet the Wabash train at 4 a.m. and they’d throw a couple bundles of papers out on their way through town. I had a good route, but in those days, we had to collect the money ourselves, on Fridays. Sometimes the people didn’t pay you, and I guess that kinda sharpened me up, because I had to pay for all the papers up front.”
O’Bryan would later apply those early capitalistic lessons when hustling mounts, including a very special one in advance of the 1957 Santa Anita Handicap.
“I met Ralph Neves when I was riding up at Longacres (near Seattle, Washington) in the mid-‘30s,” said O’Bryan. “Charlie Whittingham trained Corn Husker and he was assigned 105 pounds. He knew Ralph was real light. At the time he was doing 107. Anyway, we ended up on the horse and Ralph reduced and got down to 105 and we got the money.
It would be the first of five Big ’Cap triumphs for O’Bryan as an agent, as he later won it in combination with Pierce, who rode Triple Bend to victory in 1972, and three times with Pincay, who won it in 1977 with Crystal Water, in ’79 with Affirmed and in 1981 with John Henry.
“It was the biggest race anywhere. A lot of people waited for the race and if they didn’t think their horse was good enough, they wouldn’t run. The first Big ’Cap that I remember being here for was when Stagehand beat Seabiscuit in 1938. Nick Wall rode Stagehand and he did 100 pounds. Seabiscuit had to carry 130.”
Does O’Bryan think racing would be better off if top horses were again required to carry such staggering imposts?
“I think it would be better for racing. A good horse oughta carry weight,” he said.
Although Seabiscuit was second in both 1937 and 1938, he came back to win the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap when again assigned 130 pounds.
“Seabiscuit was probably the best horse I ever saw. I saw him win five or six races in a row. Citation was probably the best young horse I ever saw.”
A nine-year stint with Ycaza produced many hundreds of winners, but the Big ’Cap eluded O’Bryan for 15 years, until Triple Bend in 1972 with Pierce.
“Don (Pierce) was a really good big-money rider and we got seven pounds that year from Cougar (II),” said O’Bryan. “Vance Longden trained Triple Bend and he got 119. He ran a terrific race that day and I remember Don said Vance was so nervous in the paddock he was shaking.”
Five years later, and teamed with Pincay, O’Bryan would win his third Big ’Cap--with California-bred Crystal Water.
“Mrs. (Connie) Ring bred him and she owned him. He was by Windy Sands, who stood at Mrs. Ring’s farm and he could really run. We also won the (Hollywood) Gold Cup with him that summer.”
In 1979, O’Bryan and Pincay scored with the great Affirmed, and it was O’Bryan and Pincay again in 1981, with the legendary gelding, John Henry.
“George was a great agent,” recalled Pincay. “I had my best year ever with him in 1979. I was the only jockey to ever be leading rider in one year at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, Belmont Park and Aqueduct. We won 420 races and I was the first jockey to win $8 million ($8,183,535) in one year.”
While summering at Del Mar, O’Bryan married his wife, Mercedes, on Sept. 5, 1948 in La Jolla and in addition to Craig, they have a daughter, Shannon.
“We moved around a lot. We were in New York, Chicago, Florida and up north. Craig’s a better agent than I was. I don’t know how much weight they’ll give Mucho Macho Man, but we’ll be rooting for him. We’ll be there for the Big ’Cap.”
And, 57 years after he won his first one, George O’Bryan, at 93, is hoping to be in the Santa Anita Winner’s Circle with Mucho Macho Man following the 77th running of the “Grand Daddy of Them All,” on March 8.
CALIFORNIA CHROME DRILLS AT LOS AL TOMORROW FOR SAN FELIPE
Trainer Art Sherman, who had been considering working California Chrome before or between races at Santa Anita Sunday, instead will work the California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit at 8 a.m. tomorrow at his Los Alamitos headquarters.
“He’ll work five-eighths and Victor (Espinoza) will come over to ride him,” said Sherman, who plans to enter the California Cup Derby winner in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes that will be run a week from today.
Other San Felipe probables include Bayern (Gary Stevens), Midnight Hawk (Mike Smith), Kristo (Joel Rosario), Unstoppable Colby (Luis Saez), Recanted (Mario Gutierrez) and Rprettyboyfloyd (no rider).
David Hofmans is considering the race for Schoolofhardrocks, whose lone start resulted in a maiden win at Del Mar last August, and Home Run Kitten, a son of Kitten’s Joy who ran fifth in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 8.
FINISH LINES: Fans at Santa Anita next Saturday can wager on an attractive racing program that includes a late Pick 4 offering a guaranteed pool of $500,000, plus all THOROUGHBREDS in attendance can take home a free Santa Anita Park hat with paid admission while supplies last. As an added bonus, Santa Anita will present a Big ’Cap Beer Festival, featuring some of the most diverse country-inspired acts in Los Angeles. For more information and special package deals, visit santaanita.com/events. Use promo code BIGCAP for 50 percent off special online packages. First post time next Saturday is 12 noon; gates open at 10 a.m. . . . This report from Jerry Hollendorfer assistant Dan Ward on 2013 male 2-year-old champion Shared Belief, recovering from a quarter crack on his right front foot at Golden Gate Fields: “He’s doing well. He was training at Golden Gate before, so we already knew he liked it. There’s never any problem with the weather up there (because of the synthetic Tapeta surface) and that’s one of the reasons we took him back up there . . . He was having foot issues here and he never did up there, so . . . We’re going day to day with him. He’s doing well.” . . . Any doubt of a Pick 6 carryover after Find Your Spot won yesterday’s sixth race under Edwin Maldonado for trainer Jim Penney at a $52.20 win payoff was cemented when Kayla Star piloted Shandy to a head victory in a $56.60 stunner for Mike Harrington in the eighth and final. The carryover into today is $72,911.62 . . . Two-time Santa Anita training king John Sadler, on a torrid hot streak after an uncharacteristically slow start this meet, has climbed to third with 19 victories, just three behind leaders Jerry Hollendorfer and Bob Baffert, who have 22 each. Sadler leads all trainers in stakes wins with six . . . Through Friday, favorites are winning at 36.86 percent this meet, 129 out of 350. The number is even higher on dirt, 39.57 percent, 93 out of 235. In the money favorites (261 out of 350) are hitting at 74.57 percent, while in the money odds-on favorites (70 of 77) stand at 90.91 . . . Fernando Perez has been suspended three days (March 6, 7, 8) for causing interference aboard Born Lucky in Thursday’s fifth race, resulting in the disqualification of his mount from first to second.