Feast and Famine
1937 - 1944 
A Time To Remember

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My sincere thanks to 
The California Thoroughbred Breeders Association 
for permission to use excerpt their article of June 1987 that those new 
to the sport of racing may also re-live the moment.

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Feast and Famine 1937 -1944 by Jay Hovdey

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Distilling the last 50 years of Thoroughbred racing in California into a handful of pages is like inscribing the 1986 Foal Book on the head of a pin. At one time or another, nearly every great American horse, jockey, owner, and trainer competed in the Golden State since 1937.

Some of the names light the sky with historic fireworks; others call up warm memories of special days spent at the track. There are simply too many names to guarantee proper attention, so I ask for forgiveness in advance. The sin of omission will be committed with regularity. 

To get a grip on the last five decades of California sport, it would help to break down the period into chunks of manageable time. Several key dates stand out, providing logical subdivisions for historical eras. And so, the story of California's last 50 years of Thoroughbred competition begins with . . .

       Santa Anita Park, which opened on December 25, 1934, had set the racing world on its ear. It's appeal had been instantaneous. Average mutuel handle ran to $500,000 a day; purses followed blissfully along. Major East Coast stables flocked to California in the wintertime, bringing with them such marquee names as Equipoise, Twenty Grand, Top Row, Head Play, Rosemont , and Azucar. The $100,000 guaranteed Santa Anita Handicap was the richest prize in the racing world.
       Santa Anita was still a day in the country back then. Smoke from smudge pots in nearby citrus groves nearly obscured the races from view on a cold January day in 1937. But it was obvious that Southern Californians were hungry for action.
       A dog-racing bill passed the legislature (but was vetoed by the governor). A young state assemblyman named Samuel Yorty (later "Mayor Sam" of Los Angeles) got through a state-owned and operated off-track betting system  independent of track pools and take-out. OTB had a short and unhappy life, however. In December of the same year, it was ruled illegal by a state Court of Appeals when a man identified as "T. Goddard" was caught laying off OTB shops bets at Tanforan.
       The California Horse Racing Board was deluged with applications to build racetracks and hold meetings. Of course, many of the requests never got off the ground. Between 1933--when pari-mutuel gambling was legalized--and the beginning of 1937, the only major meetings in California took place at Tanforan and Bay Meadows racetracks near San Francisco and at Santa Anita in the south.
       On January 27, 1937, the CHRB granted the Del Mar Turf Club a license for a 25-day meeting, to be held at a new racetrack on the grounds of the 22nd District Agricultural Association Fairgrounds in a sleepy seaside community just north of San Diego.
       Del Mar opened its gates on July 3, 1937, with track founder Bing Crosby himself greeting customers as they entered the Spanish mission-style grounds. Crosby's High Strike won the opening race, and Buddy Fogelson's Grey Count won the Inaugural Handicap the same day. Best Bid later won the Motion Picture Handicap and King Saxon carried 124 pounds to victory in the Oceanside Handicap. But, when Grey Count, Best Bid, and King Saxon got together for the first Del Mar Handicap, they were all upset by Anthony Puccinelli's Sally's Booter.
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       The 1937 Del Mar meeting was just successful enough to keep things flying. The average handle for the 22-day season was $101,106. Up north, Tanforan was handling an average of about $180,000 per day, while Santa Anita was consistently over the half-million mark. Such superiority in attendance and handle also guaranteed Santa Anita the best horses, and 1937 marked the beginning of one of California's greatest sports legends.
        Charles Howard's Seabiscuit was a budding star when he came out West for the 1937 Santa Anita season. The former claimer had flourished under Silent Tom Smith, and as the winter began, he was considered the early favorite for the 1937 Santa Anita Handicap, along with Foxcatcher Farm's Rosemont, who had run third in the race the year before.
       In those days, weights for the Handicap were assigned in December, and Rosemont was given 124 to Seabiscuit's 114. Even though the two had split a pair of races earlier in the meeting, the 49,446 fans on hand for the Handicap favored Seabiscuit, and a furlong from the finish they appeared to be correct. But Rosemont and jockey Harry Richards got up in the last jump to win by a nose.
       Seabiscuit and the Santa Anita Handicap ultimately became synonymous. As America's reigning handicap champion, The Biscuit returned to California the following winter to begin his preparation for the big one that got away the year before.
       But Seabiscuit was never the soundest animal, and rumors were rife that he would not make the 1938 Handicap. Smith--and Seabiscuit--silenced the talk with a resounding six-furlong work in 1:12 on the morning of February 1. Seabiscuit subsequently made his 1938 debut in the San Antonio Handicap under 130 pounds and was beaten a nose by Ameroid (under 118).

The stage was set 
for Seabiscuit's second try at the Santa Anita Handicap . . . . .             

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Part 2

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