Power Shift West
1968 - 1980

My sincere thanks to the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association 
for permission to excerpt their article of June 1987
a
nd to Craig Wheeler for the rare photos - that those new 
to the sport of racing may also re-live the moment.

During the 1960's, 
California was hard on the reputations of national heroes. 
In two starts at Hollywood Park, Kelso barely raised a cloud of dust. Roman Brother was a bust at Santa Anita. Buckpasser won the Malibu and the San Fernando, but then developed a quarter crack that kept him out of the Charles H. Strub Stakes. 
And, Damascus should have been so lucky. After winning the Malibu and San Fernando, the reigning Horse of the Year was upset by Cal-bred Most Host in the 1968 Strub.

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As equine jet travel became more efficient,
 the East Coast stars began appearing in greater and greater numbers.
 Hit and run invasions became part of the sporting scene. Sometimes they worked (as with Dr. Fager in the 1968 Californian and Fort Marcy in the 1968 Sunset Handicap), and sometimes they fizzled (Arts and Letters broke down in the 1970 Californian.)
 But one thing is certain. 
California racing fans had become accustomed to seeing the very best 
Thoroughbreds in training.

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The meet at Oak Tree provided Southern California
 with its first real tests for two-year-olds. More than anything else, however, Oak Tree placed a premium on the increasingly popular grass competition. 
Cougar II, Daryl's Joy, Typecast, Fiddle Isle, Czar Alexander, Tell, Pink Pigeon, and Manta were among the turf stars who made an impact 
during the early Oak Tree seasons. And, in a preview of things to come, 
a colt named Ack Ack carried 128 pounds to victory in the 1970 Autumn Days Handicap, a 6 1/2 furlong turf sprint.

 

#1. Charlie Whittingham maps out Ack Ack's route to Horse of the Year honors in 1971.

#2. March 13, 1971: Ack Ack, jockey Bill Shoemaker up, winning the Santa Anita Handicap under 130 lbs. His stablemate, Cougar II with jockey Laffit Pincay Jr up, finished a fast-closing second.

#3. March 4, 1979: Affirmed, jockey Laffit Pincay Jr up, winning the Santa Anita Handicap while setting a new track record 1:58 3/5 -- just 2/5 of a second off the world record for 1 1/4 miles at that time -- under 128 lbs. The performance line in the official Daily Racing Form chart for this race said that Affirmed won with "speed to spare." 

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The following season,
 Ack Ack became the first Horse of the Year to be campaigned exclusively in California. His impact was tremendous, since 1971 was also the first year 
that the Eclipse Awards 
unified the championship balloting process in Thoroughbred racing. 
Despite the limitations of his geography, Ack Ack could hardly be denied.

.Ack Ack went on a weight-carrying winning spree,
 the likes of which had never been seen in the West. Charlie Whittingham gave this horse a break and then brought him back at Hollywood Park, where Ack Ack won the Hollywood Express (130 pounds again),  the American Handicap on the turf (130). and the Hollywood Gold Cup (under a record 134). To this day (June '87) Whittingham would say that 
Ack Ack was the best horse he had ever trained.

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The 1972 season was an especially thrilling time for aficionados
 of top race mares. 
Charlie Whittingham sent out champion Turkish Trousers to win the Santa Margarita that winter, but by the summer season at Hollywood Park, 
the division belonged to Leonard Lavin's Convenience
 and Fletcher Jones' Typecast.

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So hot was the rivalry 
that a match race was arranged, $250,000 winner take all, and Convenience came out on top after a brilliant ride from Jerry Lambert. 
Typecast was hardly disgraced, and by the end of the year she had accomplished enough to be honored as the Eclipse Award-winning older mare.

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The era also marked the emergence of Lazaro Barrera,
 who shifted his base of operations from New York to California.
 New Yorkers Frank (Pancho) Martin and Bobby Frankel also made an impact on California, and while Martin headed back east when the snows melted, Frankel stayed for good to become the perennial leader when it came to winning races.

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The racing world was blessed 
with three great champions during the late 1970s --Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid. California got a taste of each.

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 Seattle Slew 
was probably  past his best when he ran in the 1977 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park. 
The Triple Crown winner lured more than 60,000 people to the track,
 though, and they became witnesses to the very first loss of his remarkable career.

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The winner was George Pope's J. O. Tobin, 
who was hardly a fluke. J. O. Tobin returned to Hollywood Park the following year to win the Los Angeles Handicap under 130 pounds and the Californian Stakes under 126. The black son of Never Bend was later named the nation's co-champion sprinter.

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Harbor View Farm's Affirmed 
became the sixth colt to parlay a Santa Anita Derby win into 
Kentucky Derby glory in 1978. 
He also won the San Felipe Handicap and the Hollywood Derby, all of which contributed toward his first Horse of the Year title at the end of the season.

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Spectacular Bid filled Affirmed shoes the following season. 
The gray, machinelike son of Bold Bidder swept the Malibu, San Fernando, Strub, and Santa Anita Handicap , then added the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap and
 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park. 
Historians extol Spectacular Bid's Strub triumph in a main-track
 record 1:57 4/5 for 10 furlongs, but who will ever forget his cold-blooded romp under 130 pounds through a driving, icy rain in the Santa Anita Handicap?

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In 1979, B. J. Ridder's Flying Paster, 
another son of Gummo, was the best three-year-old classic prospect California had produced since Candy Spots.
 But, he ran aground against Spectacular Bid in Louisville and Pimlico. 
Flying Paster finished second to Spectacular Bid four straight times in the winter of 1979-1980 and was in danger of becoming a historical footnote. 
Fortunately Ridder gave him another season to prove his worth. 
Flying Paster responded by winning the San Carlos, San Pasqual 
and San Antonio in early 1981 before running squarely into another 
California landmark on the rise  -- John Henry.