March 6, 2010

The Big 'Cap - Then and Now

I love Big 'Cap day. It fills me with a strong sense of history. Today’s running will be the 73rd Big ‘Cap, and once again it has put me into a reflective mood. There are not many races with a richer and more storied past than the Santa Anita Handicap.

The story of the early years were dominated by the rags to riches horse himself, Seabiscuit. In 1937 and 1938, he lost tight finishes, the second loss coming to Stagehand, who carried 30 pounds less than the great Seabiscuit. He suffered what was expected to be a career ending injury while preparing for the 1939 Big ‘Cap, but his legend was secured when he came back to win the 1940 edition, in his final career race. Ten years later, it was the unheralded Noor who made big news by defeating the mighty Citation. It was the first of five races between the great rivals and it was the race that got Noor rolling to a championship season. In 1958 the great Round Table scored his only Big ‘Cap victory on the way to a Horse of the Year title with a young Willie Shoemaker in the saddle. It was already Shoemaker’s third Big ‘Cap victory…he would go on to win an incredible eleven.

In my lifetime, the Santa Anita Handicap has been magical, one of those races where I did not want to miss no matter what. It has been a race where the big horses ran and won. Ack Ack in ‘71, Affirmed in ‘79, Spectacular Bid in ‘80, Alysheba in ‘88, Best Pal in ‘92, Tiznow in ‘01, the list goes on. John Henry won back to back editions in the early 80's and Milwaukee Brew and Lava Man repeated the feat this past decade. Two of my favorite Big ‘Caps were won by near white horses. They were both horses that captured my attention in a big way and used this race to put a stamp on their excellent careers. In 1978, I was enthralled with a silver streak named Vigors. He had been a very good turf horse, but his career exploded with a switch to dirt. In the Big ‘Cap Vigors continued his dirt streak by unleashing a furious rally that left poor Mr. Redoy, who looked like a sure winner at the top of the stretch, with no joy. Just watch the “big white horse” go…

In 1999 it was another chance for one of my all-time favorite horses, Free House, to gain some revenge against his long time rival, Silver Charm. Throw in the very talented Event of the Year, and it was a most memorable edition of the Big ‘Cap. Happiness filled the Zipse household that day, as the beautiful, near white horse was as game as could be and scored one of his biggest career victories.  Take this guest blogger Jay...

Today’s race may not have the most stellar field, but what it lacks in proven grade 1 winners, it makes up for with a large, evenly matched field offering excellent wagering opportunities. The only female in the field, St Trinians is the morning line favorite. She has been unbeatable against the girls since arriving from England last year, but I am going to take a stand against her today against the boys. My top pick is Loup Breton. The French import has consistently run against top competition on the grass and is perfectly suited for the 1 ¼ distance. His form has been excellent since arriving to California last Fall and with the penchant for Santa Anita’s synthetic surface being kind to turf horses, he should have no problem with the switch to the main track. My top longshot pick in the race is the Canadian Eagle Poise. He proved to be of high quality last Fall as a three-year-old north of the border. His first race in California was a race he figured to be less than sharp, coming out of a 14 furlong race at Woodbine. The beautifully bred colt should be much sharper today and should also appreciate the added furlong of the Big ‘Cap.


ja.raymond said...

WOW!! Vigors was REALLY moving!!
Reminds me of Zen, only she's more subtle about it...Or maybe Vigors cant help but be obvious about it because he's "white"!
At any rate, when you put it in number of yrs, it seems The Cap has been around forever!! :)

Brian Zipse said...

Jane, watching Vigors irresistable rally was simply unforgettable!

LDP said...

Vigors was amazing. What is it with greys coming from behind? I seem to remember another great grey, Native Dancer who also had a devestating late kick, that left swallowed every horse except for one pesky little horse, Dark Star (please correct me if I got his name wrong.)

Today, I will just be happy to sit and watch the races today. Though I will be rooting for the filly to beat the boys. Hey, there's a first time for everything, RA and Zen proved that many times last year.

Anonymous said...

Best horse ever to run second in the Santa Anita Hcp? Very few will remember or have even heard of him. Didn't make the DRF Champions book but in 1959 was the Thoroughbred Record's "Best of the year." In 13 starts he won 10(stakes) and ran second 3 times. His 2nds were to Sword Dancer, the filly Bug Brush and to Terrang in the SA Hcp. Truly as time passes an underrated horse.

I know nothing about today's field. I think they look average at best so I go with Leyva's mount.


Brian Zipse said...

Today proved that St Trinians is no Rachel or Zenyatta, LDP.

RG, You are absolutey right. Hillsdale was a great horse and one that is underappreciated in history...tell us more.

Sometimes you can not win...I bet four horses in the Big 'Cap, two of them run 1-2, and the other two do nothing. Of course the two I mentioned in the article, are the two that did nothing.

LDP said...

I never says she was Brian, just said I would be rooting for her to pull it off and that there is a first time for everything. I wasn't trying to compare her to Zen and RA, I was just using them to make a point.