As I studied our copies of The American Racing Manual as a kid, my favorite section was always the Hall of Champions … Probably because it only included the true legends. It was the best of the best. Swaps was one of those special few.
Arguably the best horse ever to come out of California, Swaps was celebrated for his three seasons of racing brilliance. A stakes winner at two, the 1952 son of Khaled, would win only 3-of-6 in his first season, but he was only getting started.
Swaps rattled off wins in the San Vicente, Santa Anita Derby, an allowance, the Kentucky Derby, Will Rogers, Californian, and the American Derby before he tasted his first defeat as a sophomore. That first loss at three came in a match race against another Titan of the Turf ... Nashua. He had defeated his great rival in the Kentucky Derby, but was rumored to be less than at his best physically for the big match race. Swaps would not run again as a three-year-old, finishing the season with a record of 8-7-1-0.
At four, Swaps was even better. Wresting the Horse of the Year title away from Nashua, he won a handicap, the Broward, Argonaut, Inglewood, American, Hollywood Gold Cup, Sunset, and Washington Park Handicaps, before fracturing a cannon bone to end his racing career. His only losses came by a head due to a riding error, and a failed attempt on turf.
Swaps retired with a career mark of 25-19-2-2, despite consistently giving gobs of weight to his overmatched competition. Perhaps most impressively, the magnificent California-bred was the holder of no less than five world records. It’s a feat that will likely never be matched.
As a stallion, Swaps top runners included the champion trio of Affectionately, Chateaugay, and Primonetta. Inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1966, the Rex Ellsworth homebred passed away at the age of 20.
I wish Los Alamitos nothing but the best this year as they take their place on the Southern California Thoroughbred schedule. I really do. I just find it a shame that they felt the need to change the name of the Swaps Stakes to the Los Alamitos Derby. I feel like a piece of racing history was lost with their decision.