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Santa Anita to Honor Jack Disney

Jack Disney, who covered and ran with the likes of Dean Chance, Bo Belinsky, “Hot Rod” Hundley, Elgin Baylor, John McKay, Marcus Allen and Howie Long while a sportswriter with the now-defunct L.A. Herald Examiner, will have a race named in his honor at Santa Anita on Sunday, Jan. 27, as The Great Race Place will celebrate his recent retirement from the track’s publicity department.

“We are honored to be able to salute Jack in this way,” said Santa Anita President George Haines. “He has long been one of the most respected guys in town and he always did a tremendous job for us in publicity. Jack has a great rapport with the media, horsemen, jockeys, our employees and fans and while we wish him well in his retirement, we truly miss having him with us on a regular basis.

“Jack provided us with the kind of stability, respect and solid judgement that are hard to find and we want to sincerely thank him for representing Santa Anita in the manner he did for so many years.”

In addition to “The Jack Disney Purse,” Disney’s career will also be recognized by the city of Arcadia, as January 27 will be designated as “Jack Disney Day” city-wide.

A native Angelino who attended Fairfax High and counted among his classmates eventual 1959 World Series MVP Larry Sherry, trumpet legend Herb Alpert and pro football quarterback/vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, Disney had his sights set on the sports world at an early age.

“After high school, I attended Occidental College but I essentially dropped out of school and went to work at the Herald,” said Disney. “Bud Furillo, who later became sports editor, wrote a column at that time called ‘The Steam Room,’ and I learned more about journalism from him than I ever could have anywhere else.”

Along the way, Disney covered the fledgling major league Angels, the newly arrived Lakers, USC football, boxing, the Dodgers, the Los Angeles Raiders, and, of course, horse racing. He also served as a television wrestling commentator with the late Dick (Whoa Nellie) Lane weekly, on KTLA, Channel 5.

“Those were great days,” said Disney. “The crowds were huge then and I did pretty well handicapping in the paper. In addition to guys like Shoemaker, Longden, Pincay, and all the great horses, what I remember most about racing back in the ‘60s and ‘70s was how much fun it was—whether we were at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park or Del Mar, racing was really a happening and you always saw people you knew.”

Shortly before the Herald Examiner, which was regarded by many as having the best horseracing coverage in America, met its demise in April, 1989, Disney was lured by Hollywood Park’s Marjorie Everett to become that track’s publicity director. “I’d known Marje from covering the races and it was a great opportunity for me at the time, and it facilitated my moving over to Santa Anita in 1992,” said Disney.

In addition to working in publicity, Disney, along with his twin brother Doug, Buck Rodgers, Ross Newhan, Paul Salata and others formed a horse ownership group called “Indizguys Stable.”

“That venture provided my most memorable moments in sports,” said Disney. “Bill Shoemaker’s brilliant ride aboard Olden Times in the 1962 San Juan Capistrano Handicap had spurred my interest in racing, and then to win that historic event 45 years later with On the Acorn, who we claimed for $40,000, was beyond belief.

“On the Acorn went on to win back-to-back runnings of the Jim Murray Memorial Stakes at Hollywood Park, and that was special because the race was named after a former colleague and dear friend. I owe a debt of gratitude to our trainer, Mike Mitchell, whose savvy helped me realize those thrills.”

From double-dating in 1964 with L.A.’s most eligible bachelor, the Angels’ Bo Belinsky, to cavorting by air and land with unforgettable characters such as the Lakers’ “Hot Rod” Hundley and Chick Hearn, to covering sports legends like Muhammad Ali, Sandy Koufax and Bo Jackson, Disney’s life journey has been anything but ordinary.

“It’s been such a great ride I don’t need a bucket list,” he said. “Over the past summer my wife, Emily, and I just decided that after all these years of working weekends and holidays, I needed to dedicate some quality time to our family and to our grandchildren.

“I can’t think of a better place to close out my professional career than at Santa Anita. There is no venue more naturally beautiful in sports than Santa Anita Park. It is an incredible place, and Emily and I are looking forward to Jan. 27th joining a cherished list of indelible memories.”

Safe to say Jack Disney, to borrow a line from his musical hero Frank Sinatra, did it “his way,” through the years, and his readers were glad of it.

 

 

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