A Guest Blog by Ann Maree
It's the height of the Derby prep season, with races designed to help three-year-old horses get ready for the first leg of the American Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May. But another race will take center stage this Saturday. It is a Grade I race for horses four years old and up, and is considered to be the most important race for older horses in North America during the winter racing season. Of course we are talking about the Santa Anita Handicap, run at ten furlongs with a purse of $750,000.
This Saturday will mark the 75th renewal of the “The Big ‘Cap”, as it is affectionately known, which will take place at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California. The first running was in 1935 and with the exception of the war years of 1942-44, it has been run every year in early March at the Classic distance of 1 ¼ miles. In the early days, it became known as the “Hundred Grander”, since the purse was the then unheard of sum of $100,000. It is forever associated with Seabiscuit and the race serves as a metaphor for the career of the hard-knocking horse that helped a nation get its mind off the depression of the 1930s. Seabiscuit missed winning the event in 1937 and 1938 in photo-finishes, the second race he gave 30 pounds to the winner, Stagehand. Preparing for the 1939 running of the race, Seabiscuit was injured and thought to be through with racing. He overcame the odds again, and the ‘Biscuit made it back in 1940 to beat his stablemate, Kayak II, to win the Hundred-Grander and retire at seven years old as the then richest horse in history.
The Big ‘Cap has long been a showcase for some of America’s most famous and best-loved horses. Horse of the Year, Round Table and Bill Shoemaker won going away by two lengths in 1958. In 1979 the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, established the track record at 1:58.6 with Laffit Pincay, Jr., guiding him to a 4 length win. Bill Shoemaker drove Spectacular Bid to a spectacular win in the slop in the 1980 renewal. One of the most exciting races was in 1988, when the great Alysheba and Ferdinand battled it out at the finish, with Alysheba and Chris McCarron prevailing by a neck over Shoemaker and Ferdinand. Of course everyone remembers what happened in the 2011 running of the race. Down the stretch it looked like bumper cars with Game On Dude, Setsuko, and Twirling Candy all seeming to collide. In the end, after a nail-biting 10 minutes and countless replays, the stewards, in a controversial decision, let the result stand with Game On Dude prevailing over Setsuko by a nose.
Some trivia: Only three horses have won the race twice: The Steel-Driving racehorse, John Henry had back to back victories in 1981-82 (1982 win was by virtue of Perrault being DQ’d for drifting out), Milwaukee Brew 2002-03, and Lava Man 2006-07.
So, when the call to post occurs this Saturday, 5:38 PT/8:38 ET, look for another thrilling down-to-the-wire battle in this 75th running of the historic Big ‘Cap. Setsuko is back to see if he can avenge his narrow loss last year, and beat the current favorite, Ultimate Eagle. A baker’s dozen field of 13, this will be the last of three Grade 1 races of the day at “The Great Race Place”, Santa Anita Park. Happy 75th to the Hundred-Grander!