On Saturday, California Chrome appeared to skip gaily down the Santa Anita stretch en route to winning the $1,000,000 Santa Anita Derby (Gr. I) in 1:47.52, one of the fastest times in recent years. If all goes well, on May 3 the flashy chestnut son of Lucky Pulpit will hope to join the roster of horses to win both the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby, of which includes I'll Have Another, Winning Colors, Affirmed, and Swaps, among others.
And as I discovered in recent years, another member of this prestigious roster was trained a little over a mile from where I live, deep within the Chicago suburbs, at Danada Farm. Danada Equestrian Center, as it is called today, is now maintained by the DuPage County Forest Preserve and is open to the public. Nestled in one corner of the conjoined Danada and Herrick Lake forest preserves, the Equestrian Center property includes a few barns, a riding arena, several acres of fenced paddocks, and a half-mile turf track with an old four-stall starting gate at the head of the track chute.
I learned that the farm was originally established in 1929 by Dan and Ada Rice. The Rices added the infrastructure for training Thoroughbreds in the early 1940s before purchasing a portion of the old Idle Hour Farm land of Lexington, KY, in 1946, with the goal of breeding and raising Thoroughbreds in Lexington and sending them to Danada Farm in Illinois for training. One of these horses was a bay colt named Lucky Debonair.
On March 6, 1965--about 49 years and one month ago--Lucky Debonair won the Santa Anita Derby in a record 1:47. (In the years since, two horses--Sham in 1973 and Indian Charlie in 1998--have equaled the record but none have broken it.) After his victory in that race, Lucky Debonair started in the Forerunner Purse on April 15 and in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 22, both at Keeneland. He finished second by a neck in the former and won the latter by a half length. On May 1, a little over a week after his Blue Grass Stakes victory but one day before his actual third birthday, Lucky Debonair won the Kentucky Derby.
Aside from a win over California great Native Diver in the 1966 Santa Anita Handicap, Lucky Debonair never again approached the heights he reached in the spring of 1965. Retired to stud at Danada Farm in Lexington, he was a moderate success before being sold to Venezuela in 1976, where he died in 1987 at age 25. Today, the last traces of him can be found in a few thin lines, most notably grandson Fortunate Prospect, and in the echoes of the past at Danada Equestrian Center.
The Danada Farm mansion.
One of the old barns. Solar panels line the roof.
Wagons pulled by Percherons are a common sight at Danada. Visitors can ride them and receive a tour of the farm.
A Percheron at Danada.
The memorial plaque for Lucky Debonair. It sits outside the old Danada Farm training barn.
Another mention of the Danada Farm Thoroughbreds inside the old training barn.
The tunnel leading to the racetrack. Patrons and equestrians can access it freely.
The starting gate at the head of the training track at Danada Farm. It is no longer used.
An OTTB named Blue Moon Shining and his owner visiting the Danada training track.
A handful of miles away from Danada Equestrian Center is another location with some local racing history. First established in 1920 by the McCormick family, St. James Farm is now owned and operated by the DuPage County Forest Preserve and is open to the public. The property includes several old barns, including a Colonial-style red brick stable and large indoor riding arena modeled after that of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria.
Per the DuPage County Forest Preserve website, St. James Farm hosted an annual steeplechase race for a number of years. The steeplechase track no longer exists, but the steeplechase horse corner of the farm's horse and hound cemetery is a reminder of these years.
Rows of trees are a common sight at St. James Farm.
Statue of Chamossaire (GB), winner of the 1945 St. Leger, at St. James Farm.
Exterior of the riding arena. The inside is constructed to appear like the indoor arena at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
More artwork at St. James Farm.
Horse and human patrons alike are welcome at St. James Farm.
Exterior of the Colonial-style red brick stable.
Barns and outbuildings at St. James Farm.
The horse and hound cemetery at St. James Farm.
The hound side of the cemetery.
A portion of the horse side of the cemetery.
Grave of The Honda, a steeplechaser at St. James Farm.
Statue of Chamossaire (GB).