For West Coast 3-year-olds, Santa Anita is the road to the Kentucky Derby

March 31, 2021

History, happy endings and starters

The Santa Anita Derby has long been considered the most important West Coast stepping-stone to the Kentucky Derby. Since 2013, it has been part of the official Road to the Derby, offering the winner 100 points and often assuring a position in the starting gate. 

The important Kentucky Derby prep race was made a Grade I race in 1973; the year Sham won with Laffit Pincay Jr. aboard for his second consecutive win. Sham’s trainer was Hall of Famer Laz Barrera for Harbor View Farm

Since its inception, eleven Santa Anita Derby winners and seven starters have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby. 

Dual Derby winners:

Hill Gail (1952) 

Determine (1954)

Swaps (1955)

Lucky Debonair (1965)

Majestic Prince (1969)

Affirmed (1978)

Winning Colors (1988)

Sunday Silence (1989)

I’ll Have Another (2012)

California Chrome (2014)

Justify (2018)

The Santa Anita Derby has a long and storied history. Inaugurated in 1935, the first winner was Gillie, trained by William Brennan. There is little information about Brennan.

Gillie (Victorian – My Tide by My Play) was a bay gelding bred by Silas B. Mason II in Kentucky. Gillie made 40 Starts with three wins, four second places, eight thirds and career earnings of $22,925.

Mason was an American construction executive and racehorse owner, born in Orange County, Virginia. He was part of the Mason family that had been involved with the construction business since 1827. 

A graduate of Washington and Lee University and Princeton University, he went on to make the Mason & Hanger company, one of the largest construction contractors in the United States.

Mason and his wife Suzanne (née Burnett) met with success in Thoroughbred horse racing with horses registered in Suzanne’s name. A native Kentuckian, she was a descendant of Colonel Richard Henderson who, along with General George Rogers Clark, Daniel Boone, and others, were Kentucky pioneers who formed the Transylvania Land Company. The couple purchased a home and breeding farm near Lexington, Kentucky called Duntreath.

Mason’s partner in the construction business was Arnold Hanger, who also teamed up with Mason to race horses under the nom de course, Warm Stable. In April 1929, the Warm Stable partnership purchased 1928 Preakness Stakes winner Victorian from Harry Payne Whitney as part of a three-horse deal. A four-year-old at the time, Victorian was a very handy racehorse, whose career also included a win the 1930 Agua Caliente Handicap, the same race won by the immortal Phar Lap in 1932. 

The stallion had been acquired primarily for breeding purposes and stood at the Masons’ Duntreath Farm near Lexington, Kentucky. Victorian died in 1934 having sired less than three full crops. 

Five years later the colt Head Play (whose sire My Play also sired My Tide, the dam of Gillie) made his owners famous with a second-place finish in the “Fighting Finish” of the 1933 Kentucky Derby. Many observers thought he might have won the 1933 Kentucky Derby had his jockey, Herb Fisher, kept to the business of riding instead of getting involved in a no-holds-brawl with Don Meade on Broken Tip as both colts strained toward the finish line. 

1933 Kentucky Derby “Fighting Finish”

Head Play would go on to a win in the Preakness Stakes. The Masons also owned He Did, another son of Victorian, who was the winner of the 1936 Santa Anita Derby. 

Gillie was owned by Greentree Stable, in Red Bank, New Jersey, a major American Thoroughbred racing stable and breeding farm established in 1914 by Payne Whitney, of the Whitney family of New York City. Payne Whitney operated a farm and stable at Saratoga Springs, New York with his brother Harry Payne Whitney, who also had a large stable of horses. Greentree Stable had a training base at Aiken, South Carolina, while Greentree Farm in Lexington, Kentucky was established in 1925 as its breeding arm.

After Whitney’s steeplechase horse won the 1911 Greentree Cup at Great Neck, New York, it was decided to use the Greentree name for several of their properties.

Following Payne Whitney’s death in 1927, his widow Helen Hay Whitney took over the operation. Her son, John Hay Whitney would also be involved in Thoroughbred racing with his wife Liz. Their daughter Joan Whitney Payson, raced horses under the nom de course Manhasset Stable. On their mother’s death, they continued to build on Greentree Stable’s success.

Gillie was ridden to victory by Silvio Coucci. A New Yorker, in 1931 Silvio Coucci rode Thoroughbreds at Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico under contract with brothers John and George Coburn. His performance brought him to the attention of the extremely wealthy Mrs. Payne Whitney

Mrs. Whitney bought out Coucci’s contract and in 1932 the seventeen-year-old jockey burst onto the American racing scene with such success that he was being hailed as “The second Earl Sande.” That year he rode Greentree Stable’s Easy Play to victory in the Spinaway Stakes. Coucci also rode for owner Morton L. Schwartz aboard Gusto for his wins in the 1932 American Derby as well as in the Arlington Classic, at the time the richest race in America.

Coucci’s career continued to flourish and in 1934 his victories included the Christmas Stakes in California and New York’s Suburban Handicap on the East Coast. In 1935 he was the United States Champion Jockey by earnings with $319,760 in purse money. Riding at race tracks across the United States, some of his important wins en route to the 1935 jockey title came in the Santa Anita Derby, Alabama Stakes, Travers Stakes and the Futurity Stakes aboard that year’s Champion 2-year-old colt, Tintagel.

During his career, Silvio Coucci rode for other notable owners such as Isabel Dodge Sloane, William R. Coe, Alexander Pantages and Alfred G. Vanderbilt II, the latter for whom he won the 1939 San Vicente Stakes.

On January 5, 1942 TIME magazine reported that 27-year-old Silvio Coucci died from the result of a leap or fall from a hotel window in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Santa Anita Derby Fun Facts

In 1938, with Earl Sande in the irons, Stagehand defeated eventual Horse of the Year Seabiscuit, who would go on to beat War Admiral in the Pimlico Special match race on November 1. 

Stagehand had become the only colt to win both the Santa Anita Derby and the Santa Anita Handicap in the same year. 

Famed jockey Johnny Longden would win his 5th Santa Anita Derby on Swaps in 1955 for trainer Mesh Tenney and owner Rex C. Ellsworth. Bill Shoemaker would win it for the same team in 1956 riding Terrang. 

Longden would win, again, in 1961 for his son, trainer Vance Longden, piloting Four-and-Twenty for Alberta Ranches, Ltd. 

In 1969, Longden would win his last Santa Anita Derby with future Preakness winner, Majestic Prince. But he did it this time as a trainer with Bill Hartack in the irons for owner Frank McMahon. 

Bill Shoemaker would win on Silky Sullivan for trainer Reggie Cornell and owners Tom Ross and Phil Klipstein in 1958, on Tompion for Robert Wheeler and owner C.V. Whitney in 1960 with his last of eight wins occurring in 1987, on Temperate Sil for Charlie Winningham and Frankfurt Stables. 

Gary Stevens holds the record for most wins with nine aboard Winning Colors (1988), Mister Frisky (1990), Personal Hope (1993), Brocco (1994), Larry the Legend (1995), Indian Charlie (1998) in a record time of 1:47 flat, General Challenge (1999), Point Given (2001) and Buddy Gil (2003). 

Along with Indian Charlie, two other horses matched the Santa Anita record time of 1:47 flat: Lucky Debonair in 1965 and Sham in 1973. 

In 1988, Winning Colors became the first and only filly to win both the Kentucky and Santa Anita Derbies. 

In 1980 at age 17, Pat Valenzuela became the youngest jockey to win the Santa Anita Derby when aboard Codex, future Preakness winner.

Jenine Sahadi became the first woman trainer in 2000 to win the Santa Anita Derby with The Deputy for Team Valor & Gary Barber. Jeff Mullins became the first trainer to win three consecutive editions of the Santa Anita Derby from 2003 to 2005. 

Bob Baffert, who is a home-town boy to Southern California, has the most wins in the SA Derby with nine (1996, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2018, 2019). 

Rex C. Ellsworth holds the record for wins as an owner at three with Swaps (1955), Terran (1956) and Candy Spots (1963). 

History of the Santa Anita Derby

Side Bar: The Deputy is back in town

Recently, the 2000 Santa Anita Derby winner, The Deputy, has popped up on social media and in trade publications. Apparently, he had fallen into an unimaginable fate, a kill pen in Texas. But let’s start at the beginning not at the near end.

The Deputy is a 24-year-old Irish-bred horse, a son of dual Group Two winner, Petardia (GB) out of the Last Tycoon (IRE) mare Manfath (IRE), who is also the dam of 2004 (Japanese Derby) Winner and Two-Time Japanese Leading Sire, King Kamehameha (Kingmambo).

He made ten starts in his short career with a record of four firsts, two seconds and three thirds and very respectable winnings of $817,270. 

Racing at Newbury, Newmarket and Chester hitting the board before breaking his maiden at Epsom Sept. 3, 1999. Five days later, he would run once more in the U.K. at Doncaster  placing third.

The Deputy’s next start would be across the pond and a continent at Santa Anita on Jan. 1, 2000. He would win the Hill Rise Handicap followed up with a win in the Santa Catalina G2 Jan. 30. 

The dark brown horse would place second in the San Felipe G2 in mid-March before winning the Santa Anita Derby with a blistering Equibase Speed Figure of 116. With this win he was on his way to the Kentucky Derby and a much bigger field. 

The Deputy, Chris McCaron up, with his Santa Anita Derby blanket of flowers. (Horsephotos)

The 2000 Kentucky Derby saw 19 contenders such as War Chant, More Than Ready, Hal’s Hope and Impeachment with The Deputy favored as the second choice. Two horses would vie for the prize: Aptitude and Fusaichi Pegasus with the latter claiming the title. A cluster of five horses would finish five to nine lengths back with another cluster of six thirteen to twenty lengths behind. The last group of six included The Deputy who finished 14th. 

As reported in Paulick Report, due to a bowed tendon, the three-year-old would retire to stand at Margaux Farm in Kentucky where he would remain for several seasons with lackluster results. The Deputy was then sold to Hubel Farms in Michigan for the 2006 breeding season. Although he became a profitable state-bred stakes sire, the fading state racing and breeding program saw him sold again in 2013.

He last stood at Rockin’ River Ranch in Winterset, Iowa, the location of focus for those looking to point the finger of blame regarding his peril social media. However, The Deputy had been sold about five years prior to a Quarter Horse breeder. 

When that breeder no longer required The Deputy’s services, she consigned him for auction at Storm Horse Auction, a mixed-breed horse and tack sale on the grounds of the Humeston Livestock Exchange.

Sadly, the buyer did not have noble intentions and the 2000 Santa Anita Derby winner, selling for just over $400, would end up listed on Facebook on North Texas Feedlot & Auction Horses’ page with his Jockey Club papers.

Listing with papers is standard practice for kill brokers when selling Thoroughbreds. They bring a higher “ransom” than other breeds because people watch and there is fund-raising on social media. There are many advocates who scan kill pen social media pages for Thoroughbreds. When a champion’s name pops up it will cause a stir. 

Many times the connection with connections is years old and trying to find the person responsible for the horse’s ill fate is difficult. Fortunately for The Deputy, people were watching and his rescue was put into motion.

The buzz on social media alerted The Deputy’s former trainer, Jenine Sahadi, and owners, Barry Irwin’s Team Valor & Gary Barber. They immediately stepped forward. They enlisted Donna Keen to facilitate a rescue, and pick up and transfer of The Deputy to her Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA)-approved Remember Me Rescue (RMR) facility in Burleson, Texas. After quarantine, the 24-year-old horse will live out his life in peace with dignity at RMR.

If anyone would like to donate to help with The Deputy’s care, please contact Remember Me Rescue

This story had a happy ending. Please donate to your local TAA-affiliated rescue if you can! 

The Deputy winning the 2000 Santa Anita Derby

We are dedicating this year’s Santa Anita Derby to all of the past winners, famous and obscure

Saturday, April 3, 2021 RUNHAPPY Santa Anita Derby G1 $750,000, 3YO, 1 1/8 Mile (G1)

Possibles and probables, sire, trainer, last jockey, PP

Medina Spirit (Protonico) – Bob Baffert – John Velazquez – 2nd 2021 San Felipe G2

Dream Shake (Twirling Candy) – Peter Eurton – Joel Rosario – 3rd 2021 San Felipe G2

Defunded (Dialed In) – Bob Baffert – Joel Rosario – 1st MSW/SA R11 3/6/2021 

Roman Centurian (Empire Maker) – Simon Callaghan – Juan Hernandez – 4th 2021 San Felipe G2

The Great One (Nyquist) – Doug O’Neill – Abel Cedillo – 5th 2021 San Felipe G2

Rock Your World (Candy Ride {ARG}) – John Sadler – Umberto Rispoli – 1st 2021 Pasadena Stakes Listed

Parnelli (Quality Road) — John Shirreffs – Umberto Rispoli – 5th 2021 Robert B. Lewis G3

Law Professor (Constitution) — Michael McCarthy – Joel Rosario – 1st MSW/SA R3 3/5/2021

Ottothelegend (Uncle Mo) — Steve Asmussen – Francisco Arrieta – MSW/OP R10 3/6/2021

Back Ring Luck (Malibu Moon) — Al Cates – Jon Kenton Court – AOC/OP R6 3/5/2021

2020 RUNHAPPY Santa Anita Derby won by Honor A.P.

By Maribeth Kalinich, and Rachel Humphrey, Contributor

Photo: Honor A.P. wins the 2020 Santa Anita Derby (Benoit)

Contributing Authors

MB Kalinich

Maribeth Kalinich is a racing enthusiast and historian who writes about current racing events, Thoroughbred history and preservation of historic racing sites. Growing up in...

View MB Kalinich

Rachel Humphrey

Rachel is an Australian writer and Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding enthusiast. She graduated from college in 1998 with a Diploma in Equine Studies (Breeding) and...

View Rachel Humphrey

Another great piece by Jonathan! twitter.com/jonathanstetti...

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