Veteran Turf Writer Art Wilson Passes at 71

February 18, 2024

Art Wilson (Benoit Photo)

Santa Anita Press Box

ARCADIA, Calif.— A racing enthusiast since childhood, the Southern California News Group’s veteran turf writer Art Wilson died early this morning near his home in Victorville, CA, at age 71. Wilson, who had gallantly fought a form of blood cancer for more than 10 years, was scheduled to attend today’s Winter Corgi Nationals at Santa Anita but had to be transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Apple Valley late yesterday afternoon and subsequently passed due to heart failure earlier today at 3:30 a.m.

First introduced to racing by his late father, Wilson, a 1970 graduate of Glendora High School, fell in love with the game as a railbird and relished the opportunity to cover the sport dating back to the mid-1980s and as recently as this past weekend, when he was at Santa Anita to cover the Grade III Palos Verdes for the Southern California News Group, a consortium of newspapers that includes the LA Daily News, Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Long Beach Independent and many others.

In addition to covering stakes action and writing feature stories, Wilson wrote a weekly column for the So Cal News Group, with his final contribution, a terrific piece on the late Toby Keith, running this past Friday, Feb. 16.

“Art was alert and coherent and then he went quickly this morning from heart failure,” said his brother and frequent racetrack confidant, Eddie Wilson. “He had stabilized and when I left to come back home last night at 10:30, he was watching the race replays on his cell phone.”

Born Nov. 5, 1952 in Winchester, Massachusetts, Art Wilson moved with his family at age two to Azusa and later settled in Glendora, which is about 12 miles from The Great Race Place.

Following high school, Wilson attended Citrus Community College and then Cal Poly Pomona.

At age 20, he became mesmerized by the grace, power and tremendous ability demonstrated by a Pancho Martin trainee named Sham, who won the Santa Anita Derby with Laffit Pincay, Jr. up by 2 ½ lengths over odds-on favorite Linda’s Chief on March 31, 1973. Unfortunately, Sham had the extreme misfortune of being in the same advanced sophomore class with 1973 Triple Crown winner, Secretariat.

“Art was a great guy and he loved this place,” said FanDuel’s Kurt Hoover in the Santa Anita press box on Sunday. “I was just talking to him a couple weeks ago and he told me he got (the University of) Houston at 12 to 1 to win the NCAA tournament. He paid attention and his last column on Toby Keith was without a doubt one of his best. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Deeply appreciative of racing’s history, Wilson would often seek out veteran trainers such as past legends Mel Stute and Bruce Headley, with whom he had solid, long-term relationships that provided his readers with unique racing insight no matter where the “live show” was—Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, Los Alamitos or one of his favorite stops, the LA County Fair in Pomona.

Bob Baffert was also on Wilson’s speed-dial list of horsemen and according to Eddie Wilson, “Bob was in regular contact with my brother, checking on his health and how he was doing. It meant a lot to him.”

Beyond racing, Wilson’s favorite baseball team was the Texas Rangers and his all-time favorite player was Frank Howard, 1960 Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers and later a fence-buster with both the Washington Senators and Detroit Tigers.

Wilson gleefully explained that one of his biggest thrills in life was being able to speak via telephone with Howard during spring training last year. (Howard, a two-time American League home run champion, would pass away at 87 on Oct. 23, 2023).

Art Wilson was predeceased by his parents and is survived by his brother Eddie, sister Deborah Wills (Charles), nephew Cody Wills and his wife Kimberley, as well as cousins James Costa, Mark Costa and Heather McAvoy.

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