King Day at Santa Anita Park

By Michael Kaufman

A couple of weeks ago I got an intriguing email from the Santa Anita racetrack titled, “Special Holiday Racing on MLK Jr. Day at Santa Anita Park.” I wondered just how the West Coast’s premier thoroughbred track would commemorate the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. After all, Dr. King gave his life fighting for equality, social justice, a living wage for working people, and an end to war. It seemed a bit of a stretch … and I don’t mean the one the horses come down at the end of the race.

I read on: “All THOROUGHBREDS™ members in attendance, who scan their card at Santa Anita Park on January 18, will receive the Santa Anita Collectible Beer Bucket, with paid admission, while supplies last. Put your favorite drinks on ice wherever you go.” There’s a picture of a nifty looking ice bucket, decorated with a scenic photo of the Santa Anita track, with blue sky and mountains in the background and the track logo in the center. Four bottles of Budweiser beer, nestled in ice, protrude from the bucket.

It seemed an odd way to acknowledge the holiday, but I guess it was better than giving away a Martin Luther King Commemorative Beer Bucket. “If you are not a THOROUGHBREDS™ member and would like to receive this amazing 75th Anniversary Ice Bucket,” continued the email, “visit the Main Thoroughbreds Center when arriving at Santa Anita Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Day… It is free to sign up. Must be 18 years or older to be a THOROUGHBREDS™ member.” Darn! I was hoping they would tell me how to obtain one of those amazing buckets via email even though, for the record,  I am not now (nor have I ever been) a card-carrying member of THOROUGHBREDS™ and I don’t have a card to scan. (I don’t even know what THOROUGHBREDS™ is.)

They had me anyway: Holiday racing at a major track is usually a treat for horseplayers because it means there will be plenty of graded stakes and allowance races on the card. So I checked out the King Day entries at Santa Anita, hoping they might even have a couple of races suitably named for the occasion: The Rosa Parks Sprint, perhaps, or maybe a distance race called the Selma-to-Montgomery Handicap. 

But it was just a typical Monday program, consisting mostly of cheap maiden (non-winners) and claiming horses. The only stakes race was the 58th running of the Grade II San Marcos Stakes. Nevertheless, I decided to celebrate King Day by eschewing my usual handicapping style, which consists of poring over pages of data before making the wrong selections, and instead choosing the one horse in each race that most reflected the spirit of the holiday. Using this method I was able to come up with picks for seven of the nine races.

Just to give you an idea of the quality of the races we are talking about here: the first was a claiming race for older fillies and mares that were winless in 2009 (and thus far in 2010), the second included only older horses that hadn’t won two races in their lives, the third was an even cheaper maiden claiming race for older horses that had never won a single race, etc.

My seven picks began with Cherie’s Dream in the first, Free Lunch in the second, and Justice Reigns in the third. It was a tough call in race four between Seize Power and Ready for Change. But I think of Dr. King as more of a ready-for-change kind of guy than a power seizer so in the end I opted for Ready for Change. Then it was Victory With Honor in the sixth and High Court Drama in the seventh (the featured San Marcos Stakes). I finished with Jesse’s Soul in the ninth.

So how did I do? I broke even of course. Here is the press release:
ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 18, 2010)—Live racing has been cancelled for Monday at Santa Anita due to wet track conditions and the certainty of continued heavy rain throughout the afternoon.

Oh well. They will just have to save those amazing beer buckets for the King Day giveaway next year. Or maybe they can use them next Hiroshima Day in August.

Michael can be reached at


4 Responses to “King Day at Santa Anita Park”

  1. jkauf Says:

    In the area in which I live, Martin Luther King Day is combined with Lee-Jackson Day, which is so incredibley sad and bizarre to me. A man of peace sharing a day with two Confederate Generals? One of those buckets of beer sounds pretty good right now.

    I think I had my picture taken aboard Free Lunch during my fourth birthday party. How is she?

    As always, great writing.

  2. MichaelKaufman Says:

    Fellow Zester JEFFREY PAGE writes, “Hey, nice piece on King and Santa Anita but go easy on claimers. It was the emergence of an 8-1 shot in a $3,500 claiming race at Garden State and a 30-1 maiden with three legs at Naragansett in 1968 — I wish to hell I could recall their names — that allowed me to go into marriage debt free. The horses did their thing and I did mine after my friend Jimmy taught the fine art of parlaying. Hoo hah, did I clean up that day, and hoo hah was Allen the Book in Journal Square pissed.” I can’t argue. My biggest score at the track, a $780 trifecta at Thistledown a couple of years ago, came in a cheap claiming race.

  3. MichaelKaufman Says:

    TONY SEYMOUR, West Coast poet and horseplayer extraordinare, says the way Santa Anita handled King Day he was surprised they didn’t hand out MLK bobblehead dolls. Tony also forward a link to an audio snippet of “Black for a Day,” a brilliant work of comedy by Conception Corporation from a few decades ago. You can check it out for yourself at

  4. MichaelKaufman Says:

    Speaking of poets, the Hudson Valley’s own MIKHAIL HOROWITZ forwarded a new poem, “A Kabbalist at the Track,” which will appear in the next issue of Jewish Currents magazine:

Leave a Reply