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More on the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap

Retired race rider has a different take on Seabiscuit Vs Kayak II
Had Jockey Buddy Haas been 'flailing away' on Kayak II, instead of riding him with a 'snug hold' perhaps he would not even have finished second.

NOTE: Earlier this week Andy Beyer of the Washington Post wrote a column taking a closer look at the finish of the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap. Ever since the publication of Seabiscuit: An American Legend some skeptics have contended that author Laura Hillenbrand sugar-coated the scenario of that race by ignoring the true circumstances surrounding Seabiscuit's entrymate Kayak II. They contend that Kayak II was actually the better horse that day but that Seabiscuit won the race because Charles Howard, the owner of both horses, wanted Seabiscuit to win if it came down to a race between the two. Therefore, in the stretch, the jockey of Kayak II did not persevere on his mount, finishing second by a length.

Mr Beyer's column describes his impressions of the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap after watching newsreel footage of the race at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs, New York. After viewing the film Mr Beyer wrote: The film of the race is a newsreel that shows highlights interspersed with shots of cheering crowds ó not the seamless start-to-finish coverage that modern racing fans enjoy. I could not see enough of Kayak IIís rally to judge how much momentum he had as he gained on Seabiscuit in the stretch. But after watching how emphatically Haas put his mount under wraps in the last sixteenth of a mile, I believe that Kayak II would have won if he had been permitted to do so.

To: Letters To the Editor

An Open Letter to Andy Beyer

Re Your Seabiscuit-Kayak II Article

I don't know why, but I thought you would be the last one to come up with this opinion. But - I suppose the reason is, "you have never ridden a race horse" and are giving your best grandstand expert opinion of what it is like. But then - I know nothing about handicapping either. I did ride races for 18 years!

Realizing a horse carries two-thirds of his weight on his front end, a good rider will 'take a snug hold' of the horse (especially a tiring horse) and by so doing will actually help the horse to transfer his weight to his back-end driving force and thus offer confidence, encouragement and help to his/her horse in their run to the wire. The riders that lose contact with their horses by 'flailing away' as you prefer to think means 'riding' will surely be left behind. It is my opinion, after riding thousands of races that Red Pollard was doing more 'flagging than flailing' . In 90% of all win photos it is apparent the rider who has 'snug contact' with the reins of his horse is winning the race.

Had Jockey Buddy Haas been 'flailing away' on Kayak II, instead of riding him with a 'snug hold' perhaps he would not even have finished second.

Your perspective of what is actually going on in a race is flawed in assuming the technique of riding a race horse is that of riding a rent stable horse. They are diametrically opposite ie 'flailing away' on a rent horse may encourage him to run and taking a 'snug hold' may get him to stop. However, most times, 'flailing away' can stop a race horse's effort (especially in a tough race) where a 'snug hold' will encourage a race horse to keep running.

Squeezed in among the 10,000 plus races I have ridden there is one incident worth a mention here. Walking back to the jocks room at Arlington Park in Chicago, after finishing 3rd on a tiring horse, a very angry lady shook her umbrella and yelled at me, "If you had just hit that horse one more time he would have won." I replied, "Lady, if I had hit that horse one more time he would have finished last!"

As Laura Hillenbrand so aptly put it, "Seabiscuit was the best horse, delivering an astounding performance. He forced a suicidal pace--the six-furlong split was equal to, or faster than, the winning time for seven of the 10 previous runnings of the nation's premier sprint, the Toboggan. He should have been staggering, but he kept rolling, overcoming traffic problems and blistering his final quarter to clock the second fastest 10 furlongs in American racing history. He did it at age seven, carrying high weight of 130 pounds, returning from serious injury. Nothing Kayak II did that day, or any other, compared to that."

In case you missed it - the movie version of the Santa Anita Handicap was a talented director's touch to re-emphasize the moral of the story ie "you can never get so far behind that you can't catch up."


John Cantarini
British Columbia, Canada

Mr Cantarini was a professional jockey from 1954-1972, riding at 27 different race tracks from Caliente to Canada.


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