1957-1958: Round Table's Santa Anita Season
His name harkened back to the legend of King Arthur, and Round Table was in some ways like a knight. He was gallant and brave, and he could battle. By the close of his career, Round Table would be highly regarded for his dominance on the turf. Before then, however, Round Table built a resume that exuded versatility.
By the start of the Santa Anita winter/spring meeting in December of 1957, Round Table was already an accomplished sprinter and router, victorious over ten distances ranging from three furlongs to one and one-quarter miles. He owned wins on both dirt and turf, and had captured a race on an off track very early in his career.
Round Table was also a well-traveled horse. A visitor to twelve racetracks at that point, the son of Princquillo (the maternal grandfather of Secretariat) had stood in the winner's circle at nine of them. He had also proved to be formidable as he prepared for the Malibu Stakes in the waning days of 1957. Entering the seven furlong event, Round Table had won eleven of his previous twelve starts, his streak snapped several weeks earlier in the Trenton Handicap at Garden State. That effort only extended his run of in the money finishes, which now stood at sixteen (including a third place run in the Kentucky Derby). In what had been a vastly successful three year old season (which would net him a division honor for Top Turf Horse), Round Table prepared for life as a four year old.
With trainer William Molter guiding him, Round Table closed out his sophomore season with a head victory in the Malibu with Shoemaker aboard. He followed that up with victories in both the San Fernando Stakes (again with Shoe riding) and the Santa Anita Maturity (later known as the Charles H. Strub Stakes). Even if Round Table did not race again at Santa Anita, he had assured himself a place in track lore. While it was not known by that name at the time, Round Table had made history as he became the first horse to sweep what would eventually be known as the Strub Series.
That accomplishment alone made Round Table a genuine star at Santa Anita during that winter, but he was not done yet. Three weeks after the Maturity, Round Table was back in the starting gate for the San Antonio Handicap, a prep race for the Big 'Cap. After having William Harmatz in the saddle for the Maturity, Shoe was back for the San Antonio. The prep was successful, as Round Table notched another win. That set the stage for a run in Santa Anita's biggest event.
Round Table had not lost any versatility as the meeting progressed. He had won by taking the lead early and not relinquishing it. He had won by staying off the pace and making a run to the fron. He had won at four different distances sprinting and routing. A force at three, Round Table was seemingly becoming invinicble in the early stages of being a four year old.
Just over two weeks separated the San Antonio and Big 'Cap. That was no problem for Round Table, who was no stranger to fast turnarounds. Eight rivals engaged him in battle, but the public were not fazed by any of them, sending Round Table off at odds-on again. In what had been a showcase of his strength as a racehorse, would the meet culminate in the Big 'Cap, the track's biggest prize, being won by the horse who could not be stopped?
Round Table and Shoemaker did not allow too much of a gap between them and the front early on. Sitting in fourth after a half-mile, the duo tracked the pacesetter closely. They were getting pace to work with, too. Soon, they met with Terrang as they turned into the final stretch, and that meant the Big 'Cap would come down to a stretch battle. No one else was involved. The Big 'Cap would go to one of them. For a time, neither horse was giving up. The fans that day at Santa Anita saw a battle for the most sought after race in Southern California. Either Round Table would complete a sweep, or Terrang would become the only horse to beat the champion in Arcadia that year.
In the final seconds of the race, Round Table proved to be too much. The final margin of victory was two and one-half lengths, the time 1:59 4/5. For the first time in twenty-one runnings of the Hundred Grander, a horse had navigated the ten furlong distance in under two minutes. Once more, Round Table put his stamp on Santa Anita, and a crowd exceeding 50,000 were on hand to see this horse of sublime strength complete a phenomenal run during the winter in Arcadia.
If Round Table had retired at that point, he would have been remembered as a fantastic horse. That only proved to be the start of his second half in competition. What was in his future was a remarkable run on turf courses, along with victories throughout the United States. By the time of Round Table's retirement in 1959, he was third or better in fifty-six of his sixty-six starts. Forty-three of those were victories.
Round Table was a horse that could do anything. Win on dirt or turf? He did that multiple times. Be victorious in sprints and routes? No problem. Ship to different race courses and get to the wire first? He proved he was capable of that. Round Table was pure racehorse.
While he is understandably remembered for his incredible record on turf (and he is one of the best turf horses of all time), it could be argued that the 1957-1958 Santa Anita meeting was among Round Table's finest periods of his illustrious career. Those five stakes he won during that time collectively demonstrated Round Table's greatness. In four of those contests, Round Table also carried 130 pounds, and those races were run in a period of just over two months. That played a role in Round Table being named Top Handicap Horse and Horse of the Year for 1958. What he accomplished that year evoked Swaps's impressive campaign in 1956, and like his contemporary, Round Table could exert his dominance on a racetrack.
It was dominance that reigned during the 1957-1958 season at Santa Anita, and it came in the form of Round Table. The Santa Anita Handicap was Round Table's coronation as the top horse on the circuit, and it was a feat racing may not see again.
Simply put, Round Table ran the table.
Source: 2018 Santa Anita Handicap Media Guide.
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