Ancient Title

Starting with the 1950s, a study of California racing history will show that one Cal-bred is synonymous with each decade.

In the present day, we can say that the 2010s belonged to California Chrome. How about the 2000s? That could be the exception, for one might argue that Tiznow was the top Cal-bred for the first half of the decade while Lava Man owned the second half.

Going back in time, no one could touch Swaps in the 1950s, while Native Diver was by far the most popular and prolific Cal-bred of the 1960s. But who followed those two greats in that position?

Like the Diver, he was a gelding, and he loved to run and win races. And he dominated the 1970s racing scene in Southern California just as his predecessor had before him.

And when his career came to a close, Ancient Title retired a living legend.

A son of noted California sire and stakes winner Gummo and a descendant of the great stallion Nasrullah, Ancient Title was bred and campaigned by Mr. and Mrs. William Kirkland. Arriving on the circuit in 1972, the majority of Ancient Title's starts during his first three seasons of action came in sprints between Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Santa Anita. It took little time to get into the win column, and the initial taste of stakes glory came in his fifth career race, the CTBA Stakes at Del Mar. Graded wins followed, with the 1973 San Vicente (Grade III) and 1974 Malibu (Grade II) among his triumphs. From his first start to the end of his 1974 campaign, Ancient Title was third or better in all but three of the twenty-five starts that encompassed those years.

Highly consistent and capable of winning big races, Ancient Title could strike early or bide his time. He had no qualms getting to the lead early, and he could wait and stalk the leader before making a move for the win. He could also get the job done with different jockeys, as both Laffit Pincay, Jr. and Fernando Toro regularly rode Ancient Title en route to the winner's circle.

While Ancient Title is justifably remembered for his sprinting prowess, the reality was he could be quite effective at longer distances as well. Starting with the 1974 season, Ancient Title almost always showed up in a route race. He found early success, too, taking the Grade II San Fernando and Grade I Charles H. Strub Stakes after his Malibu score, which made him only the third horse in history to sweep the Strub Series. That was the start of a big year that saw Ancient Title win or place in eight graded stakes, and he was handsomely rewarded for his work with Top Cal-bred Older Male and Cal-bred Horse of the Year honors.

The 1975 season was similar to the previous campaign in the sense that Ancient Title showed up to race in major events around Southern California. Again, he won or placed in many a contest, but 1975 stands out as a significant year due to the fact that it featured Ancient Title's two biggest triumphs. The first came in the Hollywood Gold Cup, which saw Ancient Title join the likes of Swaps and Native Diver on the list of winners for the famed race. The second came in what turned out to be Ancient Title's lone appearance outside California. The scene was Saratoga, the race the Grade I Whitney Handicap. Traveling out of state and doing battle with the Eastern contingent proved to be no trouble for trainer Keith Stucki's gelding. Taking charge early at the Spa, Ancient Title let no one by after assuming the lead, going on to score the win.

Taking the Whitney was big. Ancient Title had beaten open company before, but he had yet to ship before going to New York. There had to have been questions surrounding the Cal-bred as he embarked East, but he answered them as the Whitney was no doubt instrumental in securing his second straight Cal-bred Older Male and Horse of the Year Awards.

Basically, Ancient Title's Whitney triumph should be categorized as the stuff of legend.

As 1975 made way for 1976 and later 1977, Ancient Title's fans saw plenty of their hero as he took on stakes winners like Avatar, Crystal Water, and King Pellinore. The consistency was largely there as Ancient Title raced at six and seven, and he was not without victories even at this portion of his career. With riders Sandy Hawley, Darrel McHargue and Don Pierce aboard, Ancient Title became champion of the Grade I Californian and San Antonio Stakes as well as the Grade II Del Mar Handicap. Though he tended to lead early and not employ tactical speed as much before seizing victory, Ancient Title showed he was still competitive on his home circuit. He even displayed some talent on the turf, winning an allowance on the Del Mar green before taking third in the Grade I Oak Tree Invitational at Santa Anita in 1977.

Ancient Title raced four times in 1978, winning the Grde II San Pasqual with McHargue and an allowance at Del Mar with Bill Shoemaker. He was retired after the San Diego Handicap, which put the period on a spectacular career that him win 24 races and finish third or higher in 44 of 57 starts.

Given that he was a gelding, Ancient Title was of course unable to be a stallion. He would spend the next three years in retirement before passing suddenly at the age of eleven in 1981, but not before making an indelible impact on California racing.

-He is one of only three horses to win three Cal-bred Older Male awards, and one of just two do so consecutively.

-He was the first horse to win Cal-bred Horse of the Year twice, and is one of ten to win the honor multiple times.

-For many years, Ancient Title ranked as the highest earning Cal-bred of all time with over $1.2 million to his name. He would hold the title until 1986, when Snow Chief set the new mark.

-Ancient Title is a member of both the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association (CTBA) and National Racing Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the former in 1988, and got the call for the latter exactly twenty years later.

As a tribute to his successes in California, Santa Anita began hosting the Ancient Title Stakes in 1985 during the Oak Tree meet. Now called the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, the race has always been run at six furlongs, thus paying tribute to Ancient Title's gift of speed.

When the Arcadia Walk of Champions was formed in 2014, Ancient Title was among those honored with a commemorative plaque on Huntington Drive. As fans traverse down Huntington Drive, they will be able to stop and learn of the speedy and champion Cal-bred who dominated local racing in the 1970s. It may just be a glimpse of what Ancient Title accomplished, but it keeps his memory alive for subsequent generations of racing fans.

So what did the public see with Ancient Title? They saw a horse imbued with bravery, class, speed, stamina, and versatility. Those five ingredients combined to serve fans with a dynamic racehorse who is undeniably one of the best California-breds that ever lived.

Long gone are the days when Ancient Title's name could be found on a racing program, but his spirit lives on in everyone who saw him run.

Entry added April 13, 2021 by AF.