The 2008 Living Legends Race at Santa Anita
For a few minutes on Saturday, October 18, 2008, it seemed like Santa Anita had gone back in time.
Everyone who watched the fourth race that day were treated to a unique sight. They saw eight of the finest jockeys in the sport, all of them well known names.
But, there was a twist. All of the jockeys were briefly coming out of retirement for that one specific event.
Dubbed "The Living Legends Race," the idea was a collaboration between the Breeders' Cup and Legends On Tour, the latter of which featured iconic jockeys visiting fans throughout the country. It was a throwback to racing's yesteryear, and featured familiar names that once held court in Southern California.
The field consisted of Jerry Bailey, Angel Cordero, Jr., Pat Day, Sandy Hawley, Julie Krone, Chris McCarron, Gary Stevens, and Jacinto Vasquez. Every rider was in the Hall of Fame, and three of them (Hawley, McCarron, and Stevens) had no less than one Santa Anita winter/spring riding title on their resumes.
For each jockey, winning meant adding one more victory to their already illustrious careers. It was a competitive race during the annual Oak Tree meeting, just like the thousands they had been a part of in previous years.
The Living Legends Race was a seven furlong allowance optional claiming event for California-breds. The lukewarm favorite at just under 3-1 was Tribal Chief, who was ridden by Hawley. The rest of the field included Dee Dee's Legacy (Bailey), Swift Demand (Day), Kalookan Event (Vasquez), Scandalous (Stevens), Waafi (McCarron), Major Smoke (Krone), and Stathy (Cordero). The post parade no doubt looked like a mix of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. For some of the older fans, the Living Legends Race could very well have conjured up memories of the Rocking Chair Derby, which was an annual race for retired jockeys at Del Mar for many years. It was 2008, but truly, the race did not seem to be happening in the 21st century.
The start went well for everyone, and Hawley and Tribal Chief wasted no time in taking control. Dee Dee's Legacy, Stathy, and Scandalous were behind them, battling with each other. After two furlongs, the Living Legends Race saw two separate packs racing. Swift Demand and Major Smoke were part of the latter group, as was Kalookan Event. Way back in eighth place was Waafi.
Well into the far turn, Tribal Chief continued to guide the field. Hawley looked confident in the saddle, not yet asking his mount for more. Bailey and Dee Dee's Legacy were in second, contending with Day and Swift Demand as they tried to reach the front. Krone and Major Smoke went wide turning for the stretch and found themselves on the extreme outside. With just under a quarter-mile to go, four Hall of Famers and their horses had a chance for the win.
The pace had been decent for the half-mile, which was run in just under 46 seconds. Hawley rode Tribal Chief closer to the inside part of the track. They were still leading, and right before the final sixteenth of a mile, their advantage grew. With the Santa Anita crowd cheering as track announcer Trevor Denman (who certainly felt the aura of previous years returning in the booth), the duo came to the wire by several lengths. Tribal Chief added another race to his collection, while Hawley made it to win number 6,450. Bailey and Dee Dee's Legacy came in second, while Stevens and Scandalous completed a rally in the stretch to get up for third. Rounding out the superfecta were Day and Swift Demand.
Nostalgia surrounded Santa Anita for a few moments that autumn afternoon. Whether fans started watching racing in the 1970s, 80s, or 90s, they were part of a time when history met the present. Another edition of the Living Legends Race did not follow (though Stevens later came out of retirement several years later and won major races like the Preakness Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic) after 2008, but those who were in attendance for that event saw something truly unique and fun.
The fans saw some of the best riders of all time in action, and the jockeys found themselves back in their chosen profession for a few moments. As for the sport and Santa Anita, it was the 20th century all over again.
For all parties, classic horse racing made a return visit, and it made for a memorable few minutes.
Sources: No author credited. "Sandy Hawley Captures Living Legends Race at Santa Anita." https://horse-canada.com/horse-news/sandy-hawley-captures-living-legends-race-at-santa-anita/
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