The 2013 Swaps Stakes
Without a doubt, he was the best California-bred horse of the 1950s. And of all the Thoroughbreds born in the Golden State, he is arguably the greatest of all time.
In a career spanning 1954 to 1956, Swaps did it all. He was a sprinter and router, a stakes winner in all three seasons of competition, a Kentucky Derby winner, Top Handicap Horse and Horse of the Year winner, and owner of numerous records. When he ran, Swaps was all business.
After the legendary chestnut horse's passing in 1972, Hollywood Park paid tribute to him by naming a stakes race in his honor. It was only right, given the success the son of Khaled enjoyed in Inglewood over the years, especially during his epic 1956 campaign at the Track of the Lakes and Flowers. With the exception of Native Diver, no horse is likely more synonymous with Hollywood Park than Swaps.
Beginning in 1974, the Swaps Stakes became part of the stakes schedule for Hollywood Park's spring/summer meeting. The winner of the first iteration of the event was a horse named Agitate, who was ridden by none other than Bill Shoemaker. No one else could have been the winning rider that day, for Shoemaker rode Swaps in many of the great colt's starts.
Several memorable horses went on to win the Swaps over the years. J.O. Tobin brought Hollywood Park its most shocking moment when he upset Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew in 1977 in front of an enormous crowd (with Shoemaker again the winning jockey). Precisionist put his name on the list in 1984, two years before he became the fifth (and to date, last) winner of the Strub Series. 1987 Santa Anita Derby winner Temperate Sil added a Swaps victory to his three-year-old campaign, and fan favorite Best Pal followed in 1992. Thunder Gulch, the 1995 Champion 3-Year-Old, won the Swaps after his Belmont Stakes score, and 2007 Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago captured the Swaps as a sophomore as well.
In an interesting bit of trivia, Nashua, Swaps's greatest rival, won the 1981 running of the event as a sire. The winner that year was Noble Nashua, and the moment deepened the history between his father and Swaps that began over a quarter-century earlier.
The Swaps stood as a prestigious race for 3-year-old horses, and that stayed the case going into its 2013 renewal. The fortieth running of the event atrracted a small field, but most of them had experience racing at Hollywood Park.
Starting from the rail was Dice Flavor, who broke his maiden over the track's turf course months earlier. More recently, the Grade III winner was coming off a fourth in the Affirmed Handicap on the main track. He was beaten in that race by Tiz a Minister, who graduated over that same surface the previous autumn. A Cal-bred, Tizaminister had post two for the Swaps.
Next door to him was Chief Havoc, who was coming off a win against allowance company on the all-weather surface a few weeks back. That race was at 1 1/8 miles, the same distance as that of the Swaps, so that and the experience over the track prepared Chief Havoc for the Swaps. Rounding out the field was Java's War, who was making his Hollywood Park debut. Like Chief Havoc, the War Pass colt had a win at the distance thanks to his Blue Grass Stakes triumph at Keeneland during the spring. Now he was looking to rebound from his off the board finish in the Kentucky Derby.
The group was close together in the opening moments of the race, with favorite Chief Havoc taking early control. Dice Flavor moved up to be level with him for a moment in the clubhouse turn, but Chief Havoc went right back to being the clear leader by the time he reached the backstretch.
The field was not separated by a lot of lengths at this point. Dice Flavor was within a length of the leader, while Java's War was over a length behind Dice Flavor. Tiz a Minister bided his time on the inside, but was no more than a few lengths behind Chief Havoc. That order stayed the same when Chief Havoc reached the far turn, and the top three were were all close by. Tiz a Minister stayed in last, still a few lengths down to Chief Havoc, but found a boost of speed before the top of the stretch. In just a few seconds, any one of the four horses looked capable of winning the Swaps.
Java's War split Chief Havoc and Dice Flavor, making the trio even closer than before as they turned for home. But Chief Havoc had the inside path, and he was ready to finish. But so was Tiz a Minister. He and Corey Nakatani followed suit on the inside, but Chief Havoc and Rafael Bejarano were striving to put the win away. They did just that, too. Chief Havoc ran uncontested in the final sixteenth, defeating his opponents as he became the winner of the fortieth Swaps Stakes.
Favored at post time to win it all, Chief Havoc did just that, and he became a part of racing lore that July 4th. By the time the Swaps Stakes was run, everyone knew that Hollywood Park would close by the end of the year. That meant the Swaps Stakes would of course no longer be held at its longtime home. As it turned out, the race was moved to Orange County, specifically to Los Alamitos when Hollywood Park's racing dates were divided up between the Cypress track, Del Mar, and Santa Anita.
Fast forward to 2014. The Swaps Stakes was part of the summer session at Los Al, and it was still run in July. Only it was no longer the Swaps Stakes. It had been given a new name: the Los Alamitos Derby, which has stood ever since.
Of course, Hollywood Park's leaving the racing landscape meant tremendous changes were in store for Southern California racing. Horses would be moved to other tracks, as would trainers who were based in Inglewood. Races would be held at another venue or eliminated altogether. While the Swaps Stakes did not exactly disappear, it is in a way no longer part of the local racing scene, at least where Swaps is concerned. It is ironic and strange. The horse considered to be possibly the greatest Cal-bred in history should have a race named in his honor. He is an iconic figure in the Golden State, he was one tremendous racehorse, ad he deserves to be honored and remembered.
For Chief Havoc and his connections, winning what is currently the final Swaps Stakes was a major achievement. Who would not want to win a race named after Swaps? Whether a new event named in his honor emerges is something no one knows, but if it happens, it will bring back one of the great names in Thoroughbred racing. If that happens, then young fans will learn of the amazing chestnut who dazzled crowds in the 1950s. And members of those crowds of yesteryear that are still around will experience flashes of the past as they replay their memories of Swaps in action.
Perhaps, in the coming years, those scenarios will take place, and the Swaps Stakes will again be part of Southern California racing.