The 2014 Strub Stakes
A field of eight lined up for Santa Anita's eighth race on January 28, 2014. Still in the first month of its annual winter/spring meet, the Arcadia track's Saturday program had gotten to its feature contest: the Grade II Strub Stakes.
Long a staple of the track's schedule, the Strub Stakes was originally known as the Santa Anita Maturity when it was first run in 1948, then was renamed the Charles H. Strub Stakes in 1963 to honor the venue's co-founder who passed away in 1958. The name remained until 1994, when the event turned into the Strub Stakes after the death of Robert P. Strub, the son of Charles who later became head of Santa Anita.
Throughout the decades, the Strub Stakes grew in prestige as a result of its list of winners boasting a who's who of Thoroughbreds: Round Table (1958), Hillsdale (1959), Ancient Title (1974), Affirmed (1979), Spectacular Bid (1980), Precisionist (1985), Snow Chief (1987), and Alysheba (1988) were just some of the dozens of winners the Strub produced. Needless to say, winning the Strub Stakes was a significant accomplishment for any horse.
Not only was the Strub an important stand-alone race, it was part of the vaunted Strub Series, which was sort of like the winter/spring meet's Triple Crown. Consisting of three races, the Strub Series was a showcase in versatility. To sweep it, a horse was required to win at three separate distances. First came the Malibu at seven furlongs, followed by the San Fernando at a mile and one-sixteenth. Capturing both of those races set the stage for the Strub, which had been run at ten furlongs for much of its existence but had been shortened to a mile and one-eighth from 1998-2013 and was now a mile and one-sixteenth for the 2014 edition.
Taking the Strub Series was a rare accomplishment experienced by just a select few: Round Table, Hillsdale, Ancient Title, Spectacular Bid and Precisionist were the only five to claim the honor, and with the elimination of the San Fernando after the 2013 season, it looked like no one would join them. Even so, there was still the Malibu, a mainstay on the opening day program, and the Strub, which attracted older horses.
The contestants for the 2014 renewal of the Strub consisted of the following horses (in order of post position):
Dice Flavor, a multiple graded stakes winner who was coming off a fifth in Santa Anita's Grade II Sir Beaufort Stakes on opening day.
Rookie Senation, winner of the Grade II Twilight Derby the previous November who was making his four-year-old debut.
Shakin It Up, who became a Grade I winner on opening day of the meet with his score in the Malibu. Like Rookie Sensation, the Strub marked Shakin It Up's first start as an older horse.
Zeewat, who took the Damascus Stakes in November and third in the Malibu.
Govenor Charlie, who was making his first start since being unplaced in the 2013 Preakness Stakes. A Grade III winner, Govenor Charlie had captured the Sunland Derby a little under a year before the Strub.
Hear the Ghost, a winner at Santa Anita by virtue of taking first in the 2013 Grade II San Felipe whose most recent finish was second in the Grade II Native Diver Stakes during Hollywood Park's 2013 autumn meeting.
Heir of Storm, one of two horses in the field who had yet to win or place at the graded stakes level and had lost to Shakin It Up and Zeewat in the Malibu.
Say Ow, the second horse to not have a victory or minor placing against graded stakes competition.
As the horses lined up in the gate, one of them was about to become the newest winner of the Strub. Bettors decided that Hear the Ghost was the most likely to do so, setting him at 7-5 on the tote board. He stumbled a little leaving the gate, but got up to third as Heir of Storm and Joe Talamo took the lead going into the clubhouse turn. Govenor Charlie and Martin Garcia moved into second, followed by Hear the Ghost, Shakin It Up, Say Ow, Dice Flavor, Zeewat and Rookie Sensation.
Heir the Storm had the tempo all to himself in the backstretch, setting splits of 23.98 and 47.06. Only Govenor Charlie stayed with him, staying about a length behind the leader. Shakin It Up and Mike Smith stayed alone in third, biding their time as they tracked Govenor Charlie by a couple of lengths while Hear the Ghost led the rest of the cast. The top two looked good going into the far turn, but Shakin It Up was ready to run. He and Smith made their move and gained ground on the leaders. Hear the Ghost and Zeewat followed suit, running together as they sought to get in the mix as they left everyone else behind them.
Meanwhile, Govenor Charlie took over the lead at the quarter pole, but he immediately found himself dealing with Shakin It Up, who was ready to battle. The Malibu winner had the lead at the eighth pole, and was only seconds away from winning his first race at a mile or longer. Hear the Ghost tried to catch up after launching his rally in the far turn, but neither he nor anyone else was a match for the dark bay horse, who was clearly the best in the Strub. Leading a one-two finish for trainer Bob Baffert, Shakin It Up ran the eight and one-half furlongs in 1:41.86. Govenor Charlie came in second, followed by Hear the Ghost and Zeewat.
Shakin It Up accomplished what had eluded his sire, Midnight Lute, seven years earlier. Midnight Lute came in fourth in the 2007 Strub after taking third in the Malibu, but his son gave him wins in both races as a sire. And Shakin It Up could now be called a graded stakes winning router to boot. Make no mistake, it was a big win for the colt.
As it turned out, it was a historical win as well. No one watching from the grandstand or infield or on television did not know it, but they witnessed the final Strub Stakes to date. When Santa Anita's 2014-15 stakes schedule was released, the Strub was noticeably absent from the list. And its omission meant two-thirds of the Strub Series was no longer a part of the meet. That, unfortunately, has not changed as of 2020.
The eight Thoroughbreds who squared off in the 2014 Strub took different paths after that winter day, but all of them share a moment of history due to their presence in the race. They were part of a significant moment in California racing, and while there is always a possibility the Strub could be revived, that group is the last to take part in one of the region's biggest stakes for the time being.
Although it has been shelved, the Strub Stakes unquestionably stands as an integral part of Santa Anita's storied past. Whether it was called the Santa Anita Maturity, Charles H. Strub, or just the Strub, several Thoroughbreds added to their legend by winning it, and that has ensured the race will not be obscured by the passage of time.
Varying distances of race: 2020 Santa Anita Media guide, p. 109