By Rosana Rivera (copyright 2014)
Many articles have been written recently portraying the insurmountable loss suffered by the sport of thoroughbred racing with the closure of Hollywood Park. Now the grand structure is just waiting to be demolished and all we are left with are the memories of past champions and racing feats.
Yet unbeknownst to many racing fans, somewhere within the vicinity of the stable area are interred several equine athletes from a long time ago. These horses that were “lost to time” did not have the fortune of having their resting places identified for posterity, making the relocation of their remains nearly impossible. These forgotten horses will most probably end up lying underneath a parking lot or a building. While they did not reach the stature of Landaluce, Great Communicator or Native Diver, they were also protagonists of the racing past of Hollywood Park and some were the idols of racing fans that are no longer around to reminisce about them.
Towering among these horses is the dual Horse of the Year in México, Gay Dalton, a New Mexico-bred with a movie-script like story. This descendant of “Big Red” started up in the bush tracks of Arizona and Colorado and then continued his career in Aztec lands. His fame was such that was dubbed the “Mexican Man o’ War” by the American media.
Another notable racer that rests within the Inglewood track is the William duPont-bred Manyunk. This hard-hitting gelding faced the likes of Citation, Noor, Coaltown, Bewitch, Bed o’ Roses, Capot, Olympia, Bolero, Mount Marcy and other stars of that era. Lastly, two California bred stakes winners, both bred by Ted N. Tepper, are also buried at the famed racetrack. They were the massive Mr. America and the gladiator Ronnie’s Ace.
Found below are the names of these memorable thoroughbreds with a description of their accomplishments.
Gay Dalton (1940)
Gay Dalton (Photo- The Palm Beach Post, April 15, 1945)
Chicago businessman William B. Greenlee raised this son of American Flag and Traumerette at his 12,700-acre Prado Verde Ranch located in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Gay Dalton’s name was a combination of the names of two of his owners, Gaylord Burt, an electrical plant owner, and Dalton Denton, a gas station vendor, both of them residents of Taos, New Mexico.
The third partner in Gay Dalton’s ownership was his trainer, Captain Patrick Irving O’Hay, who was originally from County Mayo, Ireland, and reportedly grew up with legendary trainer James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons. O’Hay has been variously described in print as “soldier of fortune,” “boulevadier,” “adventurer,” “actor,” and “public speaker” and indeed had a vast collection of accomplishments. In fact, his past was inspiration and fodder for writer Richard Harding Davis, whose novel, “Soldiers of Fortune,” is based on the captain’s life. According to noted sportswriter Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, at one point, O’Hay owned a hotel in Taos that he bought with the proceeds from wagers placed on Gallant Fox during his Triple Crown run. These bets were placed on the advice of friend Fitzsimmons, and suitably, he named the hotel after the son of Sir Gallahad III.
As detailed in Smith’s article, Gay Dalton started his racing career in the bush tracks of Arizona and Colorado; afterward (in 1943) he headed south of the border to México along with his American Indian grooms. The chestnut was endowed with heaps of class, but the devotion and dedication of his caretakers were said to be major factors to his exceptional achievements. His unconventional care included singing and the application of deer grease to his knees. His first season at Las Américas resulted in seven wins out of 12 starts including a triumph in the Handicap Gran Premio Nacional and a fourth-place in the Handicap Presidencial, behind his fellow American-breds Air Master, Blue Stripe, and Step By.
During his second season (1944) at Las Américas racetrack he fared even better by winning seven out of 9 starts, placing once, and finishing third on the other occasion. Gay Dalton’s fame was well known in the United States by this time. His conquests included the Handicaps Hidalgo, Jalisco, Morelos, and Presidencial. Most importantly, he won his first Handicap de Las Américas with jockey Melvin Duhon aboard, while conceeding from 20 to 23 pounds to his opponents. After trailing the field, the chestnut rushed to the stretch and won by 15 lengths while establishing a new track record for the 1 ¼ miles. This epic performance in Handicap de Las Américas was rewarded with a 20-minute ovation from his Méxican fans.
In fact, early that year Captain O’Hay had received a telegram from Fitzsimmons enticing him North. It had read, “Have empty stall. No feed Bill.” Unfortunately, the captain passed away in October of that year and was unable to accept his friend’s invitation.
But Gay Dalton nevertheless made a single incursion to the United States that year. On December 14, 1944, Gay Dalton ran at Hollywood Park for new trainer Michael E. “Buster” Millerick, who also trained Charles S. Howards’ horses and decades later would train the great Native Diver. Jockeyed by Ralph Neves, the New Mexico-bred beat a good field by 1 ½-lengths while displaying his usual come-from-behind style to finish 3/5ths of a second shy of equaling the 7/8th-mile record.
Due to 1945 World War restrictions on US racing, Gay Dalton was sent back to compete in México. During the season at Las Américas racetrack he won four races, including repeat wins of the Handicap de Las Américas (ridden by Ralph Neves) and the Handicap Presidencial. With those conquests he buckled his second title of Horse of the Year in his adopted country. By June of that year, there was another foray into United States soil to race at Santa Anita. In a period of three weeks, from June 16 to July 7, he competed in the Beverly Hills Handicap, the Arcadia Handicap, the Santa Anita Handicap and the San Juan Capistrano. As usual in these races, Gay Dalton trailed the fields early and closed late with furious charges. Sadly, he fell short in all of them. His best performance occurred on June 30 in the Santa Anita Handicap, when he finished in third place, beaten about a ½-length by the winner, Louis B. Mayer’s Thumbs Up. Part of this race can be viewed at the following link, towards the end of the newsreel at the six-minute mark:
In October 23, 1945 while at Hollywood Park, Gay Dalton died from colic, roughly a year and six days since the passing of Captain O’ Hay. According a news clip in The Blood Horse, Hollywood Park management had set aside a plot at the track’s infield for him to be buried.
Manyunk (1945 gelding)
William du Pont bred this son of Unbreakable from Golden Manda, by Man o’ War. The classy gelding started his career on the East Coast circuit, and afterwards was sold to compete on the West Coast. His trainer was the Washington Racing Hall of Fame inductee, Allen Drumheller Sr.
Some of the more memorable performances of Manyunk included the San Carlos Handicap of 1949 (where Noor was 5th) and the St. Patrick’s Day Handicap of 1951 at Bay Meadows where he beat Calumet Farm’s Bewitch by a nose. He placed in 10 in stakes races, amongst them a second-place in the San Pasqual Handicap of 1951 (where Your Host broke down), a third-place in the Premiere Handicap of 1951 ahead of Citation (who finished 5th) and another third that same year in Sysonby Mile behind Capot and Coaltown. Manyunk’s race record: 72 starts with 12 wins (5 of them stakes), 13 seconds and 13 thirds.
Probably not too far from Manyunk’s grave can be found the remains of his unfailing pal, Brownie. The story of the canine-equine friendship is described in Biff Lowry’s book, “Hollywood Park, from Seabiscuit to Pincay.” According to the book the old dog was the gelding’s companion and when the horse died (1951), he kept waiting for Manyunk to return to his box stall, reaching the point of refusing to eat. Eventually, Brownie ended up finding his buddy’s burial site, in the infield of the Hollywood Park training track, and every so often he would visit the grave of Manyunk.
Brownie and Manyunk (Photo-“Hollywood Park, from Seabiscuit to Pincay” by Biff Lowry)
Mr. America (1958 colt)
Mr. America pulls an upset win over Ballpoint in the 1961 Argonaut Stakes at Hollywood Park in the photo below. (Photo-The Thoroughbred of California, August 1961)
Verne H. Winchell Jr. owned this son of Free America out of Chinese Doll. Mr. America won four races from 10 starts, including a victory in the Argonaut Stakes, second-places in the Del Mar Futurity and Cinema Handicap, and a third-place in the Haggin Stakes. His trainer was Keith L. Stucki Sr., who would later train California Horse of the Year Ancient Title, a top older horse in the 1970s. While competing in the Hollywood Derby of 1961, Mr. America suffered injuries that required him to be euthanized. According to The Blood Horse of July 15, 1961, he would be buried in a plot near the training track “where a number of other fine Thoroughbreds, including Gay Dalton, also are at rest.”
Ronnie’s Ace** (1958, gelding)
This stout gelding was a son of Free America and the Khaled mare Mad’n Glad. His owners were Wilbur Clark and William “Bill” Radkovich. Mr. Radkovich, who built the grass course at Hollywood Park, was also the father of Linda Pincay (late wife of Laffit Pincay Jr.). Ronnie’s Ace’s trainer was Carlton A. Roles, who would later train notables Terrang and Desert Trial.
Ronnie’s Ace won the Los Feliz Stakes and the C.B. Afflerbaugh Memorial Handicap as well as 15 other races in 107 starts (including a run in Carry Back’s Kentucky Derby). He was second in the Santa Anita Derby Graduation Stakes, El Dorado Handicap, San Francisco Handicap, San Miguel Stakes, and in the Childrens Hospital Handicap. He was also third in the California Breeders Champion Stakes and in the Tanforan Handicap. As a testimony to the toughness of Ronnie’s Ace, it should be noted that he tripped and fell after Mr. America broke down but survived that fateful Hollywood Derby spill.
A video of this race (quite graphic) is available at the Critical Past Website found at this link:
The hallowed ground of Hollywood Park is now quiet, the exciting cheers of the racing fans silenced forever. Perhaps late at night this silence is broken by the distant throbbing hoofbeats of Gay Dalton, Manyunk, Mr. America, Ronnie’s Ace and other ghosts in the ground there as they charge down the lane, along with the happy barking of a dog that was finally reunited with his friend.
It is worth noting that these thoroughbreds were long forgotten by the racing establishment. Their sepulchers were lost to time and their gravemarks (if any) were the victims of multiple upgrades and construction activities. The main track infield was worked on several times while the training track was also moved around within the vicinity of the current stable area.
But not all is lost; perhaps a careful review of the existing track aerials along with the engineering plans and historical documentation of Hollywood Park will reveal an approximate location of the final resting place of some of these horses.
It would be fitting if a memorial could be erected to honor these athletes and to remind future generations about times past. They simply do not deserve to be forgotten all over again.
Note from Author:
My sincere thanks to Charlotte Farmer, Karen Gogue, Vivian Montoya (CTBA Library), and Cathy Schenck (Keeneland Library) for their valuable assistance in obtaining material for this work.
** Note on Ronnie’s Ace- although we were not able to find newspaper clips indicating his burial at Hollywood Park, according to comments in a post from the Paulick Report (“Dust to Dust: Exhuming Narive Diver from Hollywood Park”), Ronnie’s Ace, as well as other stakes horses from the 1960’s, was buried at said track.