Friday, November 25th, 2016   ( 1 year ago )

Seabiscuit, Native Diver Two of the Best Ever at Del Mar

By Emily Shields
Seabiscuit (A) outgaming Ligaroti in 1938 at Del Mar.
Two of the most exciting racehorses to ever grace American soil receive salutes this weekend when Del Mar presents the Seabiscuit Handicap and Native Diver Stakes.
Both Thoroughbreds were Hall of Famers with remarkable racing careers. Both, too, did some of their “gracing” at the seaside oval. Seabiscuit is said to have “put Del Mar on the map” when he hooked up with and outfinished the South American champion Ligaroti in a nationally broadcast match race (put together by track founder and master promoter Bing Crosby) in 1938.  Seabiscuit, the subsequent hero of a best-selling book and a major motion picture, raced a remarkable 89 times over six seasons (1935 to 1940), winning 33, but – reflective of the times – earning just $437,730 in purses.
“The Diver,” as he was affectionately known, captured four stakes at the shore as he became one of the most popular horses in California history. The extra rapid gelding would usually go to the front and dare anyone to catch him – not an easy task for most. He, too, raced an amazing number of times – 81 in all -- with 37 of them proving to be wins between 1961 and 1967. 
Native Diver in his sparkling heyday during the 1960s
His last race was a front-running tally in the 1967 Del Mar Handicap which boosted his purse total to $1,026,500 (the first California-bred horse to reach the million plateau). Del Mar was honored in 2014 when Richard Shapiro, the grandson of Native Diver’s owner/breeder, Louis K. Shapiro, chose to rebury his remains in its infield memorial site following the closing of Hollywood Park.
The $200,000 Seabiscuit Handicap will be run for the 40th time on Saturday. Originally known as the Citation Handicap when it was contested during the now defunct Hollywood Park fall meet, the Grade II, 1 1/16 mile contest on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course donned its new moniker two years ago.
The $100,000 Native Diver, a Grade III offering at a mile and one eighth, will have its 39th running on Sunday.  The first 36 editions of the nine-furlong main track headliner were at Hollywood Park.
The Seabiscuit shapes up as a terrific race with no fewer than four of its starters coming out of Breeders’ Cup contests held earlier this month at Santa Anita.
It is notable that three of the recent winners of the Seabiscuit -- Kaigun (2014), Silentio (2013) and Jeranimo (2011) all used Breeders’ Cup Mile efforts to springboard to victory in the stakes. Other well-remembered Seabiscuit winners – all of whom went on to careers as stallions -- include champion Leroidesanimaux (2004), Good Journey (2002, 2001), Zoffany (1985) and Lord At War (1984).
The Native Diver has had its fair share of big names entered into its ledger, among them Game on Dude (2012), Gentlemen (1996) and Best Pal (1994). Last year’s edition was highly anticipated with the graded stakes return of Dortmund, a dual grade 1 winner who had finished third in the Kentucky Derby. Dortmund went to the post a 3-5 choice and delivered, romping home by 4 ½ lengths. Finishing behind him was Big Cazanova, who was attempting to defend his 2014 Native Diver victory.
Sometimes, the Native Diver produces a horse that goes on to even greater heights. In 1995, Alphabet Soup kicked off a three-race win streak in the Native Diver, but was subsequently forgotten in the 1996 edition of the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. The roan horse didn’t forget how to run, though, and bested the odds-on champion Cigar and Preakness winner Louis Quatorze in a thrilling three-horse photo. In 2007, Heatseeker won his first-ever stakes race in the Native Diver, then took the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap three months later.
The two weekend stakes carry special names, rich histories and sparkling futures. Their renewals only figure to add to it all.