A bare hour and a half before the horses went to the post, the golden Santa Anita Handicap turned to dross last Saturday when California's four-legged favorite son was scratched and a sticky homestretch all but ruled out the probability of a last-minute winning home run by Social Outcast. The defection of Swaps and the uncooperativeness of the track surface had the effect of bequeathing the race to a pack of inferior horses, much to the audible dismay of 62,500 fans, the largest Santa Anita Handicap crowd since Citation and Noor contested in 1950.
The race was won by a graduate sprinter with the unhorsey name of Bobby Brocato, a 5-year-old who ate Swaps's dust on a dry track only a week before. Actually, the race was over a few jumps from the starting gate. A no-chance 4-year-old who was to be 17 lengths behind the entire field at the finish, Golden Land, leaped into the lead but wilted instantly as Jockey Johnny Longden deftly guided Bobby Brocato to the front.
Bobby Brocato, a horse who is a world-beater in mud and a seven-furlong front-runner otherwise (he did beat High Gun in a sprint once), could thank the elements and Longden for his $97,900 win. Raced five times already this meet, he was expected to be stale until his kind of track came up. The heavy midweek rains which washed Swaps out of the race and Social Outcast out of a chance made the gaudy golden gallop a common breeze for him. His margin—six lengths—was the widest in the handicap's history.
If Bobby Brocato came out of the gate as though his tail were on fire, Old Sosh came out as though he were half-a-mind to return for something he had left behind. As it turned out, he might as well have. He was dead last—the adjective is well taken—all the way to the far turn. He went from 10th to seventh in the last quarter mile, but his stretch run was an untypical slog through virtual molasses.
March 5, 1956
Meanwhile, Longden was holding his horse together handily and the finish was a yawn. A light-weighted plugger who pulled up lame, Turk's Delight, was second, which gives some idea of the bankruptcy of the race as an improver of the breed. Traffic Judge, the only horse other than Old Sosh with a national reputation, failed to live up to it, gasping in 2½ lengths behind Social Outcast.
The most interesting matter of fact about Bobby Brocato was the cast of characters in the winner's circle with him. His owner is the Oklahoma-oil-rich Travis M. Kerr, whose brother is the Oklahoma Senator Robert Kerr. Senator Bob was also on hand for the festivities and probably the votes.
Bobby Brocato was named for the son of the New Orleans restaurateur, Diamond Jim Moran (né Brocato), who lives up to his nickname by wearing diamond-studded teeth and eyeglasses. The horse's breeder is a Las Vegas gambler named Joe W. Brown who keeps a million dollars in cold cash in the window of his Vegas slot-machine saloon. The horse was bought, with three others, by Kerr for $150,000.
For fully a third of the huge crowd, Bobby Brocato's leisurely win was a stale biscuit after a week in which the racing appetite was on edge for a proxy meeting between Swaps and Nashua. Social Outcast, who came within a jump of catching Nashua in the Widener last week, was to be the common denominator by which to gauge the difference between the great rivals. Coming onto a swampy track fresh from a Florida-to-California airplane ride, the Vanderbilt gelding was less a common denominator than a common also-ran.
The California weather spoiled more than a good horse race. It may have spoiled the resolution of the liveliest racing argument in the history of the sport, i.e., is Nashua better than Swaps, or vice versa? Swaps's trainer, Mish Tenney, went through the motions of entering his horse right up to race time, even to putting the mud stickers on his chestnut colt. But he had fair-warned the track and public the night before that Swaps, short on condition, would not take on a track which saw even the beer-truck-sized Belgian work horses who pull the starting gate sinking hock-deep in the mucilage.
What the racing public was hoping for was that Swaps would run and win Saturday, then ship to Florida to challenge Nashua in the Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 17. Trainer Tenney and Owner Rex Ellsworth left the hope alive but breathing with obvious difficulty after they had scratched their horse.
Shipment to Florida of the Ellsworth string is still dependent on the showing of their 3-year-olds in this week's Santa Anita Derby. As uneven as the rest of the derby candidates in the barns at Santa Anita this winter, they are a ragged lot right now, but one—a full brother to Swaps named Like Magic—occasionally but not habitually shows a family trait of speed.
"It is too soon yet to say anything definite about Swaps's future plans," Ellsworth admitted after the race. One possibility which will depress avid fans of both Swaps and Nashua: Swaps may remain at Santa Anita for the closing-day mile-and-three-quarter feature on the grass track, the San Juan Capistrano. This will effectively rule out Swaps's running in Florida—or anywhere else for that matter—seven days later.