[Posted April 22, 2006]

[Tomorrow is closing day for the current season at Santa Anita, and as 
usual the main event as they put away the starting gate is the San Juan 
Capistrano.  Santa Anita may well be closing for good in the near future, a 
victim of Indian casinos and developer Rick Caruso. Time has left the 
Arcadia course behind.  That makes this a good time to reflect on one of my 
all-time Santa Anita favorites who held on determinedly for almost a decade 
until time also past him by, and who reached his peak in the closing day 
Capistrano sixty-one years ago.]


                     "AND HERE COMES.... `OLD WINGIE'" 


   He was neither a Seabiscuit nor a Malicious, and certainly not a Zippy 
Chippy, that model of thoroughbred futility with nary a win in a hundred 
starts. But at California tracks for nearly a decade every racing fan knew 
that a bob bet on Wing and Wing was as close to a sure thing as you could 
get.
     From his three-year-old California debut at Bay Meadows in 1938 until 
his 1946 campaign at Santa Anita at eleven, "Wingie" owned this state's 
turf.  His three and four-year-old seasons revealed an erratic runner with 
flashes of brilliance who would soon become California's most reliable 
equine.
     Unraced as a two-year-old, W&W broke his maiden at New Orleans early 
in 1938. Owner Cleveland Putnam then shipped him west to Bay Meadows where 
he gained attention with a surprising third in the California Derby.  He 
even caught the attention of the New York Times, which headlined his 
victory in a Tanforan feature.
     Under the watchful eye of "Boots" Durnell, trainer of 1904 Kentucky 
Derby winner Elwood, W&W established himself as an "in the money" horse, 
whether in cheap claimers or with better company. Dave Tidwell, a racing 
aficionado from the Seabiscuit/Kayak II era, recalls: "My dad paid for 
trips to Hollypark and Santa Anita many times by betting on Wingie."  In 
fact, a win, place or show bet on each of his races would have returned a 
tidy profit over the years. Since he often ran in the seventh or eighth 
race, a lot of happy bettors went home with money in their pockets.   
     Wingie hit the big time at Hollywood Park in 1938.  Los Angeles Times 
handicappers Oscar Otis and Paul Lowry took notice when he set a seven 
furlong track record and then finished third behind Kentucky Derby winner 
Lawrin and Specify in a prep for classy three-year-olds.  A week later he 
and stablemate Rommy were matched against Lawrin and Preakness winner 
Dauber in a four horse field.
     Dauber's scratch on race day forced Hollypark to run the $50,000 
American Championship with win betting only.  Lawrin was such a cinch that 
the track had its first minus pool, nearly $10,000, as bettors plunged for 
a guaranteed $2.20 return on winning tickets.  Times sports writer Braven 
Dyer later recalled: "One movie exec stood in front of the $100 window for 
ten minutes while the clerk punched out every ticket in the machine."  To 
lessen the minus pool, the track refused to cash checks for bettors eager 
to mortgage the house to bet on Lawrin.  
     On the far turn track officials had a glimmer of hope and thousands of 
bettors had second thoughts as W&W, at 11-1, challenged Lawrin on the 
inside. But in the stretch Wingie faded to a distant second.  The $10,000 
place money W&W picked up equaled the largest purse he collected during a 
long career.  
     Believing he finally owned a handicap star, Putnam nominated W&W for 
the 1938 Hollywood Gold Cup, although he didn't start.  Putnam also named 
his horse for what turned out to be the Seabiscuit-less 1939 Santa Anita 
Handicap and the San Juan Capistrano.  Had they run, W&W was slated to 
carry 101 pounds to Seabiscuit's 134; in the San Juan, 100 pounds to Kayak 
II's 120.  
     But Seabiscuit broke down early in the season and W&W skipped the Big 
Cap.  Instead of running in the San Juan, W&W entered a claiming race.  
Prophetically, Lowry remarked: "Either something's wrong with him or this 
is a soft touch."  Turkey rancher Ed Wright thought nothing was wrong and 
entered a $3000 claim, buying a broken down W&W, who pulled up lame at the 
wire.  
     Away from the races for nearly a year, a well-rested but rusty horse 
returned to Santa Anita in late January, 1940.  After losing three claiming 
races he hit the winner's circle and finished the Santa Anita meeting with 
two more victories. He was in the money in twenty-four of twenty-six races 
over eighteen months, with eleven wins, a remarkable feat spanning two 
Santa Anita seasons. 
     And Wingie moved up in class, impressing Lowry: "Game plater moves 
into select company."  But something was wrong.  Overworked legs needed 
therapy and he was off the track during the last half of 1940.
     Wingie returned to racing at Santa Anita in Feb., 1941, where he 
resumed that remarkable string of in-the-money races.  From March through 
July, at Santa Anita, Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park, he was worse than 
third only twice . The word "consistent" became part of track vocabulary 
when referring to W&W. Even when he stepped up in class Lowry noted that 
"They always have this consistent, hard-knocking fellow to beat."  
     One of those non-payoff races was a disqualification to fourth for 
drifting out in a race which he won.  The other was the 1941 Hollywood Gold 
Cup.  W&W carried 103 pounds to a fourth place finish behind Big Pebble.  
Jockey John Deering lamented that "Old Wingie had no excuses but might have 
done better if the race had been two miles." A week later he finished third 
in the Sunset, beaten only a length and a half in record-breaking time.  
     But at Del Mar in the summer of 1941 leg problems again sidelined him.  
Wright took him off the track for a year and a half.  In April, 1943, after 
two poor races, Wingie began a second streak, rewarding bettors in nineteen 
of his next twenty starts. 
     His only out-of-the-money finish was itself memorable, but not for 
what happened on the track. On October 13, 1943, law enforcement 
authorities raided a suspected Hollywood bookie joint littered with betting 
slips, scratch sheets and racing charts.  The clincher came when the phone 
rang and an unsuspecting caller told the cop who answered that he wanted 
Wingie in the last race at Bay Meadows. 
     Using the call as evidence, the district attorney won a bookmaking 
conviction.  Wags later wondered: If Wingie had won, would the caller be 
entitled to his winnings?  Having lost, was he obligated to pay the 
bookmaker?
     Like the bookie he helped convict, W&W was out of action following 
that race.  For nearly a year he didn't run, then came back at Bay Meadows 
in October, 1944, finishing third in his first start, winning the next two. 
     At Santa Anita's wartime 40-day spring meeting in 1945 W&W, then 10, 
was at the top of his game.  Starting out as a $2000 claimer, he finished 
in the money in all eight races, including the closing day San Juan 
Capistrano.   
     His five wins set an Arcadia record for single season victories. The 
current mark of six, set the next year by Holly Tree in a 55-day meeting, 
has stood for nearly 60 years despite an ever-lengthening season that now 
extends beyond 80 days.  Wingie's five firsts in a span of 29 racing days 
has never been equaled at Santa Anita.
     That meeting ended with his brilliant second place finish in the San 
Juan Capistrano. Had the race been 50 yards shorter than its 1 1/2 miles, 
W&W would have won. As it was, he lost to Bric a Bac by less than a length.  
His jockey rode four pounds overweight, a telling factor in a near 
marathon. "Had he won," Lowry said, "it would have been one for the books."
     At eleven he came back to Santa Anita in early 1946.  The Times 
referred to him as "one of the wonders of the thoroughbred age" when he ran 
second to Phantom Sea, arguably the best of the little `Biscuits.  But his 
legs weakened - he had sometimes run on only three days' rest - and he 
drifted down in class.  
     He campaigned one last time for owner Wright at Bay Meadows in late 
1946, running again in cheap claimers.  After two disappointing 
performances, G. D. King claimed Wingie for $3000.  He ran once more - 
beaten 20 lengths - then retired to stud, with a record of twenty-six wins, 
fifty-nine payoff finishes in ninety-one starts, and a permanent place in 
the hearts of California's two dollar bettors. 
- - -
[Ralph E. Shaffer (reshaffer@csupomona.edu), professor emeritus of history 
at Cal Poly Pomona, rooted for Wing and Wing at Santa Anita in the 1940s.]