The Kentucky Derby is just a little more than a week away, and as the world awaits the most anticipated two minutes in sports, the best 3-year-olds in the world put in their final preparations for the first Saturday in May.
The Kentucky Derby is worthy of all the attention, however, there is another race worthy of print.
This Saturday 27 April is the 63rd running of the G3 $100,000 San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate Fields. This race has a very special place in my heart. Although it falls under the radar, it is a race that has attracted some of the top horses in the country year in and year out.
The SF Mile has had two Kentucky Derby Champions get to the winner's circle. Citation, the 1948 KY Derby winner, captured the SF Mile in 1950, and Determine, who won the KY Derby in 1954, proved best in the 1955 SF Mile.
The list of past SF Mile champions includes: Battle Dance, the only back to back champ (1957 and 1958); Native Diver, the only other horse to win the SF Mile on two occasions; Figonero, the winner in 1971; Don Alberto, the stakes record holder back in 1980 when he covered the one mile in 1:33.40; Silveyville, a Northern California favorite, who won in 1982; Tight Spot, the 1992 Champ; Tuzla, who was victorious in 1999; and Singletary, who won the SF Mile in 2004 and then captured the Breeders' Cup Mile later in the year at Lone Star Park.
The SF Mile is always a special race, but there are two years of this magnificent affair that have the most sentiment to me. The 1980 SF Mile was one of the most exciting races I have ever witnessed. I was an eleven-year-old who was really starting to fall in love with horse racing. My father brought me out to Golden Gate Fields, and the place was packed. This was back in the day when racing was the real deal. The crowd was buzzing and you could feel the energy in the air. I will never forget this crazy little man who would not stop screaming at the top of his lungs "Toro! Toro! Toro!" The man was obviously a big fan of one of the greatest turf jockeys of all time, Fernando Toro.
Don Alberto won the race as the field lined up from inside to outside at the wire all across the Lakeside Turf Course. It was a frantic finish that I will never forget.
The other SF Mile that has plenty of meaning to me is the 1999 running. This was the first SF Mile that I had the privilege to be the announcer. I was the voice of Golden Gate Fields from 1999 until early 2005. I grew up in Livermore, California (45 minutes from San Francisco) and being the voice of both Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields was a dream come true.
I will never forget how nervous I was the morning of the 1999 SF Mile and the days leading up to the big race. The race was very comparable to the 1980 running. The field seemed to have every inch of the turf course covered as they turned into the stretch. I was shaking so much and had a hard time keeping my binoculars steady. Tuzla, a very talented mare, conditioned by Julio Canani, emerged from the pack in the late stages to get the hard earned victory. Canani leads all trainers with three SF Mile victories.
Hudson Landing, the 2012 SF Mile Champion, is back to defend his title. Hudson Landing is conditioned by Blaine Wright, a good friend of mine, and will be ridden by Juan Hernandez, who was aboard Hudson Landing last year in the Mile. Hudson Landing will break from Post Position 3, and figures to get a nice inside off the pace trip, which is ideal for turf racing.
"His air is right and his attitude is as good as can be," trainer Wright said. "Last year he entered the Mile on a two race winning streak. It was a hope and a dream, I didn't know if he would fit. He needs to get back on the winning end of things. The race sets up well, there is a ton of pace and he should benefit from all the pace. It's all good."
Hudson Landing is looking to become only the second horse to win the SF Mile in consecutive years. He will have to beat nine rivals including: Summer Hit, who hails from Jerry Hollendorfer's barn and will have the services of Russell Baze, and Control Seeker for trainer Keith Nations and jockey Francisco Duran.
The SF Mile is the sixth race on a nine race card. It will begin an all-turf Pick 4 sequence. Post time at Golden Gate Fields is scheduled for 12:45pm pdt.