Robert P. Strub, Former Head of Santa Anita, Dies


Robert P. Strub, son of the founder of Santa Anita Park and one of thoroughbred horse racing’s national leaders for the last three decades, died Wednesday after a nine-month battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Strub, 74, was elected president of Santa Anita in 1960, two years after the death of his father, Charles H. Strub, a dentist from San Francisco who put together the group that started the Arcadia track in 1934.

At the time of his death, Strub was chairman of the board of the Santa Anita Operating Co. and vice chairman of Santa Anita Realty Enterprises Inc. In February, Strub resigned as chief executive officer of the operating company and was succeeded by Stephen Keller.


Besides the racetrack, Santa Anita Realty owns a half-interest in Santa Anita Fashion Park, the 1-million-square-foot shopping mall next to the track; a one-third interest in Towson Town Centre, a suburban Maryland shopping mall; seven smaller shopping centers in California and Arizona; two industrial parks and other land in Temecula, and apartment complexes and office buildings in California and Texas.

In one of his last public appearances, Strub appeared in a wheelchair in February at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City to accept the Eclipse Award of Merit, one of racing’s highest honors, for lifetime service to the sport. In an emotional scene, Strub was accompanied to the stage by family members and received a standing ovation from the crowd of about 1,000.

Strub underwent quadruple bypass surgery last June and was told two months later that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-- Lou Gehrig’s disease--for which there is no cure. In late February, Strub was forced to miss one of his favorite functions, presiding over a ceremony for the presentation of the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award at Santa Anita.

Strub owned only one racehorse--an animal that did very little winning, he once recalled--but he was bred into racetrack management, working at Santa Anita during vacations from Stanford University. As a teen-ager, Strub attended the opening of Santa Anita on Dec. 25, 1934.

Strub’s first job at the track was to process photo identification cards for employees. As a captain in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II, he was assigned to Camp Santa Anita when the government converted the track into an ordnance center.

After his discharge, Strub began a full-time career at Santa Anita in the winter of 1945-46. He was assistant general manager at the time of his father’s death and survived a proxy fight among shareholders before he assumed control of the track.


When Strub became president, the track was averaging 26,000 fans a day and $2.1 million in betting. Those figures grew in the 1980s to more than 30,000 in attendance and $6 million in handle.

Strub emphasized customer comfort and racing integrity and insisted that betting on horses be seen as an intellectual exercise. When someone in his company uses the word gambling, Strub would say: “The lottery is gambling. Horse racing is wagering, and the difference is that in racing you make an educated guess about who’s going to win rather than just taking stabs based on no information at all.”

Strub believed in a national network of tracks that could help the sport grow through unified political and promotional efforts, and in 1963-64 he was elected president of the Thoroughbred Racing Assns., a trade organization.

J. B. Faulconer, former executive vice president of the Thoroughbred Racing Assns., said Wednesday: “With Charles and Bob Strub, it was like father, like son. They ran a first-class racetrack, and the emphasis was always on the sporting aspect of the game rather than the betting end.”

Strub was also a staunch supporter of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, a national security arm of the trade organization that began in 1946 through the encouragement of former FBI director and racing fan J. Edgar Hoover.

“Bob championed racing integrity, and security at the tracks was one of his priorities,” said Clifford W. Wickman, a retired president of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau. “He was one of the great stand-up guys of all time. Whenever things got sticky, you could count on Bob Strub to speak his mind, and if he agreed with you, you would get his 100% support.”


In an interview with The Times in February at his home in San Marino, Strub bemoaned racing’s current problems. “There was no (state) lottery when I first came into racing,” he said. “No Indian gaming. No keno. Now we’re in a position where we’re legislated and licensed by the state at the same time that we’re in competition with the state as far as the lottery is concerned. And all the while, Santa Anita is asked to pay the highest parimutuel tax in the country. Sacramento has multibillion-dollar deficits, so it’s not going to change, either. It’s no wonder I prefer what were really the good old days.”

Santa Anita frequently did business without signed contracts under Strub. Recently, Charles Cella, the president of Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, was having difficulty with other tracks accepting his Arkansas Derby for betting purposes.

“One of the tracks told me that they were backing out of taking the race, reminding me that we didn’t have a contract,” Cella said. “It reminded me of how I had dealt with Bob Strub for so many years. When Bob made a handshake deal, it was as good as a contract.”

Strub was a member of the Jockey Club in New York and in 1986 was the first winner of the William H. May Award, given by the National Assn. of State Racing Commissioners for distinguished service to racing. His activities outside racing included church, civic and Boy Scout affairs. He received three citations from the late Cardinal James McIntyre in Los Angeles and was a president of the Los Angeles Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Strub was married to the former Betty Miller for more than 50 years. Besides his widow, his survivors include seven children--Mrs. Christopher P. Herrin of Agoura, John M. Strub of Arcadia, Mrs. John W. Reed of La Jolla, Mrs. Matthew Sweeney of Sherman Oaks, Mrs. Gerald Cline of Thousand Oaks, Robert H. Strub of San Marino and Mrs. Michael P. Frawley of Agoura Hills--in addition to his sisters, Mrs. Arthur L. Crowe of San Marino, Mrs. Francis Kelly of Glen Cove, N.Y., and Sister Elizabeth Mary Strub, who is working in Chile. There are nine grandchildren.

Funeral plans have not been announced. The family requested that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Rosemead.