Big win at Big 'Cap

This wasn’t just any big win, it was the big win.

“We hit the home run,” said race horse breeder Bob Baffert. “We finally hit it after all these years.”

Misremembered, a 4-year-old race horse owned by George Jacobs, proprietor of La Cañada landmark Georgee’s Pizza, and a small ownership group of friends, won the 73rd annual Santa Anita Big Handicap and its $750,000 prize money on Saturday.

I’m in shock,” Jacobs said. “[Misremembered] wowed everyone.”

In 1998, Jacobs got in on a horse with former Major League Baseball pitcher Matt Young, a La Cañada resident and St. Francis grad, and Baffert, a horse trainer and breeder at Santa Anita for the last 40 years. A horse named Shot of Gold that both Baffert and Jacobs described as a better-than-average horse, but nothing special.

They worked together for years, winning here and there, and five years ago, Baffert came forward with a mare that had a few good sires.

“The mare was 18 years old, she was a stakes winner and she was a very good mare,” said Baffert, who’s also trained a few winners of the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes and Preakness Stakes, like Point Given and a few others. “I thought, ‘I’m gonna buy her and breed with her and get one good horse out of her.’

“And we did.”

Baffert went to lunch at Georgee’s one day and told Jacobs about the mare and the plans to sire. Jacobs immediately wanted in.

From the mare came this horse, Misremembered, named after Roger Clemens’ malaprop in his testimony on Capitol Hill about HGH and steroid use.

“I saw the testimony and I said to Bob, ‘that’s a horse’s name,’” Jacobs said.

Jacobs added that the way to remember the name is very simple: If you don’t remember it, then that’s how you remember it.

Young and Baffert’s wife, Jill, jumped on board to finance the horse.

Things started off slowly and the horse wasn’t quite as good as was hoped when Misremembered started to mature.

“At the beginning of the year, he was an ugly duckling,” Baffert said. “Then he turned into this big horse—first time I laid eyes on him, I was disappointed [he wasn’t larger]. He’s changed so much and he’s turned into quite a horse.”

And upon that change, Misremembered earned 4-1 odds for the Santa Anita Handicap, third-best in the field, after winning a couple of races beforehand.

Then things started getting a little weird before the start of the race.

Misremembered’s usual jockey, Victor Espinoza, was changed to Martin Garcia, a 25-year-old native of Mexico and protege of Baffert, just for this race.

Jacobs said one of the first things he learned about the man was that Garcia was a cook.

“We were in there, talking one day,” Jacobs said. “I said, ‘Hey, Martin, let me see your arm.’ He pulls his sleeve up and he’s got one of these.” Jacobs points to the numerous scars on his forearms from the pizza ovens at Georgee’s.

“I told him during the interview that if the riding thing doesn’t work for him, he can come work for me,” Jacobs said.

And then just to make things more interesting, the race wasn’t even supposed to happen on Saturday—horrific rains were predicted, but only mild showers hit.

And so it happened. The horses leapt out of the gate, all 13 of them, with Misremembered taking the far end, the 13th stall, some working harder than others on the muddy course.

Misremembered found a good outside track.

“He breaks and lays in second,” Jacobs said. “Right off the speed horse—they send a rabbit out to burn out [your horse] and then he heads for home.”

In Lehman’s terms, Misremembered got off to a good start and was sitting in second behind the lead horse, a “rabbit” used to make competitive horses expend too much energy early.

Misremembered kept close pace with the burner and then came around the final turn.

“Right here,” Jacobs said, pointing to the final turn on a video of the race, “the jockeys start talking to each other. The jockey on the rabbit says ‘I’m going really fast.’ And Garcia says ‘I got a lot of horse left.’”

Garcia and Misremembered took off and when another horse threatened, Misremembered dug in. The glory was the horse’s and the ragtag team of owners celebrated their first major race win. Truly fit for an ’80s made-for-TV movie.

“I slept great on Friday night,” Jacobs said. “But Saturday night, I was a wreck. I was so excited.”

“I’ve made my clients a lot of money,” Baffert said. “It’s about time I made Pizza George some money.”

Jacobs said this was a victory for everyone; that this game isn’t just for the richest folk.

“They say this is the game of kings,” Jacobs said. “I don’t throw millions of dollars at this game. Every horse is paid for one slice and one sandwich at a time. We’re the two owners who need the money.”

Not much is known about the next step for Misremembered, but the Derby’s are not an option, since he’s too old. However, offers have been flying in, including one from Dubai for a multi-million dollar purse.

“We’re just hoping it continues on,” Baffert said, who’s looking into moving to La Cañada. “It was an exciting race for us—it was nice to win it with your own horse. When you breed them, you always hope. Racing is a dream and the dream came true. It’s a fun business.”

In 1996, Jacobs bought a horse called Refined Lady, his first. She wasn’t much, he said, but it was still his first and the 14 years since then have been a tremendous learning process.

“You learn really fast when you start losing money,” Jacobs said. “But right now, our horse is No. 1 on the national money board.”

Baffert thinks Georgee’s Pizza should have some giveaways to celebrate.

“I think pizza prices should come down this week—think there should be a pizza deal this week,” Baffert said.

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World