On America's birthday, Independence Day, the Fourth of July, the winner of Monday's first race at Hollywood Park was a horse called Star of America, a 6-year-old gelding out of a grand old nag named--we kid you not--America's Birthday.
No, he did not pay $17.76 to win.
No, no one stuck a feather in his cap and called him Macaroni.
No, his rider did not spot a lantern in an Inglewood church steeple.
Star of America's jockey did, however, have one of the happiest days on horseback since the midnight ride of Paul Revere. Obviously feeling his oats, apprentice jockey James Corral--born in the USA, and in Hollywood, appropriately enough--went out and had the sort of day that made him glad he declared his independence from UCLA.
On the day James told his father, Judge Jaime R. Corral of the Superior Court of Los Angeles, that he was taking a leave of absence from UCLA to try his hand at becoming a jockey, the judge was not exactly thrilled. He wanted his son to follow in his footsteps, not in somebody's hoofprints.
"What are you, nuts?" Judge Corral asked his son. "Do you know how hard it is to get into UCLA?"
By Monday, though, he was the most satisfied judge at the track since Angelucci.
In the first race, James Corral rode Star of America, a 6-1 shot, to the horse's first victory of 1988, giving trainer Ted West an unexpected trip to the winner's circle, and paying $14.80 to anyone wise enough to bet him.
In the second race, Corral rode Gerril, a 45-1 shot, to a strong second-place finish, paying a $30 place price to anyone prescient enough to bet him.
In the third race, Corral rode Sanctify, a 21-1 shot, to victory in the fourth start of the filly's life, giving trainer Hector O. Palma a pleasant birthday present, and paying $45.80 to anyone psychic enough to bet her.
Well, it wouldn't be the first time anybody had bet on James Corral to win a race. Judge Corral had the evidence, right in his pocket.
After posing together in the winner's circle, James, 21, reminded his father of something. "It was almost a year ago to the day that I won my first race," he said. "July 5, I think."
Responded Judge, reaching for his wallet: "I can tell you that right now. I've still got the winning ticket."
Sure enough, it was July 5, 1987, at Caliente, that James hit the finish first for the first time.
Another horse with a patriotic name?
"Well, not exactly," James said, laughing. "It was Pass the Bagels."
The two well-named Corrals--who reside in Whittier--recalled the jockey's first race as vividly as they did his first win. Until 3 1/2 years ago, James had never even sat on a horse. He was a 98-pound wrestler in school, and even tried a little football at St. Paul High in Santa Fe Springs, where he handled the football in practice as a tailback while defensive teammates handled \o7 him\f7 like a football.
Came college, and James wasn't sure exactly what he wanted to do. He hadn't grown large, but it was time to grow up.
"He expected me to take after him," James said, jerking a thumb toward his beaming father. "L.A. law."
He took a part-time job at the courthouse in West L.A., where one of the clerks, a horse lover, kept bugging him about becoming a jockey. James thought about it and thought about it, and eventually approached his dad. The words "dropping out of school" did not come easily.
"But what we finally agreed on," James said, "was that we didn't want me to be 35 or 45 years old one day and still wondering what would have happened if I'd at least given it a try. UCLA's been there a hundred years, and it'll be there another hundred years. I can always go back, and I intend to. But, I couldn't become a jockey just anytime I felt like it."
He took riding lessons, learned his craft and got his chance. At Hollywood Park last June 20, Corral got his first mount, a horse called Amarone.
"He went off 11-1," James said, not even needing a ticket from his wallet. "All my family was here, and I mean about 100 of them.
"I remember that I was No. 4, and soon as we came out of the paddock, everybody from my family started yelling, 'All right! No. 4! Yay, No. 4!'
"Pat Valenzuela was right next to me, and he was No. 3, and he heard everybody yelling. 'Hey, what about No. 3?' he yelled up at them. And they all went, 'Boo! Boo, No. 3!' "
At last, the memories of the Corrals were stumped. "I know I finished seventh," James said.
A year later, he was aboard Star of America, son of America's Birthday, on America's birthday.
"And hey, look at this," James said, leafing through the Hollypark program and nudging his dad. "Look at who's in the sixth race."
"Bombs Bursting," his dad read.
"Are you patriotic or something?" James was asked.
"I am now," he said.