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Gold Standard

Benoit, a Hollywood Park fixture, to be honored today before big race

July 10, 2004|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

The first Hollywood Gold Cup that Bob Benoit remembers seeing was Cover Up's 4 1/2-length win in 1947.

Benoit, 77, has been involved in one way or another with every Gold Cup since -- some more memorable than others.

Part of Hollywood Park's team for more than a quarter of a century in capacities that have included chief operating officer, general manager, publicity and advertising director and senior vice president, Benoit will never forget the 65th Gold Cup, which will be run late this afternoon.

Earlier today, Benoit, owner of Benoit and Associates, a publicity and racing photography company, will be presented with the first Laffit Pincay Jr. Award.

Named in honor of the sport's winningest rider, the Pincay award is to be presented annually to a person who has served the sport with "integrity, extraordinary dedication, determination and distinction."

Recently, Benoit reminisced about Hollywood Park's signature race. His favorite Gold Cups were Swaps' win in 1956 and Affirmed's in 1979.

"Swaps was my favorite horse," he said, his voice trembling with emotion as he showed a visitor a photo of he and his late wife, Calvine, posing in front of the mold of the bronze statue of Swaps that stands in the clubhouse entrance gardens at Hollywood Park.

"Affirmed's was special for several reasons," he continued. "When Affirmed was a 2-year-old, [trainer] Laz Barrera sent him here from New York for the Hollywood Juvenile and he easily won his division.

"That winter in Florida, I saw [owner Louis] Wolfson. I was doing the stakes schedule for our meet and had moved the Hollywood Derby forward because we had gotten off to such terrible starts every year because the focus was on the Kentucky Derby.

"Mr. Wolfson made a commitment that if Affirmed won the Santa Anita Derby he would stay for the Hollywood Derby. He was a man of his word.

"I had left Hollywood Park earlier in the year, but I was there to see Affirmed win the Gold Cup."

As sports editor for the Inglewood Daily News, Benoit covered Citation's win in the 1951 Gold Cup. The victory enabled the 1948 Triple Crown winner to become racing's first millionaire.

Benoit still has pages from the next day's Los Angeles Examiner. The paper's coverage included 19 photos.

"I was the new kid in the press box, so it was a big deal for me," he said. "The crowd [50,625] was tremendous. When Citation came back to the winner's circle, there was pandemonium."

Rejected's victory in 1955 and Ack Ack's 1971 win were also memorable.

"Rejected was on the down side of his career," Benoit said. "[Trainer] Buddy Hirsch was trying to hold him together. Buddy wanted to work him before the first race a couple of days before the race, so I told a new publicity photographer we had to get a picture of the horse working.

"The photographer, who was wearing a white shirt, knelt down to get the shot when Rejected was about 70 yards away from the finish. The horse saw him and took a funny step.

"Buddy was hot. He was ready to sue everybody. I went by the barn the next morning. He had come out of the work OK and I suggested they put a shadow roll on him. After he won the Gold Cup, I went to the barn the next day and asked Buddy where my cut was. That didn't make him very happy.

"Ack Ack was a very underrated horse. He was assigned 134 pounds for the Gold Cup and [trainer] Charlie Whittingham was not happy.

"I was the director of advertising and had scheduled a full page ad in The Times all focused on Ack Ack, but I couldn't get Charlie to commit.

"[Owner] Buddy Fogelson was a member of the board at Hollywood Park, so I called and said I had to give the ad agency an answer. He called back and said they were going to run, so we went with the ad.

"Buddy got even with me later. They had the first Eclipse Awards in New York and Ack Ack won three trophies [for older male, sprinter and horse of the year]. Buddy made me bring them home. We actually broke the tail off the sprint trophy. I was petrified, but we got it fixed and Buddy never knew."

Benoit also fondly recalls the record three consecutive wins by Native Diver, from 1965 to 1967, and victories by former jockey Don Pierce, with whom Benoit remains close, on Princessnesian in 1968 and Quack in 1972.

There was also the 1981 Gold Cup, a race that has special meaning this week because favorite Even The Score has an opportunity to do something only Eleven Stitches has done before. That is, sweep the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap, Californian and Gold Cup.

Beaten by a head by Caterman, Eleven Stitches was awarded the win when Caterman was disqualified for interference nearing the wire. Not surprisingly, Darrel McHargue, Caterman's jockey, didn't agree with the stewards' decision.

"Walt Guerrero, who later worked for me, was working in publicity for Nat Wess at the time and he was in the jockeys' room to get quotes," Benoit recalled. "When they took Caterman's number down, McHargue was angry and he went right to the showers. There were no quotes and Walt didn't know what to do.

"Well, he took off his clothes and went into the showers after McHargue. He got quotes."

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