By: Ron Hale
E. J. "Lucky" Baldwin and Santa Anita
The feature race at Santa Anita Park on March 10, 1997, was the 25th running of the $100,000-added Baldwin Stakes (Gr. III) for three-year olds at about six and one-half furlongs on the downhill turf course
The race is named for the legendary Elias Jackson Baldwin, known throughout the turf world at "Lucky" Baldwin, on whose former estate sits the present-day Santa Anita Park.
Baldwin was born on April 3, 1828 in Butler County, Ohio. He came to California in 1853 and proceeded to buy 8,000 acres in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles. Before he was finished buying land, he owned 63,000 acres in what is now Arcadia and Monrovia.
Until his death in 1909, Baldwin bred and raced some of the best horses in the country and won nearly every major stakes race of that era. He won the American Derby at Washington Park -- then the most prestigious three-year-old race in the country -- four times: Volante (1885); Silver Cloud (1886); Emperor of Norfolk (1888); and Rey el Santa Anita (1894). In the 1894 American Derby, Rey el Santa Anita handed the great Domino his first defeat.
Baldwin was among the first breeders in the country to stress speed over stamina -- something that is a trademark of California-bred Thoroughbreds to this day.
Probably his best horse and sire was Emperor of Norfolk, who carried Baldwin's famous black-and-red maltese cross silks to victory in 21 of 29 races. (Note: A large maltese cross from Baldwin's estate can now be seen just east of Seabiscuit Court in the grandstand gardens of Santa Anita Park. The names of many of Baldwin's stars are also listed there. Another note: The Norfolk Stakes [Gr. II] is now the major two-year-old stakes race at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting.) After retirement from the racetrack, Emperor of Norfolk sired many major stakes winners.
In the final years of his life, Baldwin turned his attention to a project of which he had dreamed for years -- building the finest racetrack in the western United States. In December 1907, his dream came true with the opening of a 108-day winter meeting at Santa Anita, located on his estate, not far from his Arcadia home. (Note: This was old Santa Anita. New Santa Anita, located on Baldwin's former estate, was opened on Christmas Day 1934.) Old Santa Anita was a success, joining the other Los Angeles-area racetrack of the time, Ascot Park, which was located four miles south of the downtown L.A. business center.
In a sad coincidence of history, Emperor of Norfolk, Baldwin's great runner and sire, died in his stall on the evening of opening day at old Santa Anita. Baldwin, himself, died of pneumonia, at age 81, in January 1909. He was buried in a San Francisco cemetery next to the body of his first wife.
© 1997, Ron Hale