Nine Honored at Walk of Champions Gala

By Tracy Gantz
Seven people and two horses were inducted into the Arcadia Historical Society Thoroughbred Racing Walk of Champions during a gala celebration May 24.

The inductees—Zenyatta and Lava Man along with Chris McCarron, Ron McAnally, Gary Jones, Mike Mitchell, Mel Stute, Buddy Johnston's Old English Rancho, and Joe Burnham—were honored by more than 200 people, most from the Southern California racing community, gathered at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden across the street from Santa Anita Park.

Jockey Victor Espinoza also received special recognition for his recent achievements with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah   and Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner California Chrome  . Alan Balch, executive director of California Thoroughbred Trainers, emceed the event.

Patterned after Hollywood's famous Walk of Fame, the Walk of Champions was created in 2014 and consists of bronze plaques installed on the sidewalks of downtown Arcadia that memorialize important horses, people, and other racing industry entities.

Connections of all of the honorees attended, ranging from nearly the entire family of the late Buddy Johnston to McCarron, McAnally, and Stute. Freshly returned from the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and on his birthday, trainer Doug O'Neill was there to speak about his trainee, Lava Man.

"My mom, Dixie, is here tonight," said O'Neill. "She lives near the Walk of Champions, and we often walk down the street and admire the plaques."

McCarron joked with the audience, thanking jockeys for taking off horses he later rode to major victories, such as Bill Shoemaker for John Henry, Jerry Bailey for Go for Gin, Pat Day for Alysheba, and Espinoza for Tiznow  .

"And Gary Stevens should thank me for the most bone-headed move I made, taking off Silver Charm," McCarron said.

Stute gave the most heartfelt speech. Passed over numerous times for the National Hall of Fame, Stute spoke of how grateful he was to receive the Walk of Champions honor.

"I've waited 88 years for this," said Stute. "I hope people are comfortable because I could talk for three hours." He added that he hoped the Walk of Champions would last forever, noting that he had bars named for him at Hollywood Park and Fairplex Park, two racetracks that no longer exist.

Jerry and Ann Moss, owners of Zenyatta, attended along with trainer John Shirreffs, racing manager Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, and jockey Mike Smith. After thanking the people involved with Zenyatta's success, Jerry Moss added that she remains "a horse who belongs to everyone."

Fittingly, the final video presentation of the evening was a compilation of Zenyatta's many victories, which drew loud applause from the audience.