Friday, July 17, 2009

Extravagance Worthy of the 'King of Pop'

See Laguna Beach Independent at

Extravagance Worthy of the 'King of Pop'


Was there ever anything that topped the Michael Jackson memorial extravaganza?

There was an event in 1852 that was truly a must see. Everyone who could attend from San Diego to San Luis Obispo went to Los Angeles to see the nine-mile horse race between Sarko and Black Swan.

In 1821 Mexico won its independence from Spain. Only 25 years later, the United States won California and other lands winning the Mexican War in 1846. The U.S. recognized some of the Mexican land grants, so Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, and Jose Andres Sepulveda were owners of large ranchos.

From 1837 to 1842 Jose Andres Sepulveda received grants known as Rancho San Joaquin, which later was sold to James Irvine and others to become a 50,000-acre portion of the Irvine Ranch. The ranch extended from "Newport Bay southeast to the center of what was then Laguna Canyon Creek, and is now the middle of the block between Broadway and Ocean Avenue," according to Belinda Blacketer, president emeritus of the Laguna Beach Historical Society.

Pio Pico and Jose Andres Sepulveda had quite a race in 1852, Pio Pico himself losing $1,600 and 300 head of cattle. The owners of the great ranchos may have been even more extravagant than Michael Jackson, wearing outfits for important occasions costing over $1,000.

Sarko was a race horse owned by Pio Pico, and Jose Andres Sepulveda purchased an Australian horse Black Swan. In the 1952 book "The Irvine Ranch" by Robert Glass Cleland, he writes: "In 1846, when Pio Pico's governorship and the Mexican regime came to a simultaneous end in California, the two brothers, Pio and Andres, were among the three or four largest landowners in the state. Like [Jose Andres] Sepulveda, they were also passionately devoted to horse racing and indulged quite as freely as Don Jose in the reckless wagers of the time."

Cleland quotes Thomas D. Mott, one of the spectators of the race: "No preparations were made to put the track in condition, and not much of the race outside of start and finish was seen, as mustard on both sides of the road was 10 feet high. The length of the course was nine miles, or more properly speaking, three Spanish leagues .... Everybody in the country was present and the whole country as far north as San Luis Obispo and south to San Diego was depopulated. They all came to see the great race."

Robert Glass Cleland continues: "The wagers included $25,000 in cash, ... 500 horses, 500 mares, 500 heifers, 500 calves, and 500 sheep. To the great chagrin and impoverishment of the Picos and the many other backers of the stallion, the mare [Black Swan] won the race by some 75 yards."

I wish I had seen it.

"After the victory, Sepulveda bought Black Swan and took her back to the Rancho San Joaquin. There the mare stepped on a nail, contracted lockjaw, and died."
Gene Felder,
Laguna Beach



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