Nearly 300 people turned out at Santa Anita Park Feb. 16 to celebrate the life of owner Trudy McCaffery, who died five days earlier at age 62 following a lengthy battle with cancer.
At the memorial, which was put together by her close friend, trainer Janine Sahadi, and held in the track’s Chandelier Room, friends and family and even some racing fans from across the country gathered and remembered McCaffery’s love for horses, her charitable work, and her kindness to everyone she met.
“She was like a cross between Mother Theresa and Elizabeth Taylor,” close fried John DeSantis said in his eulogy. “It’s hard to believe she’s gone.”
Sahadi was thrilled with the turnout, which offered a full bar and tables loaded with food, “just like she wanted,” Sahadi said.
“I think it’s remarkable so many people came out for her,” Sahadi said. “There was nobody more deserving of this. She was my dearest friend and I will miss her dearly. She had this kind of a party in her mind the whole time. And her legacy is here at the track with the Gregson Foundation; she and Eddie Gregson were close friends.
“Because of people like her, we have 42 kids from the racetrack in college, and thanks to a large donation made in her name by the Oak Tree Racing Association, there will be more. She would be so, so pleased.”
One of the things McCaffery was most passionate about was bringing younger fans into the sport, and nearly a decade ago she personally founded Kids to the Cup, an organization that exposed children to Thoroughbred racing by bringing them into the middle of the sport via big events, such as the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and Kentucky Derby (gr. I), as well as insider visits and backstretch tours at the biggest tracks across the country.
“She left a legacy,” Susie Raisher said. The 21-year-old student at the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program who was an inaugural member of KTTC, and three of her fellow KTTC friends, Ali LaDuke, Emily Hufford and Ryen Hanna, drove all night to be at the service. “There are so many of (KTTC members) everywhere; I don’t know how we could not be here,” she said.
LaDuke, currently in her senior year at the University of Arizona, said: “I had a test today so I told my teacher there was a death in the family. And to me, there was.”
Paco Gonzalez, who trained every horse McCaffery ever owned with her longtime partner, John Toffan, said he’d miss the friendship the two shared since 1989 the most. The trio shared in the joys of campaigning such stars as Free House, Came Home, A.P. Assay, Mane Minister, Bien Bien, Bienamado, Del Mar Dennis, and Visible Gold.
“She never looked at me like a trainer,” Gonzalez said. “She was like family, and that was just Trudy. Together, we won every stakes in California, and every year we always had a good horse. And she never felt down when we didn’t win. She always said, “Well, there’s always the next race.’”
Said jockey David Flores: “I miss her already. I think she’s having a good time watching over this party, and she’s making a nice place for us to go to up there. She’s probably building us a racetrack.”
Per McCaffery’s wishes, her ashes will be spread across the ground at Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, Calif., where her “son,” Free House, is buried.
“I have her ashes in my purse, and that’s where she’s going,” Sahadi said. “I’m going to sprinkle a little of them across the finish line here and the rest at Vessels, with Free House and her father.”