(from Santa Anita report)
Return of the King, the last horse owned by James Ortega, one of nine people slain in a Southern California massacre on Christmas Eve, scored a dramatic come-from-behind victory at Santa Anita Jan. 8.
“I feel like I just won a $5 million race,” jockey Martin Pedroza said in the winner’s circle. “I’ve known the family for a long time. I wanted so much to win this race. It gave me chills.”
None of the Ortega family members was on hand. “It would be much too emotional for them to be here today,” said trainer David Bernstein.
A number of family friends turned out, however, to cheer home the 7-year-old gelding.
Return of the King was the last horse in the stable of Ortega, 52, and was left to his son, James Edward, in a family trust.
Ortega was the brother of Sylvia Pardo, whose former husband, Bruce, 45, broke into the family home of Ortega's parents in Covina, about 12 miles from Santa Anita. Dressed as Santa Claus, Pardo began the carnage that resulted in nine deaths by gunshot or fire. Pardo later took his own life.
James Ortega's parents, Joseph Ortega, 80, and his wife Alicia, 70, who were hosting a party at the time of the tragedy, were also killed. They were longtime clients of Bernstein whom the trainer said had claimed several horses over the years and also bred horses briefly. Joseph and James were the primary owners of JJO Stable.
Return of the King was sent off as the 2-1 second choice in a field of six horses running in the six-furlong event for a claiming price of $40,000 and a purse of $33,400.
The chestnut gelding tracked the early pace while running in third, took the lead at the eighth pole and edged away to a three-quarter length win over Professnl Courtesy. The winning time was 1:09.50. He paid $6.20 to win.
Claimed for $16,000 in October of 2006, Return of the King had earned just over $100,000 for Ortega before adding $19,800 with the victory, his fourth in the turquoise and black racing colors.