Quarter Horses come home to Fair Grounds

June 27th, 2008

Fair Grounds, one of the oldest Thoroughbred tracks in the United States, will hold its first ever Quarter Horse meet August 20 through 24, 2008.

Ironically, the infield of the famous New Orleans track is the last resting place of Pan Zarita, a half-breed Quarter Horse who was one of the greatest sprinters of all time. Sired by the Thoroughbred Abe Frank and foaled in Texas in 1910, out of the “quarter” mare Caddie Griffith, Pan Zarita began her career as a 2-year-old in Juarez, Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution.

By the time she was five, Pan Zarita had won races at tracks as well known as Churchill Downs, Saratoga, Oaklawn, and Aqueduct, and in places as obscure as Butte, Montana and Salt Lake City. But her greatest accomplishment came at Juarez in 1915, when she set a 5-furlong world record that stayed on the books for 31 years. In so doing, she defeated Joe Blair (TB), sire of Joe Reed P-3, one of the original Quarter Horse foundation sires, as well as both paternal and maternal grandsire of the great Quarter Horse perfornance sire Leo.

In another strange twist of fate, Joe Blair’s sire, Bonnie Joe, was the paternal grandsire of Black Gold, winner of the 1924 Kentucky Derby, and the only horse besides Pan Zarita to be buried in the infield at Fair Grounds .

Named for the daughter of a Juarez city official, Pan Zarita became the winningest mare and the most accomplished distaff weight-carrier in the history of the American turf. From151 starts between 1912 and 1917, she won 76, finished second in 31, and placed third in 21. She carried more than 130 pounds in 28 races; more than 140 pounds in seven; and broke or equaled 11 track records.

Pan Zarita died of pneumonia at Fair Grounds on January 19, 1918. She was inducted into Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame in 1972.

Black Gold broke his foreleg just above the ankle in a race at Fair Grounds on January 18, 1928 and was humanely destroyed on site.