The Life and Death of Dinner Gong

Dinner Gong (1945 ch. h. by Eight Thirty-Equilette by Equipoise)
Breeder: Cornelius Vanderbilt (C. V.) Whitney
Owner: C. V. Whitney (through 09/1948); Abe (Murphy) Hirschberg (from 09/1948)
Trainer: S. E. Veitch (through 09/1948); Frank (F. E.) Childs (from 09/1948)
Family A1

Record: (30) 9-5-9 / $167,640
1948: 1st Yerba Buena H., Carmel H.; 2nd Rumson H.; 3rd Lamplighter H., Peter Pan H., American Legion H.
1949: 1st San Antonio H., Golden Gate Mile H., La Jolla H.; 2nd San Carlos H., Santa Anita H., San Juan Capistrano H.; 3rd Santa Anita Maturity, Sunset H., American H., Argonaut H.

NTR and EWR at Santa Anita (01/08/1949): 7f in 1:21.80
NTR at Del Mar (08/06/1949): 1 mile in 1:36 in the La Jolla H.

MAY 1948
A C. V. Whitney homebred by the Pilate stallion Eight Thirty and the third foal from the young Equipoise mare Equilette, Dinner Gong was bred to win. Equilette, a second generation Whitney homebred, was a half-sister to stakes winner Cravat (1935 h. by Sickle (GB)) and a full sister to Equestrian (1936), the sire of stakes winning Stymie (1941).

While Dinner Gong was nominated for both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes as an unraced 3-year-old, he would ultimately make his debut in a seven furlong allowance at Belmont Park on May 24, where he would finish second by a head to Singing Step in the field of fourteen.

Well-regarded off the allowance effort, Dinner Gong would go off as the favorite in his next start, a seven furlong maiden event at Belmont on May 29, logging a final time of 1:25 in the win over Natural.

JUNE 1948
Following the maiden win, Dinner Gong would enter the stakes ranks in the Peter Pan Handicap (1 1/8 mi.) at Belmont on June 5. Coupled in the betting with stablemate Vulcan’s Forge, he would finish third by roughly four lengths behind Escadru and Stunts.

Dinner Gong - Peter Pan headline (NYT 1948.06.06)

Dinner Gong - Peter Pan photo (NYT 1948.06.06) From left to right: Escadru (left), Stunts (center), Dinner Gong (right) in the 1948 Peter Pan Handicap.
Photo: The New York Times, 06/06/1948.

Heading south for the remainder of June, Dinner Gong would run unplaced in the (then run on dirt) Kent Handicap (1 1/16 mi.) at Delaware Park on June 12 and unplaced in the Select Handicap (6f) at Monmouth Park on June 30.

JULY 1948
A return to New York would mark a return to winning ways for Dinner Gong. With racing now moved to Aqueduct, he would win a six furlong allowance on July 10 in 1:11 3/5 in the four length win over Control.

Heading back to stakes competition off the win, Dinner Gong would finish third behind First Nighter and Artist Life in the Lamplighter Handicap (1 1/16 mi.) at Monmouth Park on July 17.

AUGUST 1948
Remaining at Monmouth for the Rumson Handicap (6f) on August 4, Dinner Gong would finish second in the muddy going by two lengths to Erigeron. Over the course of his career, Dinner Gong would prove to be more than competent mud runner. At least six of his thirty career starts would come over off tracks, accruing a record of (5) 1-2-1 over tracks rated muddy/sloppy and a record of (1) 0-1-0 over tracks rated slow/heavy.

Following the Rumson H., Dinner Gong would spend the rest of August at Saratoga, where in the mud-plagued American Legion Handicap on August 13, he would finish third behind Miss Disco and Newsweekly in the four horse field; survive a claim of foul to hold off Marine Charger to win a one mile allowance on August 21 in 1:38; and finish third behind Yankee Hill and Blue Border in a seven furlong handicap on August 28.

SEPTEMBER 1948
At the conclusion of the Saratoga meet, Dinner Gong would head to Aqueduct, finishing third to Bif If and Rose Beam in a six furlong allowance on September 2. Assigned 126 lbs., this was by far the heaviest impost of his career.

He would then return to Belmont Park for the Fall Highweight Handicap (6f) on September 13, where he would run unplaced behind First Flight, Big Story, and Blue Border.

C. V. Whitney, then Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, had decided to reduce the numbers of his sizable racing stable, and seventeen horses, including Dinner Gong, were sold in a paddock sale at Belmont Park on September 30. Vulcan’s Forge was the sale topper, going to I. J. Collins for $80,000. Dinner Gong, who was purchased for $34,000 by trainer Frank (F. E.) Childs on behalf of San Francisco restaurateur Abe (Murphy) Hirschberg, was then shipped to Tanforan in Northern California.

NOVEMBER 1948
Now established in California, Dinner Gong made his first start for Childs and Hirschberg in the Yerba Buena Handicap (6f) on November 13. Defeating M’Dearsy by 3 ½ lengths in 1:11, Dinner Gong’s time equaled that of See-Tee-See’s for fastest of the meet.

Dinner Gong - HEADLINE Yerba Buena

DECEMBER 1948
The Carmel Handicap (6f) at Tanforan on December 10 would mark Dinner Gong’s final start of 1948. Under the guidance of Eddie Arcaro, he would defeat Solidarity by a half-length in 1:12.

Following the race, Dinner Gong moved to Santa Anita in preparation for the $100,000 Santa Anita Handicap on February 26. The Australian horse Shannon II had been named the 130 lb. highweight for the race, with On Trust (126 lbs.) and Cosmic Bomb (125 lbs.) assigned the next highest weights. Dinner Gong himself had been assigned 116 lbs.

JANUARY 1949
Dinner Gong’s first of four starts at Santa Anita during the month of January would come in the San Carlos Handicap (7f) on New Year’s Day. With the $50,000 added purse totaling $65,150, the San Carlos H. became the richest all age sprint in the world at the time. In a controversy marred race, Dinner Gong would finish second by two lengths on the slow/heavy track to the 8-year-old Autocrat, who would win the race for the second year in a row.

Dinner Gong - HEADLINE San Carlos H. (1)

“Autocrat had to survive a claim of foul before his number was posted officially on the score board, but the stewards wasted little time in viewing the movies. Jockey Hedley Woodhouse on Dinner Gong charged that Autocrat lugged in on him, but Jimmy Nichols on the winner said he had plenty of room on the outside until the leaders, Dinner Gong and Rippey, came out on him” (Los Angeles Times, 01/02/1949)

Dinner Gong - HEADLINE San Carlos H. (2)

“The motives of Autocrat’s alleged foul in the San Carlos Handicap last Saturday are inconclusive. Shown yesterday to newspapermen at Santa Anita the picture disclosed that Autocrat gave Dinner Gong a good sock and then was taken off by Jimmy Nichols coming on to win handily by two lengths. The incident happened near the eighth pole as Autocrat was making his move on the outside of Dinner Gong and Rippey. The severity of the interference cannot be determined by the movies, however. It was so cloudy and hazy at the time the pictures were made that they are indistinct as far as the leg action is concerned. If Dinner Gong was badly knocked off stride that could easily account for his two-length defeat. And if he was thrown off stride it was a foul. Autocrat was the offender. Dinner Gong was pursuing a straight path. But the camera couldn’t cut the mist sharply enough to tell a conclusive story any more than the angle shots at the Rose Bowl.” – Paul Lowry (Los Angeles Times, 01/05/1949)

The mucky going in the San Carlos H. would set a trend for the Santa Anita winter season – in the seven races Dinner Gong would run at Santa Anita from January 1 through March 5, at least four were over off tracks.

Dinner Gong’s second start at Santa Anita was a seven furlong allowance on January 8. Carrying 118 lbs., his winning time of 1:21 4/5 was a new track record and equaled the world record for the distance set by Honeymoon and Buzfuz at Hollywood Park in 1947. Manyunk was second, with Mas-Miget finishing third in the field of eight.

Fresh off his track record setting/world record equaling effort, Dinner Gong would turn in the worst performance of his career, finishing sixth in the Pasqual Handicap (1 1/16 mi.) on January 15. Shim Malone would come home the winner over the muddy/sloppy going.

Dinner Gong’s final start of January was a third place finish behind Ace Admiral and Rose Beam in the $100,000 Santa Anita Maturity (1 ¼ mi.) on January 29. In 1963, the Santa Anita Maturity would take on a name well-known today – the Charles H. Strub Stakes.

FEBRUARY 1949
Remaining at Santa Anita, Dinner Gong returned to winning ways with a five length victory over Autocrat in the muddy going of the San Antonio H. (1 1/8 mi.) on February 12.  His final time was 1:49 3/5. The seven horse San Antonio field had attracted a fantastic slate of runners, including Ace Admiral, On Trust, Oration, and Vulcan’s Forge.

Dinner Gong - PHOTO San Antonio H. win LAT 1949.02.13 Dinner Gong winning the 1949 San Antonio Handicap.
Photo: Los Angeles Times, 02/13/1949

Dinner Gong - PHOTO San Antonio H. winners circle LAT 1949.02.13 Dinner Gong following his win in the 1949 San Antonio Handicap.
Photo: Los Angeles Times, 02/13/1949

On February 20, Agua Caliente released their final future book for the Santa Anita Handicap, naming Dinner Gong and War Trophy as 4 to 1 co-favorites. However, upon hearing of Dinner Gong’s stellar workout at the 1 ¼ mile Santa Anita H. distance that same morning, an amendment is issued later in the day making Dinner Gong the sole 3 to 1 favorite.

While the favorite of Agua Caliente, when Santa Anita Handicap day arrived on February 26, Dinner Gong would finish second to Vulcan’s Forge over the muddy Santa Anita strip. Miss Grillo (ARG) was third in the fifteen horse field. Also in the field was the stakes winning and future stakes producing mare Alablue.

Dinner Gong - Santa Anita H. (1)

Dinner Gong - Santa Anita H. (2)

Dinner Gong - Santa Anita H. (3) In pictures: the 1949 Santa Anita Handicap from start to finish.
Photos: Los Angeles Times, 02/27/1949

MARCH 1949
Dinner Gong would follow up on his second place finish in the Santa Anita H. with a second to Miss Grillo (ARG) in the San Juan Capistrano H. (1 ½ mi.) at Santa Anita on March 5. The San Juan Capistrano was reported to be Miss Grillo’s last race, as she was scheduled for a breeding with Alsab.

Stretch photo of the 1949 San Juan Capistrano Handicap.
Photo: Los Angeles Times, 03/06/1949.

As Santa Anita’s fifty day winter meet had now come to a conclusion, end of meet awards (as voted on by local turf writers) are announced in various categories. While Dinner Gong finished second (with 26 pts.) in the voting to Vulcan’s Forge (28 pts.) for “best horse” of the meet; he would dead heat with apprentice jockey Gordon Glisson for “outstanding development” of the meet.

On March 8, Dinner Gong arrives at Golden Gate Fields in anticipation of April’s Golden Gate Mile.

APRIL 1949
In the Golden Gate Mile (1 mi.) on April 16, Dinner Gong would defeat Miche (ARG) by one length in a final time of 1:36. While he was expected to contend the Forty-Niners Handicap on April 30, it is announced on April 25 that a slight temperature had kept Dinner Gong from the nominations. He is now expected to make his next start in the Golden Gate Handicap in May.

MAY 1949
On the evening of May 5, a fire would ignite in an elevator motor room at Hollywood Park and rapidly spread, destroying the top half of the eight-story, quarter-mile long grandstand and clubhouse.

Dinner Gong - Hollywood Park fire headline

With the summer meet scheduled to begin on May 17, a reported 580 horses, including stakes performers Honeymoon, I Will, and War Trophy were stabled on the premises during the fire. Stiff winds blowing in the opposite direction would keep the flames away from the stable area, and no horses were injured during the fire.

As the fire was contained to the top half of the facility, administrative offices located on the ground floor fortuitously escaped serious damage and no files were lost. The facility suffered at least six million dollars in damages, and reports indicate the spectacular flames drew more than 100,000 spectators during the height of the inferno. Three firemen were injured, one critically.

“The grandstand had been freshly painted, a factor believed responsible for the amazing speed with which the flames spread both north and south from the central elevator shaft, where the fire is believed to have started.” (Los Angeles Times, 05/07/1949)

“Investigators said tonight that new coats of paint and linseed oil used to shine up Hollywood Park for its summer season were responsible for the intensity of the flames which ravaged the track’s swank grandstand, clubhouse, and turf club.” (The Washington Post, 05/07/1949)

Dinner Gong - Hollywood at Santa Anita

“Upon learning of the disastrous fire, Gwynn Wilson, general manager of the Los Angeles Turf Club, operators of Santa Anita Park, offered “our full facilities to the Hollywood Turf Club for the operation of their meeting subject to the permission of the California Horse Racing Board. So far as our plant is concerned,” Wilson continued, “it can be made ready to turn over to Hollywood Park by next Tuesday.” (Los Angeles Times, 05/06/1949)

“By yesterday afternoon a shuttle system had been started between Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. Of the 325 horses training at the Arcadia strip, many did not plan to run at Hollywood, so they will merely trade places with some of the Hollywood horses.” (Los Angeles Times, 05/07/1949)

“An assembly resolution protesting the use of Santa Anita’s track by Hollywood Park was killed today in the Rules Committee. It had been introduced yesterday by Assemblyman Bruce V. Reagan, Pasadena, and asked the State Racing Board to deny permission to officials of the burned plant to use the Arcadia facilities. He said he had received many letters protesting the transfer.” (Chester G. Hanson / Los Angeles Times, 05/14/1949)

“A bill to allow horse racing tracks to transfer their meeting place following “catastrophic” occurrences such as the recent fire at Hollywood Park had Senate Committee approval today along with other horse racing bills. The measure by Sen. Ralph Swing (R) San Bernardino, provides that the State Racing Board may specify alternative places for meetings regardless of the number of racing days allowed for the designated tracks.” (Los Angeles Times, 05/14/1949)

Upstate at Golden Gate Fields, Dinner Gong has been assigned 128 lbs. for the May 7 Golden Gate Handicap (1 ¼ mi.), the highest weight of his career. He would finish fourth behind Solidarity, Stepfather, and Roman In. On his performance, “(Jockey) Jackie Westrope said Dinner Gong’s only excuse was the weight.” (Los Angeles Times, 05/08/1949)

Moving to Southern California following the Golden Gate H., Dinner Gong would end the month with a third place finish behind Ace Admiral and Bymeabond in the Argonaut Handicap (1 1/16 mi.) at Hollywood Park at Santa Anita on May 30. He would carry 124 lbs.

Dinner Gong - Argonaut H. finish Finish of the 1949 Argonaut Handicap. From right to left: Ace Admiral, Bymeabond, Dinner Gong.
Photo: Los Angeles Times, 05/31/1949

Miss Grillo (ARG), retired following her win in the San Juan Capistrano on March 5, arrived back at Santa Anita from Kentucky on May 31. Bred to Alsab earlier in the spring, the mating did not take. She was said to be pointing towards the upcoming Sunset Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup.

JULY 1949
After a month break, Dinner Gong would finish third behind Double Jay and Solidarity in the American Handicap (1 1/8 mi.) on July 4. With the Santa Anita strip proving to be lightning fast, Double Jay would equal the track record of 1:48 3/5.

Dinner Gong - American H. finish Finish of the 1949 American Handicap. From right to left: Double Jay, Solidarity, Dinner Gong, On Trust, Amble In, and Pretol. Esprit de France and Stepfather were out of the photograph.
Photo: Los Angeles Times, 07/05/1949

Dinner Gong would continue his string of losses with a fourth place finish behind Solidarity, Ace Admiral, and Pretal in the $100,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (1 ¼ mi.) on July 16 and a third place finish to Ace Admiral and Natural in the Sunset Handicap (1 5/8 mi.) on July 23.

Dinner Gong - Ace Admiral Sunset H. win

Ace Admiral’s final time of 2:39 4/5 for 1 5/8 mi. in the Sunset H. would set a new world standard for the distance, taking one full second off the world record set by Man o’ War in the Lawrence Realization Stakes at Belmont Park in 1920.

AUGUST 1949
Now having raced at nine different tracks in fifteen months of racing, Dinner Gong’s first appearance at Del Mar would come in the La Jolla Handicap (1 mi.) on August 6. Carrying 126 lbs., he would win by 1 ¼ lengths over Challenging and Prevaricator. His final time of 1:36 is a new track record, besting the standard of 1:36 1/5 set by Royal Crusader (carrying 113 lbs.) in August 1941.

Dinner Gong - La Jolla H. headline

On August 10, the 3-year-old Balladier colt Ky. Colonel would lower the then world record for 7f held by Dinner Gong, Buzfuz, and Honeymoon to 1:21 2/5 in the Sheridan Handicap at Washington Park.

Dinner Gong would run unplaced in the San Diego Handicap (1 1/16 mi.) on August 20. He had reportedly been running in bar shoes for an unknown number of races, and is said to have “spread a hoof” during the race. Jockey Jackie Westrope believed the injury occurred as the field was heading into the clubhouse turn.

Three days later, x-rays reveal that Dinner Gong’s injury is worse than initially assumed.

Dinner Gong - may be destroyed

“The foot injury suffered by Dinner Gong during the running of the San Diego Handicap last Saturday has proved so serious that the valuable son of Eight Thirty and Equilette may have to be destroyed. This became known late today after X rays of Dinner Gong’s injured right foot had been returned to Owner Abe (Murphy) Hirschberg and Trainer Frank Childs. The latter was in consultation with insurance men tonight. The X rays disclosed a bone fracture.” (Paul Lowry / Los Angeles Times, 08/24/1949)

As a result of his injuries, Dinner Gong is euthanized on August 24. While the hard-knocking Dinner Gong was a favorite of fans on the California circuit, and a horse who danced every dance, he would not receive a grand burial at Del Mar or Santa Anita or Golden Gate or Tanforan. He would not receive a marker displaying his name and grand accomplishments for future generations to remember and praise. His remains would instead be turned over to a rendering plant.

“Dinner Gong was destroyed last night, but he was not accorded the honor of being buried in the Del Mar infield as were War Valor and Direct Express, the latter a harness horse that died here more than a year ago.

Dinner Gong was hauled away to a rendering plant, sometimes referred to as a glue factory, after his right foot had been amputated by Dr. J. E. Peters. The ospedis bone in Dinner Gong’s right foot was broken during the running of the San Diego Handicap last Saturday, and an autopsy was to be performed after the amputation.

The disposition of Dinner Gong’s body is customary in the case of ordinary horses, but Dinner Gong was no ordinary horse. He had won more than $169,000, most of it for Abe (Murphy) Hirschberg, who purchased the son of Eight Thirty and Equilette from C. V. Whitney for $34,000 last year. The 4-year-old horse was insured for this sum.

Neither Hirschberg or Trainer Frank Childs knew where Dinner Gong’s body had been taken, but the latter assumed he had been buried in the Del Mar hills. Hirschberg said the matter was in the hands of the insurance company, and details were handled by its representatives.” (Paul Lowry / Los Angeles Times, 08/26/1949)

A GRAVEYARD FOR HORSES
“Racing gained no friends by the heartless disposition of the remains of Dinner Gong, a thoroughbred which had thrilled thousands of fans with his brilliant performances. He had earned more than $169,000 for his owners and he had been a big drawing card for many a race track. Hauling him off to a rendering plant is revolting to all lovers of the thoroughbred…” (Paul Lowry / Los Angeles Times, 08/28/1949)

Led by Paul Lowry of the Los Angeles Times, the local racing media was aghast at the ultimate end for Dinner Gong, and plans were formulated to establish horse graveyards at Southern California tracks.

“Graveyards for thoroughbreds, which will prevent a repetition of the heartless manner in which Dinner Gong was carted off to the “glue factory,” may be established by operators of Southern California tracks. The idea has been suggested to the managements of Santa Anita, Hollywood and Del Mar by the turf writers of Southern California after a deluge of unfavorable publicity which followed in the wake of the disposition of Dinner Gong’s body…”

“We suggest,” reads the letter, “that a plot of ground, not necessarily in the infields, be set aside where thoroughbreds that die as a result of competition during the course of the racing season may be buried. We suggest that Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, if they so desire, arrange a common burial ground; or, if they prefer, thoroughbreds that die as a result of competition at those tracks could be buried in the infields of their training tracks. If track operators so decide, the remains of the thoroughbreds could be cremated.”

“In the case of Del Mar, we suggest that a plot of ground to serve as a cemetery be obtained adjacent to the race track. We also feel that the race tracks should bear the expense of burying the thoroughbreds that die in competition during the racing seasons at their tracks, and that some sort of a stone bearing the name, breeding and a brief history of the thoroughbred’s racing record be erected over the grave.” (Paul Lowry / Los Angeles Times, 08/29/1949)

Dinner Gong - burial plot“Calling it the “greatest contribution to the public relations of racing in years,” the California Thoroughbred Owners and Trainers Association has heartily endorsed the suggestion of suitable burial grounds for thoroughbred horses. The idea was proposed by Southern California turf writers after the unfortunate and heartless disposition of the remains of Dinner Gong. Del Mar and Caliente already have subscribed to the plan to set aside burial grounds for aces of the turf which have thrilled thousands of racing fans.” (Los Angeles Times, 09/01/1949)

While the outcry was great, aside from the burial of a special select few on the grounds, no horse graveyards were ever established.

Dinner Gong - PHOTO prior to San Diego H. Dinner Gong prior to his final start in the 1949 San Diego Handicap.
Photo: Los Angeles Times, 08/20/1949

OTHER
Dinner Gong’s dam Equilette (1938 m. by Equipoise) was a half-sibling to major stakes winner Cravat (1935 h. by Sickle (GB)), as well as Jabot (1931 m. by Sickle (GB)), the dam of champion Counterpoint (1948 h. by Count Fleet). By Equipoise, Equilette was a full sibling to Equestrian (1936 h. by Equipoise), sire of champion and Hall of Famer Stymie (1941 h.). In addition to making his mark in Thoroughbred circles, Equestrian would go on to become a legendary sire in the AQHA ranks.

Dinner Gong’s half-sister Silver Fog (1944 by Mahmoud (FR)) became the dam of champion and Hall of Fame filly Silver Spoon (1956 by Citation) and the second dam of both State Dinner (1975 h. by Buckpasser) and Silver Buck (1978 h. by Buckpasser).

Other descendants from Silver Fog include Hail Bold King (1981 h. by Bold Bidder); Inca Legacy (1987 m. by Saratoga Six); Metfield (1988 h. by Seattle Slew); Star of Manila (1991 h. by Her Silver); Golden Arches (FR) (1994 m. by Common Grounds (GB)); and Catinca (1995 m. by Storm Cat).

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