Mr. Ichiban is the epitome of the blue collar racehorse. Born in British Columbia, Canada, the chestnut gelding spent his career on the northwest coast, traveling the claiming circuit between Hastings Park, Portland Meadows, Emerald Downs and Kamloops race tracks. With 64 trips to the starting gate and 13 wins to his credit, he knew the game, and from all accounts, loved it and the people around him.
“His honesty and longevity made him a favorite of pretty much everyone he encountered at the track, including me,” said Ichiban's former jockey and current owner Anne Sanguinetti.
That's right. Anne was his jockey and is now his owner.
Anne Sanguinetti grew up in the San Fransisco Bay area and was bitten by the horse bug early. By the time she was five, her non-horse-inclined parents signed her up for riding lessons at a nearby stable.
“It was the afternoon of Halloween when I was eleven, and my mom and I were flipping through channels while carving our pumpkins and happened upon a telecast of the Breeders' Cup,” said Anne. “I had never seen a horse race before, and I was completely mesmerized.”
That afternoon began an interest that would shape the course of Anne's life. She began reading, watching and learning anything she could about horse racing . Before long, Anne would refuse to go to the barn on big race days until the television coverage had ended, which would infuriate her trainer, as Saturdays were typically their big jumping lessons, and what kid would put watching a horse race on television over jumping big fences on a real steed?
With a father who was an engineer and a mother who was a doctor, a racetrack was not a spot they typically frequented, but with Anne's prompting, that changed.
“My mom and I went to the races on Friday nights at Bay Meadows pretty frequently,” said Anne. “Once we discovered the Turf Club, it was perfect, because my mom could have dinner at a table with a waiter, and I could run up and down the stairs from the paddock with my racing form in hand.”
Even with Anne's interest in racing, she didn't lose the jumping bug, and she was good at it too. By the time she was sixteen, she was doing quite well with her junior hunter, and the plan was to sell him when she was in college and use the money to purchase an outstanding amateur/owner jumper. Tragically, her horse was critically injured in a trailer accident and could never be ridden again, and that jarring reality prompted Anne to really assess the trajectory of her life with horses.
“Although I loved the hunter/jumper world, I had this feeling that I really didn't have the talent, or size, for the Grand Prix jumpers, which seemed like it should be the ultimate goal,” explained Anne. “I remember my mom asking me at one point, ‘Don't they pay people to ride horses at the track?' I thought so, but I really had no idea.”
That summer when Anne was home from college on summer break, she decided to take a drive up to Bay Meadows during morning training hours and see what she could find out. She went up to the security guard at the gate and told him she wanted to learn how to gallop.
“Luckily for me, the man was a longtime track employee who knew everyone and for whatever reason was in the mood to help,” said Ann.
The guard told her to go talk with trainer Dennis Ward and pointed out in which barn she could find him.
“I went up to Dennis and said, “My name is Anne Sanguinetti and I want to learn to gallop, and I was told you could help me,'” recounted Anne. “Of course, this many years later I realize how insane it was of me to do that, but at the time I knew absolutely nothing of the track, so it didn't seem that crazy.”
Dennis asked Anne questions about her riding background, saw her small stature, and must have figured that it was worth giving her a chance. For the next three years, Anne galloped at Bay Meadows, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita for Dennis and his son, Wesley, and on the day after she graduated from Pepperdine University with dual degrees in Economics and Spanish, she rode her first race for Wesley Ward.
Anne won her first race in August of that year, and with that her career as a jockey was off and running. After relocating to Suffolk Downs in Boston for her bug (apprentice) year, she made the rounds, riding at Portland Meadows, Sam Houston, Presque Isle, River Downs, Turfway Park, Thistledown, and Mountaineer.
Fast forward to 2012.
Anne was riding at Portland Meadows and was named on a horse she had never ridden. His name was Mr. Ichiban and he was the favorite in a $1,600 claiming race on November 5.
“That first time that I rode him I was extremely sick and had a horrible cough,” explained Anne. “We ran a hard-fought second that day, just missing catching the winner. As I stood up after the race, I had started coughing so hard that I thought I was either going to pass out or fall off.”
Most racehorses would see this as an opportunity and take full advantage by either running off, ditching the rider, or a combination of the two. Ichi is not most horses.
“Ichi pulled himself up and just stood there, completely still in the middle of the racetrack until I stopped coughing and caught my breath. Then, he turned around and we cantered back for him to be unsaddled.”
Anne was blown away by Ichi, and his intuitiveness to know that something was wrong with her, and his willingness to help her. Anne and Ichi paired up twice more, finishing second and then winning in their third try together on the second last day of the 2012 Portland Meadows meet. As it turned out, that would be Ichi's final start, and the launching pad for his second career.
“By that point I had this crazy idea to buy him and take him home to California with me,” said Anne. “He shipped out of Portland to go back to Canada the next day. When I called the owner I think he was very surprised that the jockey wanted to buy his horse, but when I assured him I had no interest in running him and didn't even want the papers, he agreed to sell him to me for $1,000.”
As it turned out, Ichi wasn't as far away as Anne had thought. The van taking him to Vancouver had broken down and he was stranded at a vet clinic outside of Seattle. Several days later, Anne scheduled a van to bring Ichi to California and introduced him to the fancy equestrian center that he would call home.
“I gave him about a week of just playing in the round pen and then tacked him up and took him in the arena,” said Anne. “There was a jumping lesson going on and about eight horses in the arena with him. We just walked and trotted around, but he acted like he'd been there his whole life.”
Just two weeks later Anne took Ichi over his first cross rail and has since progressed quickly with his jumping, now jumping 2' courses and doing lead changes without batting an eye. The pair also enjoys trail rides in the hills above the equestrian center, and Anne has found one of Ichi's favorite moments of any trail ride to be standing on the top of the ridge looking out at the view.
Anne's plan had been to turn Ichi out at a friend's farm for the summer while she rode at Emerald Downs and then get him into his first show last fall, but on September 15, Anne was involved in a spill at Emerald Downs which resulted in a fracture of her L1 vertebra.
“I was finally cleared to start riding in January, so I brought Ichi back from my friend's farm to Castro Valley,” said Anne. “Incredibly, he was even better after his vacation than before!”
Anne's trainer has been impressed with his quick progress and ability and interest to learn, and Anne has enjoyed rediscovering her hunter/jumper roots. The pair plans to go to their first show in April and from there, the sky is the limit.
“I think it will be amazing to compete with him in the hunter ring after having won a race together,” said Anne. “I love that he won the last race of his career and that I not only got to win that race with him, but now we are getting to go on this new adventure as well.”
THE DEETS: MR. ICHIBAN (a.k.a. “Ichi”)
Horse: Mr. Ichiban (a.k.a. “Ichi”)
Born: February 27, 2005
Sire: Mass Market
Dam: Summertime Satin
Sale History: none
Race Record: 64-13-10-10
Race Earnings: $77,805
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