Keith L. Stucki, trainer of one of the greatest California-breds of all-time, Ancient Title, passed away at his home in nearby Bradbury this past Tuesday at age 96, according to his granddaughter, Shannon Hinkley.
“He lived a full 96 years, believe me,” said Hinkley. “He shared the same birthday as John Wayne, May 26, and he was always so proud of that. He met John Wayne on the backside here at Santa Anita many years ago. My grandpa would have been 97 next month.”
Stucki, patriarch of a fun-loving racetrack family that included three daughters and two sons, was born May 26, 1919, in Paris, Idaho. The son of a trainer, Stucki aspired to be a jockey and his first “big time” racetrack experience, according to Hinkley, came at Longacres, near Seattle.
Stucki then gravitated to Southern California, where he galloped the immortal Seabiscuit for trainer “Silent” Tom Smith.
Selected for induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2008, Ancient Title, a dark bay or brown gelding by Gummo, was foaled on April 19, 1970. He would go on to become a multiple stakes winner on turf and dirt, both sprinting and routing.
Undefeated lifetime at seven furlongs, Ancient Title first garnered national acclaim in 1975, when at age five, he won the Grade II, seven furlong San Carlos Handicap, the Grade I, 1 1/16 miles Californian (at Hollywood Park), the Grade I, 1 ¼ miles Hollywood Gold Cup, and, in a performance that proved pivotal in eventually persuading voters of his Hall of Fame worthiness, the Grade II, 1 1/8 miles Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.
Media savvy and quick with a quip, Stucki often referred to “Title,” with his hands stretched out to frame his face, as “The best horse who ever looked through a bridle.” Although Ancient Title retired with 24 wins from 57 lifetime starts, with earnings of $1,252,791, Stucki opined that his best-ever performance may've been a third place effort in the 1977 Oak Tree Invitational, run at Santa Anita over 1 ½ miles on turf.
Ridden by Darrel McHargue, Ancient Title forced the issue with champion Crystal Water every step of the way through splits of 24.20, 47.20, 1:11.60, 1:36.80 and 2:01 .60 and was coming back on at the wire to be beaten a neck and a nose, by Crystal Water and Vigors, with the final time reading 2:26.40.
Preceded in death by his wife, Lillian, sons Keith L. (K.L.) Jr. and Kevin, Keith Stucki is survived by his daughters Gaylord, Golly and Veronica (Charlie) and several grandchildren, including former World Champion Speedway (motorcycle) racer, Billy Hamill. Plans are for him to be buried in Idaho.
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