Charlie Whittingham, the greatest trainer the Southland and perhaps the nation has ever known, won the Hollywood Turf Handicap — a race renamed after the Hall of Fame conditioner before his death at age 86 in 1999 — a record seven times. Among his champions in the stake were Erins Isle (1983), Exploded (1982), Exceller (1978), Dahlia (1976) and Cougar II (1971).
On Saturday, fellow Hall of Fame conditioners Bobby Frankel and Neil Drysdale will have the copportunity to tie Whittingham’s mark when they saddle strong contenders in the 41st running of the $300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park. Frankel will saddle Midships, a gate-to-wire threat who won the San Luis Rey and San Juan Capistrano handicaps at Santa Anita this past season, and Drysdale will send out defending champion Artiste Royal, who can become the first horse to win the race more than once since John Henry won for the third time in 1984.
Drysdale was an assistant to Whittingham from 1970-74. In addition to Artiste Royal, his past Whittingham winners include Storming Home (2003), White Heart (2000), Storm Trooper (1998), Political Ambition (1988) and Both Ends Burning (1985). Frankel, who occupies the same barn that Whittingham trained out of at Hollywood Park, has won the stake with Denon (2002), River Bay (1999), Quest For Fame (1992), Exbourne (1991), Johnny’s Image (1979) and Life Cycle (1973).
This year’s Whittingham drew a small but contentious field of six, including Union Avenue, Liquidity, Globetrotter and Madeo in addition to Artiste Royal and Midships, the latter of whom might have things all his own way again on the front end if Liquidity chooses to take back in his first try on turf in 12 career races.