The Oak Tree Racing Association may be gone, at least for now, but it is not forgotten.
At the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association’s annual awards dinner at the Westin Hotel in Pasadena Monday night, Oak Tree was named the winner of the first annual Frank “Scoop” Vessels Award of Merit.
Vessels, a prominent Southern California breeder of racehorses, died at the age of 58 when his small plane crashed in eastern Oregon on Aug. 11, 2010.
Accepting the award on behalf of Oak Tree was the association’s esteemed executive vice president, Sherwood “Chilly” Chillingworth, along with Oak Tree president John Barr and several members of its board.
Oak Tree conducted a fall meet at Santa Anita from 1969 through 2009 and another at Hollywood Park in 2010. Santa Anita, beginning last year, conducts its own fall meet.
Oak Tree hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in 1986, ’93, ’03, ’08 and ’09.
The association, which over the years has contributed more than $26 million to projects benefiting racing, was created in 1968 by Clement L. Hirsch, Louis R. Rowan and Dr. Jack Robbins. Chillingworth has run the association since 1988. Barr was elected president of the board, replacing Robbins, in May of last year.
The CTBA named Acclamation as its horse of the years. The Eclipse Award winner in the older male category is owned by Peter and Mary Hilvers and E.W. “Buddy” Johnston and trained by Don Warren.
Another winner announced at the dinner was Leigh Ann Howard, a former CTBA president and general manager of the San Luis Rey Downs training center in northern San Diego Country. Howard was presented with the CTBA President’s Award by current president Sue Greene.
A little side note: This reporter and Howard are both from Lindsay, a small agricultural town in the Central San Joaquin Valley. My parents and her parents were very good friends. Howard's mother Mary and my father both sang in the same church choir and Mary Howard also worked with my mother at the local newspaper.
I was probably about 10 years old and Howard was around 14 when we last saw each other. We got reunited a few years ago when I interviewed her for a story for the Thoroughbred Times and asked if, by chance, she was originally from Lindsay.
I was sitting next to Howard Monday night when Greene began rattling off all her accomplishments. I said, "That's you." Howard was totally surprised.
Other awards winners that had been previously announced included:
--Trainer of the year Don Warren
--Stallions Unusual Heat, Tribal Rule, and Awesome Gambler
-- Cal-breds Ismene, Rousing Sermon, Teddy’s Promise, Burns, Amazombie, Ultra Blend and Acclamation. Amazombie, the Breeders’ Cup sprint champion, finished a close second to Acclamation in the race for CTBA horse of the year.
CTBA Hall of Fame inductees were Buddy Johnston and horses Brown Bess and Quicken Tree.