midcourt-horseAs of this writing, L.A. Lakers, basketball legend Kobe Bryant had passed away in a tragic helicopter accident. Because of this, jockey Victor Espinoza rode back on Midcourt toward the finish line, in purple and gold at Santa Anita’s San Pasqual Stakes. Midcourt, the 4-year-old, lunged to the front race and never slowed down, winning by three-and-a-half lengths. Midcourt has won five of his past six races while being trained by John Shirreff.

Speaking on the connection of Kobe and the horses, Lee Searing, the steel executive from Rancho Cucamonga said,

“We’ve named our horses after basketball and the Lakers for years,” Searing said. “Those last few years, the main reason I went to those games was to see Kobe.”


Speaking on Midcourt, Searing also stated,

“He’s a goofball,” Searing said, “He just didn’t want to train. If you could stand beside the barn and see the little things John puts him through, it’s amazing. Now he can’t wait to get out there and compete. And we gelded him, which helped. I’ve only had one other horse in the Santa Anita Handicap, so this is exciting. This is the best he’s ever run.”


Searing also thought of another of his stable, Kobe’s Back, who won five times in 26 races for him and brought in more than $1.1 million. In 2016 he won two stakes races at Santa Anita within a month. Searing never met Bryant but he did get a small note, relayed through a friend. “You gave him a good name,” it read.

Kobe’s Back also ran in a Breeders Cup sprint at Keeneland, and in 2015 he and Gary Stevens lost by a neck to Wild Dude in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship.

“If he’d won that one he’d be a stallion in Kentucky,” Searing said. “Now he’s a stallion in Maryland. But a lot of people have been asking me about him this week.”

Meanwhile, Searing has a buzzer-beating horse that could be playing well into the fall. But he was already looking ahead. “We have a filly named Lady Mamba, too,” Searing said. “So we’ve got to breed Kobe’s Back to Lady Mamba. I mean, that’s going to happen.”

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