The list of Hollywood Gold Cup winners reads like a “who’s who” of great handicap horses—Seabiscuit, Citation, Swaps, Round Table, Gallant Man, Native Diver, Ack Ack, Ancient Title, Affirmed, Cigar, and Lava Man.
More the pity that not many people easily recall Happy Issue, the first of only three fillies to win the Gold Cup. Racing during the 1940s, she was overshadowed by the likes of Vagrancy, Twilight Tear, Busher, Gallorette and Bewitch, but “Eppy Ish” was a beloved fan favorite with a Hollywood-style story, filled with both highs and lows.
Of modest breeding (Bow to Me-Achieve, by Insco) and apparently imperfect conformation, Happy Issue went from being a 2-year-old $1,500 claimer to a stakes winner of $225,424—sporting a record of 27 wins, 23 seconds and 22 thirds in 157 starts over the course of nine years. She often challenged the best of the best, and won or placed in nearly half of her races.
Ridden to perfection in the 1944 Hollywood Gold Cup by future Canadian Hall of Fame jockey Hedley Woodhouse, Happy Issue settled far back in the field of 13, before letting out like a sprinter in the stretch, passing early leader Okana and never threatened by runner-up Bull Reigh, world record holder for 1-1/16 mile.
In post-race comments, Woodhouse said: “When I saw [George] Woolf go to the outside with Paperboy, I looked for an opening along the rail. It is a little softer there than through the stretch and sometimes the horses swing wide to avoid it. I spotted my hole and through it I went. I had good luck, and that’s how I won the race with one of the hardest hitting and gamest fillies I have ever ridden.”
I love this passage later printed in Time magazine:
"After the race, his chubby French wife straightened his bow tie and Frenchy filled the ten-inch-across gold cup with water so that Happy Issue might quench her well-earned thirst. That evening, a dozen celebration guests straw-sipped champagne from the cup—and glowed with hopes for Happy Frenchy in the Santa Anita Handicap, scheduled to be run again March 3 for the first time since Pearl Harbor."
During her 4-year-old campaign, Happy Issue raced a whopping 21 times, culminating in winning the Gold Cup in a new track-record time (2:01 3/5). Her other significant wins that year included the Clang and Hawthorne Handicaps, as well as the Vanity. Leading up to the Gold Cup, she had finished a narrow half-length behind Vosburgh co-winner Paperboy in the sloppy American Handicap at Hollywood Park. In all, she banked $119,100 that year—including $61,425 from Gold Cup win.
Unfortunately, her 5-year-old campaign didn’t match its predecessor as she failed to win a single race. After a second-place finish in the Santa Margarita Handicap and a disastrous 18th place showing in the Santa Anita Handicap in early 1946—and with an apparent career as a broodmare beckoning—6-year-old Happy Issue was bred to her former opponent Bull Reigh. Thus, after little success since her Gold Cup win, it was with virtually no expectation that she was entered in the marquee event of Hollywood’s opening day card in May—and, in foal, paid $40.10 to win the Hollywood Premiere Handicap (now the Shoemaker Mile), just missing the track record by 1/5 second.
Every year that followed bore a familiar pattern. Happy Issue was bred, and yet could not conceive or bear a foal full term, so she returned to the race track. At age 7, the mare won the $10,000 added Burlingame Handicap at Bay Meadows—and finished second in the Beverly, Alameda, Oaklawn and San Francisco County Handicaps.
One of the more peculiar yet delightful aspects of Happy Issue’s story was her trainer-owner Jean Charles “Frenchy” Pinon. An Algerian-born former jockey in Europe and the United States, Pinon had never had a “big” horse as a trainer after more than a decade of plying his trade in the U.S., but he saw something special in that 2-year-old chestnut filly he claimed at Arlington in September 1942. Somewhat unusual for the time, Pinon not only worked his own horses, but served as groom as well. That way he knew his Happy Stables horses literally inside and out.
Taking it one step farther, in May 1948, after jockey Euardo Cotero backed out of riding 8-year-old Happy Issue in the prestigious 1-1/4 mile Handicap de Las Américas in Mexico City, 60-year-old Pinon applied for and received a jockey license—and rode his mare himself! Unfortunately, she never recovered from heavy interference early in the race, and finished well back. However, the day before, Pinon had “practically carried his mount Fate over the finish line” in winning the featured Premio Guayamas, receiving a rousing ovation from the crowd for what the Daily Racing Form (DRF) called “one of the finest exhibitions of horsemanship seen at the local track.”
Returning to Chicago after their foray in Mexico, Happy Issue finished third in the Arlington Matron Handicap, and seemingly repeated that performance in the $57,800 Hawthorne Gold Cup—only to be set back to fourth by the stewards after fouling Scotch Secret who was placed ahead of her.
She continued to race—and win—until age 10. On April 26, 1952, at age 12, Happy Issue finally birthed a live foal, a bay colt by Free America (of whom I could find no record). Bred back to Free America, she produced a colt named Tuna Capitol in 1953—the same year she was finally sold by Pinon, to John Madruga. None of her offspring amounted to much—Tuna Capitol did sire British Columbia Derby winner Hanko. Happy Issue died in 1964.
Sources and Notes:
Paul Lowry “Happy Issue Wins Vanity; Mutuel Record Set” Los Angeles Times, November 19, 1944, p. B5.
Paul Lowry “Filly Cracks Record; Bull Leigh Places and Okana Gets Show” Los Angeles Times, December 17, 1944, p. A5.
“Happy Issue First in $75,000 Gold Cup” New York Times, December 17, 1944, p. S1.
“Sport: Six-Figure Hunch” Time Magazine, January 1, 1945.
“Happy Issue Suit Settled” Los Angeles Times, April 12, 1946, p. 11.
“Happy Issue Mated March 13; May Next Start in Sequoia” Daily Racing Form, May 24, 1946, p. 1.
“Hipodromo Patrons Give Pinon Grand Ovation; 60-Year-Old Veteran Displays Perfect Form in Winning Race” Daily Racing Form, May 18, 1948.
“Billings, 7-5, Takes Rich Chicago Race; Favorite Leads Sun Herod by 1 ¼ Lengths at Hawthorne in $57,800 Gold Cup” New York Times, October 3, 1948, p. S8.
“Happy Issue Has Colt Foal by Free America; First Offspring for Only Mare to Win Hollywood’s Gold Cup” Daily Racing Form, May 9, 1952.
In March 1946, “Frenchy” Pinon’s former employers A.P. Kaiser and Stanley Smutzki (Victory Stables) sued him and his wife Louise, alleging that he had misrepresented Happy Issue’s physical condition in 1942 (telling them she was lame and unable to race again), and thus had acquired her from them by less-than-honest means (i.e. by convincing them to sell the filly to a third party, yet the filly ultimately ending up in Pinon’s wife’s name). In April the suit was settled in California Superior Court, with Pinon retaining ownership and all purse money won by his filly. A nasty piece of business that I’d love to find more about.
Sadly, according to the DRF, “Frenchy” Pinon worked the last 10 years of his life in the mutuel department at Hollywood, Santa Anita and Del Mar; he slipped into a coma after suffering acute heart failure in May 1967.