Saluting Art Wilson

Southern California racing received a shock last Sunday when one of its loyal friends unexpectedly passed.

For so many of us in the area, Art Wilson was more than a writer. He was a storyteller, historian, and a man who showed us how great racing is. If you read his Friday columns, long a staple in the Southern California News Group papers, you know that he covered a wide range of topics.

Indeed, we saw multiple sides to Art when reading his work. For example, Art the historian wrote about the legends of the sport. He made no secret that his favorite horse was Sham, and he made mention of the 1973 Santa Anita Derby champion more than once. Icons like Ruffian and Spectacular Bid were also subjects of Art’s work, but we were also told stories of horses not as familiar to race fans today. For example, Art recounted the tale of Vigors winning the 1978 Santa Anita Handicap, and how confident he was that Vigors would top his rivals that day. That confidence was well founded, as Vigors made good on his favorite status to capture California's most prestigious horse race.

But Art also showed a more personal side in his columns. He wrote of his dad, a fellow racing fan who had passed many years ago. Touching and poignant, Art told us where his love of the sport came from. It was easy to relate to because so many in racing were introduced to it by a parent. It is a love handed down from one generation to the next, and that was the case with Art. It was also a love he carried for the rest of his life.

But Art was also very topical in his compositions. He gave us rankings on Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic contenders, and drew us to the personalities that were truly special. He talked about Cody's Wish after the Breeders’ Cup last autumn. And in his last column, he paid tribute to Toby Keith, who had recently passed. Art knew full well the good that exists in Thoroughbred racing, and he showed us that good throughout his years in journalism.

It is said that people in racing wear different hats. Art was no exception, for he also served as a handicapper for the SCNG. You could find his daily racing selections as part of the consensus picks in the paper (which would later be moved to an online format). Art could pick winners, as his colleague, Kevin Modesti, commented on X last week. In what turned out to be Art's last card as a handicapper, he came up with English Danger in Sunday’s opener. It was a terrific call, as English Danger paid $19.40 for the win. That was the work of a seasoned horseplayer, but also of someone who absolutely loved the races. You do not handicap and find winners like that if you don't love this sport.

To give some personal perspective, yours truly had the privilege of talking with Art occasionally on Twitter (now known as X). On one occasion, he gave a positive comment on a Thoughts and Observations column that was posted on here, and that made my day. Along with being a fan of Art's writings, the fact that an experienced journalist whom I respected offered praise for one of my columns gave me immense pride. I am thankful to Art for that. He also gave me positive feedback, insight, and tips on another project, and I am thankful for him taking the time to help with it.

A couple of nights ago, the television program NCIS paid tribute to actor David McCallum, who had portrayed the character of Donald "Ducky" Mallard on the show for many years. One of the characters questioned that all we have after we pass on are the stories we leave behind. But that is not entirely true in Art's case.

Granted, Art gave us countless stories via the newspaper. But he is more than a writer and storyteller. He was a friend to the sport and to many within it. Just read some of the comments people posted on X or in articles on racing websites that reported his passing. He was popular on the racing scene, and highly respected as a journalist and as a person. He symbolized the good that is in this sport, and that is quite the legacy.

We all owe Art a debt of gratitude. He is already missed, but he will also be around when someone reads his work or thinks of him.

Thank you, Art.

Published by Support California Horse Racing, February 22, 2024