ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 20, 2011)—Santa Anita Park will honor recently retired newspaper handicapper Jerry Antonucci by naming Saturday’s fifth race “The Jerry Antonucci Purse.” The race is for older horses who are entered for a $12,500 claiming tag at one mile, and offers a purse of $16,000.

Antonucci, 64, is well known to Southern California racing fans, as he handicapped races and covered racing for 37 years, first with the defunct L.A. Herald Examiner in 1973. When the “Herald” folded in 1989, Antonucci moved to the Orange County Register, where his graded handicap ran for 15 years. He also picked winners and analyzed races for the Carlsbad-based Today’s Racing Digest for 28 years, and hosted free handicapping seminars at Santa Anita up until his retirement this past summer.

“From my first assignment, covering the big meet here at Santa Anita in January, 1973 for the Herald Examiner, to my retirement last year, I really never thought of what I did as being a job,” said Antonucci. “I guess you could say it was a labor of love, because I truly loved every minute of it. The game changed over the years, but I always enjoyed getting the entries and trying to figure out how races were going to be run. The kicker was, I even managed to be right every now and then.”

It was Antonucci’s weekly contact with race fans, as host of the Digest seminars on Saturday mornings, that brought him perhaps his deepest satisfaction.

“My biggest thrill was to have an opinion about a horse I really thought would win,” he said. “The phrase I would commonly use was, ‘If this horse doesn’t win, my family won’t eat this week.’…and when I used that phrase, the horse won about 80 percent of the time.

“The seminars with its interaction with the fans—the people who consistently support horse racing in Southern California—probably is what I will miss the most.”

Although he’s looking forward to enjoying his retirement with his wife, Bonnie, Antonucci took a moment to wax nostalgic.

“When I finally made the decision to retire in September, I really started thinking back on some of the great people I worked with and some of the great horses and horsemen that I had the privilege to meet and cover,” said Antonucci.

“I think back to horses like Ancient Title and Crystal Water in the seventies. They were both Cal-breds and they both ran a lot and won big races. Laffit (Pincay) rode both of them and so did Sandy Hawley. We had so many great jockeys back then, Laffit, Sandy, Shoe (Bill Shoemaker), Don Pierce and later guys like Eddie D. (Delahousaye), Chris McCarron, Patrick (Valenzuela) and Gary Stevens.

“As for the trainers, Charlie Whittingham, Bobby Frankel and Wayne Lukas were the most dominant and in many cases, the most dynamic. Charlie always had a quip at the ready and Lukas was so organized, so driven. Frankel made the transition from claiming trainer to become one of the greatest stakes-winning trainers of all-time and he was a guy that you had to be in awe of.

“Until Zenyatta came along, John Henry was probably the most popular horse in all my time in the business. He was such a huge part of Santa Anita’s success in the eighties. Whenever he ran, he packed the house and I’ll never forget him winning the two Big ‘Caps (’81 & ’82) back-to-back.”

Antonucci ranked Zenyatta’s win in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita as the most electrifying racing moment that he ever witnessed.

“That was something that anyone who was here or who watched it live on television will never, ever forget. What she did for racing the past three years is hard to quantify. My wife and I are so, so glad she was named Horse of the Year, she richly deserved it.”

Antonucci, who overcame a brain tumor and subsequent infection late last spring, is currently in good health and will be joined by family and friends on Saturday.

“I’m starting to feel a little pressure. Everybody wants my cold-deck trifecta!”

First post time for a nine-race program on Saturday is 12:30 p.m.