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Legendary Sprinter Pan Zareta Buried at Fair Grounds

November 17, 2010

Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, host of Friday's Bank of America Racing Challenge Championships, has been the site of Thoroughbred racing since the 1850s and is the oldest site of horse racing in the United States still in operation. Among the many famous horses that have raced there is Pan Zareta, a legendary sprinter whom fans of American Quarter Horse racing can claim as one of their own. Fans attending the Challenge Championships can pay tribute to the chestnut speedball, who is buried in the Fair Grounds infield.

Foaled in Texas in 1910, Pan Zareta was by the Thoroughbred Abe Frank, winner of the 1902 Tennessee Derby, and, though registered as a Thoroughbred, was out of the Quarter-bred mare Caddie Griffith. Winning races from Mexico to Canada, Churchill Downs to Saratoga, Pan Zareta made 151 official starts and won 76 times. She carried 131 pounds or more in 14 races and once won under 146 pounds. She was close to unbeatable while racing up to seven-eighths of a mile.

Pan Zareta raced for her breeder, Jim Newman of Sweetwater, Texas, who named her for Pansy Zareta, the daughter of a friend who was the mayor of Juarez, Mexico. Affectionately known as the “Texas Whirlwind,” “Panzy,” “Old Mom” and “The Queen of the Turf,” Pan Zareta secured her place in American Quarter Horse racing lore when she defeated the Thoroughbred Joe Blair in a five-furlong match race at Juarez racetrack in 1915.

Ridden by noted jockey Johnny Loftus, who would ride Thoroughbred racing's first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, and the great Man o' War in 1919, Pan Zareta carried 120 pounds, giving 10 pounds to her rival. Times were taken and bets were laid on every furlong. Pan Zareta overcame a bad start to catch Joe Blair and went on to win by several lengths. She earned $300 for the performance, and her time of :57 1/5 remained a world record until 1951.

Pan Zareta died of pneumonia in 1918 while in training at Fair Grounds and is buried, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “beneath a giant live oak … just inside the inner rail at the last sixteenth post.” Fair Grounds has run the Pan Zareta Stakes in her honor since 1966. The Texas-bred was inducted into Thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame in 1972. BY AMY OWENS