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Slain family's horse wins at track

January 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
It was an emotional day at Santa Anita for some victims of the Christmas Eve massacre in Covina. A horse belonging to the Ortega family ran what could possibly be its last race for them. The race brought some joy to grieving family and friends. The second race at Santa Anita Race Track Thursday generated special interest for a $40,000 claiming race, the interest was in the sixth horse, Return of the King.

The horse was owned by the JJO Stable. James, Joseph and Charles Ortega, were victims of the tragic Christmas Eve massacre in Covina.

The Ortega's were a racing family. When their horses ran, friends and family were there. Thursday was to be the last race for the family's one-horse stable.

"They're good people. We were close friends, and we used to socialize as well and they just, they were big race fans as well, he and his brother and mother, and they all just lived it," said trainer, David Bernstein.

Before the race one family member said the horse would be sold. The joy and their interest in racing was taken away by the tragedy Christmas Eve.

As the horses came to the finish line, Return of the King surged ahead and won. A large number of family and friends again lined the winners circle.

"Well the jockey said for the first time in his life that he was nervous. He had never been nervous before. I told him there were nine angels up above guiding him home, and he brought the horse home," said Jerry Rocha, Ortega family.

Jockey Martin Pedroza had ridden many horses for the Ortega's.

"I was very pleased because it's an emotional win. I mean, you can tell these people, they were nice people. They were very, very good to me," said Pedroza.

Return to the King was not claimed. Whether he remains in the JJO stable or is sold, the win Thursday lifted the spirits of a lot of people in need of an emotional lift.



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