The race may have fallen on a quiet afternoon at one of California’s less star-studded tracks, but when Star’s Woman passed the post first in the maiden special weight at Golden Gate this past Sunday, the victory was of monumental importance to Mike Stidham and all who have supported him throughout his 35-year career, for it marked his 1,500th career victory as a trainer.
“It has been a long hard journey to get here,” said Stidham, reflecting on the milestone. “But I’ve been able to do it because of the help I’ve received from a lot of good people. All along, I’ve had a lot of great people around me, great owners, great staff up and down the line, from the assistants all the way down to the hot walkers. It’s been very much a team effort.”
The thirty-five years that have passed since Stidham’s first win as a trainer back in 1979 contain more highlights than there are sticks to shake at them. There was his first ever Grade I victory as a trainer, when Two Altazano won the Coaching Clubs American Oaks – her third Oaks win in four months during a glittering summer of success in 1994.
“Two Altazano blitzed the field by rocketing far in front of Plenty of Sugar, who took second place by nearly two lengths over Sovereign Kitty,” wrote Joseph Durso in the New York Times the following day.
“Next for the traveling filly?,” Durso continued.
“‘The Alabama at Saratoga next month is one of our options,’ Stidham said, getting out the old itinerary. ‘We’ll probably go into either that or the Monmouth Oaks.'”
Two Altazano did indeed proceed to go on and win the Monmouth Oaks on her next start.
In 2006, super Sutra proved, if ever there was any doubt, Stidham’s unparalleled ability to coax that little bit extra from the fillies in his care. On only her third career start, Sutra under an inspired Michael Luzzi stormed to victory in the Grade I Frizette Stakes at Belmont.
“Though Sutra had been training over the Polytrack at Keeneland for the last two weeks, her trainer, Michael Stidham, decided to skip last week’s Alcibiades at that track and instead pointed her to Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 at Belmont Park,” wrote David Grening in the Daily Racing Form.
Grening continued: “Stidham’s decision looked ingenious after Sutra rallied up the rail under Mike Luzzi to win the Frizette by 1 3/4 lengths over 47-1 longshot Enchanting Star.”
Stidham’s very own recollections are a chocolate box of sweet memories, including Upperline’s multiple stake victories, but there is one achievement that gives him perhaps the greatest satisfaction.
“Probably the highlight for me was bringing over Manzotti from France, winning my first ever graded stake as a trainer with him, and then for him to go on and produce my first ever grade one winner, Two Altazano,” Stidham said. “That, for me, is very special. That really stands out. But there have been so many great days – it’s been a great ride.”