In a fairer world, a book about Landaluce would cover more than just her spectacular 2-year-old season, where she went 5-for-5 and won four stakes races by a combined 46 1/2 lengths. The daughter of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew seemed destined for so much more during a campaign that caused racing fans all over the country, but especially in her southern California base, to dream big. Could she have beaten the boys in the Kentucky Derby? Could she have equaled or surpassed the heights of Ruffian, universally considered the best filly in American racing history?
Sadly, her career is overshadowed by two words: “what if?” Landaluce died from colitis X, a severe colon disease which nearly killed her sire, on November 28, 1982, before her career could truly take off. 40 years after her shooting star flew across the racing sky, author Mary Perdue puts her legend to print in Landaluce: The Story of Seattle Slew’s First Champion.
The book goes into great detail about her connections; almost 100 pages pass by before we get to Landaluce’s first race. Perdue gives the reader background on Spendthrift Farm, where Landaluce was foaled, her owners, Lloyd French and Barry Beal, and her trainer, D. Wayne Lukas. Previously a top quarter horse trainer, Lukas got into training thoroughbreds in the late 1970s. Though he had already enjoyed success, including a Preakness win in 1980 with Codex, Landaluce was set to be the horse to launch him into true superstardom.
Perdue paints each of her races against the backdrop of Landaluce’s increasingly excited fanbase, who showed up in great numbers for each of her races. “When race day arrived (for the Oak Leaf Stakes),” writes Perdue, “many of the cars came pouring into Santa Anita sported ‘I Love Luce’ bumper stickers, and some of the 37,000 fans who emerged from their vehicles in the parking lot wore green T-shirts with the same slogan.”
These fans, Perdue notes, were excited for Landaluce not just on her own merit, but as a symbol of the ascendance of California racing. For years, racing fans on the east coast had considered their product superior to that on the west coast, but the tides were turning. The Hollywood Futurity, inaugurated the year before, was worth $750,000, by far the richest race in California history. Recently renovated Hollywood Park would host the first-ever Breeders’ Cup in 1984. A filly like Landaluce gave California racing credence on a national stage, and if she soared to greater heights, all the better.
Although she was named the champion 2-year-old filly of 1982, it’s hard to not feel wistful when thinking about Landaluce’s career. She was unspeakably dominant, then gone in a flash. Through Perdue’s writing, fans can remember Landaluce not for what she could have done, but for what she did: run incredible races, leave lasting memories, and give southern California racing fans a horse to be proud of.