A polished reinsman
by Susan van Dyke
Follow James and wear diamonds, bet
against him and sleep in Howard Street flophouses . . . Five-a-day James . . .
Polished reinsman . . . He might even defy the law of gravity, if he set his
mind toward it . . . Follow James . . . A boy with a good pair of hands and a
lot of judgment . . . One of the best race riders in America . . . A
firecracker with a delayed action fuse . . . Sensational.
ll of these colorful accolades
come from late 1930s newspaper clippings commending the riding prowess of
Basil B. James, the 2005 jockey inductee into the Washington Racing Hall of
From Bush Tracks to Big City Lights
He was born in Loveland, CO, on May 18, 1920 (and not
1918, nor in Sunnyside as many of the record books would have you believe) to
Lee and Gladys (Maxwell) James. The third of three children, Basil, his sister
Shirley and brother Harold were sent to live with their grandparents, Bert and
Lucinda James, after their mother died of appendicitis. Basil was just six
months old. His dad was a great rider of bucking horses at Pendleton
roundup and other rodeos . . .
Bert, the major influence in his life, was a migrant farmer who trained a few
horses that doubled as plow horses at the local bush tracks. The
family would spend the summer months in Washington, Montana and Oregon, and
winter in Arizona. The James family members were all short, and Basil
would grow to only 5 1 in his stocking feet.
Basil would always remember his grandfathers sage
advice, Sonny, always remember that the horse is your best friend. He
does not talk, and he may not be very intelligent, but he is flesh and bone.
The horses feels, like you and I. Always be kind to him, and you will never
Basil had only a sixth grade
education, which was not uncommon for those growing up in the Depression era.
I had been riding since I was old enough to
walk. In fact, I think my dad and granddad put me in the saddle before they put
me on my feet, said James in a 1937 interview in California.
His first unofficial win came either aboard his
grandfathers Sineta in Helena, MT, or astride Berts Cibble at
Salem. Reports are conflicting, but in either case he was just 14.
Well, they put me up on Cibble and I was so
scared it was a five-eights mile race on a half-mile track. Did I tell
you I was scared? Well, that doesnt describe my feeling. My knees where
shaking so that I guess old Cibble got the idea that I was a greenhorn and
chose to get me off to a good start. We broke well in a five-horse field race
and I simply hung on, James would later tell reporter George T. Davis.
Before I knew it we were out in front, and I realized it wasnt so
different from galloping around the exercise track. I can tell you I was the
happiest kid in the world when we hit the wire first and I moved into the
winners circle. Gee, when I rode another winner the next day two
wins out of three races I wondered how long that racket had been going
on. I saw visions of Earl Sande and Tod Sloan [Sande, a three-time leading
rider in the 1920s turned successful trainer, would later make use of the young
James talent; Ted Sloan made his hefty reputation as a rider at the turn
of the 20th century] rolled into one.
there, James went to the newly reopened Playfair Race Course in the summer of
1935 and rode his first official winner at that Spokane track
aboard Infanta on September 1, 1935. A year later, he lost his apprenticeship
while riding at Washington Park in Illinois. While the 1936 (covering the year
1935) American Racing Manual lists the then 15-year-old James as riding
freelance in 1936 and 1937, his contract was held by H. H.
Crosss Tranquility Farm. By 1938 he was employed by noted Seattle
airplane manufacturer William E. Boeing, who raced a very high class stable. He
soon would buy his contract from Boeing for $7,000. In later years, C.V.
Whitney would hold his contract and he would also ride for the likes of Fred
Astaire, Calumet Farm, Jock Whitney and Mrs. Damon Runyon.
Americas Champion Rider of 1936
James first stakes win came aboard A.C.T. Stock
Farms three-year-old Indian Broom in the April 11, 1936, $10,000
Marchbank Handicap at Tanforan against older runners and in world record
time. Top Row, who had won the second running of the Santa Anita Handicap in
his previous start, went off as favorite in the nine furlong stakes. But,
Jockey B. James made perfect disposition of the speed of Indian Broom. He
took his mount to the front at once, opened up a good lead under slight
restraint, and kept enough in his mount that Indian Broom could widen his
margin steadily through the stretch. He won off by himself, seven lengths in
front of Top Row, with 1935 Santa Anita Handicap winner *Azucar running
third. Indian Brooms 1:47 3/5 mark knocked three-fifths a second off the
previous world mark. Indian Broom would later run third to Bold Venture in the
Kentucky Derby, though not with James aboard.
August 1, James rode Calumet Farms Sun Teddy to a head victory in the
$10,000 Arlington Handicap. The 2:02 was the fastest 10 furlongs run to that
point in time in 1936.
James would earn his third
stakes victory aboard Jaipur (a son of *War Cry, not the one who memorably vied
with Ridan) at Bay Meadows on Thanksgiving Day. Just a few weeks prior to that
second stakes win, James was suspended until the end of the meet at Churchill
Downs, when on November 2, his mount Surveyor moved over on Biff in the stretch
and was disqualified from first to last. James, who was in a close battle with
Frank Chojnacki for the leading national riding title, actually lost little
time, as the Kentucky meeting ended just five days later.
James would win the national title as a 16-year-old
apprentice (see box) with 245 wins at 12 different tracks in California,
Kentucky and Illinois. Johnny Longden finished in second place with 212
victories, three more than Frank Chojnacki. James meteoric spurt
during September and part of October at Lincoln Fields where he averaged almost
two winners per day, and during the last weeks of October at Sportsmans
Park, where he actually passed Chojnacki, won him the championship. When both
riders resumed hostilities at Bay Meadows in November and early December,
Chojnacki was still within easy striking distance of the lead, but James
brilliant form continued . . . and James drew farther away with each passing
the first of his five appearances in the Kentucky Derby in 1937, when he
finished seventh to War Admiral while aboard J. W. Parrishs Dellor in a
field of 20. He won three stakes races that season, but only one, the San
Pasqual Handicap with Special Agent at Santa Anita where he was leading
rider for the meet was on the west coast. The other two were in
1938 would start out on a less than auspicious note, when on January 12 the
young rider was suspended for the remainder of the Santa Anita meet. The
California Racing Board later extended the suspension to 90 days. James
received the severe penalty for grabbing Herbert Litzenberger during the
running of the seventh race. The time out for the infraction would more
than likely cost him the mount on Stagehand, who James regularly galloped
during morning workouts for trainer Earle Sande. Stagehand would score a major
upset over Seabiscuit in that years edition of the Santa Anita Handicap
and later be named the nations champion three-year-old colt of 1938. It
was not the first, nor would it be the last, major suspension James would be
In a newspaper interview by Bob Herbert
that year, the young James was asked what was important in race riding.
Its all in knowing how to rate your horses - and knowing how much
hes got left for the finish, he said. The most important part
of a race is the start. If you cant keep your horse straight in the
stall, so that he can get away well, and if you cant keep him out of
trouble going around that first turn, you havent much of a chance.
Thats where most races are won and lost right on that first
turn, he remarked. James would later add, . . . but you got to have
a good horse, to the equation.
Though at the
time he was noted to be a strong whip rider, James preferred giving a horse a
hand ride to the finish. When you whip a horse, you turn his head loose,
and when you turn a tired horses head loose you cant tell
whats going to happen.
James would hit
the New York circuit for the first time in 1938. Later that year, he would be
astride Boeings top two-year-old Porters Mite when the son of The
Porter won the $3,000 Champage Stakes over the 6 1/2 furlong Widener course
after having skittered over the straight six furlongs in 1:14 2/5,
four-fifths of a second faster than the world record set by Menow in last
years Futurity. In their next outing together, James and
Porters Mite took the $25,000 Futurity at Belmont by a nose over Eight
Winnie OConnor, who had been
Americas leading rider in 1901, hailed the riding ability of James after
seeing him ride at Jamaica Race Track. Ive been watching that kid
and hes a natural if ever Ive seen one, said OConnor.
Perfect seat and a nice pair of hands on a horse. Horses seem to run for
him whether on the head end or off the pace, because he tries to help
James led the nation with 22 percent
winners from starters in 1938. Sixty-six of those winners came during an
incredible run at the Tanforan fall meet. His riding at Tanforan has been
practically flawless, wrote turf writer Oscar Otis. On at least two days
during the 25-day meet, James rode five winners. James amazing
percentage of 41 percent is considered a new high for any single meeting in
According to a newspaper
clipping of the time there were three reasons for James incredible
success. He was the best rider at Tanforan . . . He has a clever agent,
one Bones LaBoyne, who is also something of a handicapper. Bones
goes over the entries and selects the best mounts for James. Basil does the
rest. The other factor was the 40-odd head of Thoroughbreds in
James contract employer Boeings stable, where there were no
have a banner year in 1939, winning 10 stakes and leading all jockeys in the
country with $353,333 in earnings. He would also finish third in number of
winning mounts with 191, behind only Don Meade and Johnny Longden.
The former Sunnyside boy would be aboard Townsend B.
Martins Cravat when that runner became the 113th horse to hit the
$100,000 mark in North America and set a new track record in the $20,000
Brooklyn Handicap. Cravat and James were once again partnered for the $5,000
Jockey Club Gold Cup, in which Cravat came out smartly at the finish, and
won by a length and a half over *Isolater. James was also aboard John Hay
Whitneys Heather Broom when the Earl Sande-trained runner won the $5,000
Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Saranac Handicap later that summer at
Saratoga. In the Kentucky race, after being the distant trailer,
Basil James kept Heather Broom on the rail, which most riders at the
meeting consistently avoided, and saved ground around the turn. He then
sent Heather Broom up fast to catch Third Degree in the last 100
yards and win by a length.
James would also be the
jockey of choice for Falaise Stables good mare Red Eye when she easily
won the 69th running of the $5,000 Ladies Handicap (the oldest stakes
exclusively for fillies or mares in America) and the Gazelle Stakes.
Columnist Jack Guenther would later write of James,
As a stretch rider he has few if any equals.
James 11 major stakes triumphs in 1940 was a victory aboard Foxcatcher
Farms Fairy Chant in the $5,000 Gazelle Stakes. In a torrential rain
storm, she and James won the 1 1/16 miles stakes by five lengths. The daughter
of Chance Shot would later be named the nations champion three-year-old
filly and champion older filly or mare in 1941 as well. Other notable wins came
with Cant Wait in the Butler Handicap, Good Turn in the Sanford Stakes,
High Breeze in the Juvenile Stakes at Belmont, Parasang in the Saranac Handicap
and astride that seasons Kentucky Derby winner, Gallahadion, in the San
James was also aboard Whichcee
for that famous running of the Santa Anita Handicap in which Seabiscuit finally
got up for an emotional victory after running second twice in the $100,000
event. Whichcee, the second betting choice, ran third, beaten two lengths, in
the 10 furlong stakes behind the entrymates of Seabiscuit and *Kayak II. James
would lodge a claim of foul against the winner, saying Seabiscuit had cut
him off at the sixteenth pole, but the protest was not allowed. If the
claim had been allowed, rules of the day would have made Whichcee the winner,
as entrymates were considered as one.
the year with a six length win in the $10,000 Santa Susanna Stakes at Santa
Anita astride Mrs. Vera S. Braggs Cute Trick on January 18. The following
day, James gave a performance which would go down in California racing lore.
Basil James turned in a bareback
performance. He was moving up with Roman General, the four-to-five chance [in a
$1,500 claimer], in the stretch when the saddle slipped and the jockey lost
both stirrups. Leaving the saddle to its own devices, James sat down and rode
and won by a neck. Joe Hernandez got on the public address system and
called James unusual victory, one of the great feats in American
He would later be aboard C.V.
Whitneys good three-year-old colt Parasang for two 1941 stakes victories.
The first was in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct, where the pair set a new
track record of 1:23 for seven furlongs while running over a track labeled
muddy. Later that summer, James and Parasang won the Wilson Stakes
In what James would later declare one
of his most exciting moments in racing, the young rider would drive hard with
Louis Tufuanos Market Wise to defeat recent Triple Crown winner Whirlaway
by a nose in the $10,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup. The two three-year-old colts
exchanged the lead several times in the stretch with Wood Memorial winner
Market Wise prevailing in a new American record time of 3:30 4/5 for the
gone down in turf history as one of the greatest bargains of all time.
Purchased as a yearling for a mere $700 by Albert Sabath who named the
runner after himself Alsab would earn $350,015.
Alsab ran a strenuous 22 times as a juvenile in 1942,
winning 15 races, including 11 stakes and was named champion two-year-old. He
then almost immediately began his three-year-old campaign in Florida.
Noted author/illustrator C. W. Anderson would write,
No three-year-old in years had been asked for so much and had given so
generously. He poignantly added, If a little less had been asked,
there would have been more to give.
was, Alsab went to the post 23 times at three. James was the rider of choice
for all three of the son of Good Goods efforts in the Triple Crown. Just prior
to the Derby, James had ridden Alsab in the Chesapeake Stakes and finished
second by a length to Colchis over a cuppy track.
On May 2, 1942, 15 three-year-olds faced the starter in
the 68th Kentucky Derby with favoritism going to the Greentree Stable
entrymates of Shut Out and Devil Diver. Lukewarm second choices, both at
$5.10-to-one, went to the non-coupled colts Alsab and Requested. James had been
confident going into the race that Alsab would wear the roses. According to the
Derby chart, Alsab, taken to the outside after a half-mile, started up
after three-quarters and closed resolutely to head Valdina Orphan. But in the
end it was Shut Out who won the race by 2 1/4 lengths, with Alsab second.
The 67th running of racings second jewel, run
only one week after the Derby on May 9, saw 10 runners making the call to post
for 1 3/16 miles race. In his ninth start of the year, Alsab finally got his
first win. But oh, the press mutterings that were heard before and after
Alsabs long overdue win were colorful and opinionated, to say the very
On the night before the Preakness
Stakes, a frequently heard jest in Baltimore was, Lets run out to
the track; they might work Alsab again. . . . seldom has there been such
practically universal criticism of a horses conditioning as there was of
Alsabs. Some of it got in print, some was hardly printable. Trainer
Augustus Swenke got off pretty lightly, most of it going to Albert Sabath and
his friends notably Al Jolson who were often referred
collectively as Alsabs trainers. Sports writers were most
vociferate about it all, but many a horseman shook his head and vowed
off the record, of course that he had never seen a good horse so badly
managed. Nowhere was James vilified in the proceedings.
The report continued, On the following afternoon,
Alsab swept down the Pimlico homestretch with a smothering rush, drew clear at
the end, and won what was, by 1 1/5 seconds, the fastest Preakness at the
present distance. The track record, only two ticks faster at 1:56 3/5,
was set by Seabiscuit when that runner vaulted to victory over War Admiral in
the famous Pimlico Special (match race) of 1938.
In the race itself, Alsab, which was knocked
against Valdina Orphan [who later became T9O Ranches first stallion] at
the start and had got none the best of it, was next to last the first time
past. . . Requested soon took the lead from Apache, and Alsab still
had but one horse beaten as they straightened in the backstretch. As
Requested drew clear in the final turn, Alsab moved at last. He picked up
two more horses before he reached the turn. Coming to the furlong pole Alsab
had reached full stride, and he rapidly cut down the field ahead of him . . . a
sixteenth from the finish it was a question of how much would Alsab win by, for
he was running much faster than anything in the field. The official
margin was one length with Requested and Sun Again dead-heating for second.
James would say after the victory, I knew I
was home at the quarter pole. He was a great horse today.
Coming from second to last, and superlatively
ridden by Basil James, Alsab drive past the field to win going away . .
., wrote Thoroughbred Record editor William Robertson.
In between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, Alsab
and James went to Belmont Park for the mile Withers Stakes. In a stakes report
of the race, it was commented: After the Kentucky Derby at 1 1/4 miles,
and the Preakness at 1 3/16, and with the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes next in
prospect, the one mile Withers Stakes ($15,000 added, three-year-olds) at
Belmont Park makes no kind of sense as far as training routine is concerned,
since horses already up to 10 furlongs, and getting ready for 12, are asked to
drop back to eight. Nevertheless, the Swenke-trained Alsab won the race
by 2 1/2 lengths.
Just one week later, Alsab, bet
down as the .40-to-one favorite, went forward with six others for the Belmont
Stakes. Leading up to the race much of the criticism had died down due to
Alsabs sterling performances in the Preakness and Withers. Alsab
was about to become a super-horse again, and when someone asked Basil James
about his mounts chance, he answered, You mean how far well
win, dont you?
It was a
different story the Monday after the race, the Associated Press frankly stated
that Alsab had been overtrained, and matters were back where they
started. As for the Belmont, Eddie Arcaro, aboard Shut Out, was told to
wait on Alsab and then move with him. By the mile post, Shut Out
held the lead by a half-length over Alsab and thats how they stayed, with
Shut Out defeating the game Alsab by two lengths.
Alsab would race 11 more times at three, including
seven more wins (all in stakes) and gain his second year end champion title. At
four, he won one of five starts and was unplaced in one try at five. By the
time of his retirement to stud, the hickory Alsabs record stood at
25-11-5 from 51 starts.
The Rest of 1942
Besides his Preakness victory that May, James was also
the winning rider aboard Market Wise in Americas premier handicap
[when] tradition, class of horses, and severity of test considered
in the $30,000 Suburban Handicap on May 30. It marked the richest
running in the history of the 56-year-old event. Attending the Suburban that
year was the largest crowd in New York history and they proceeded to
break the state record for betting on one race and the national record on
betting for one day of sport. Favoritism in the 10 furlong stakes went to
Calumet Farms 129 pound highweight Whirlaway and the fans second
choice was Market Wise, with 124 pounds, including James in the irons. James
kept his mount closer to the pace than usual and in the final stretch slipped
Market Wise down on the rail. Before the eighth pole had been passed, Market
Wise held the lead and while Whirlaway was boiling down the track,
fourth, gaining in every stride, Market Wise won by two lengths and
was pulling away from the entire field, including Whirlaway.
Uncle Sams Army
World War II changed the life of many a young American
man, and Basil James was no exception. He was inducted into the U.S. Army on
August 28, 1942 and just a day later, when his former classic mount Alsab was
winning the American Derby, James was taking his second Army physical. A
newspaper clipping of the day written by Harry Grayson said, Basil James
will miss the winter season, of course, but is happy to ride for Uncle Sam, the
greatest trainer of them all, until victory is achieved.
Even with his abbreviated year, the New York Turf
Writers Association named him the countrys leading rider of 1942.
James was sent to Ft. Robinson, NB, which was the
largest U.S. Army Remount Depot in the 1930s and would process most of the pack
mules used during the Second World War. While there, he broke horses and
mules for the army, but managed to ride in a few races at many
local fair meets.
stationed at the fort, several former riders got weekend passes and furloughs
to ride at some of the bush tracks in the west. Some of the
memorable tracks included Columbus, Mitchell and Harrison, Nebraska; Lusk,
Wyoming; the Bot Stot Stampede in Sheridan, Wyoming and Billings,
Montana, wrote Hildebrandt.
During the war,
the fort also served as the armys primary dog training center and
was a major internment camp for German prisoners of war. Several top
young riders spent their war years in middle America. Other members of the Ft.
Robinson jockey colony included Louis Hildebrandt, who became a good personal
friend of James and later would win the 1946 Flamingo Stakes aboard Round View;
Ira Hanford, who had won the 1936 Kentucky Derby on Bold Venture; his brother
Carl Hanford, trainer of future great Kelso; Bobby Dotter; and Ed Connolly.
Polo also became a part of their daily routine.
Colonel Carr, the commander of the depot and who was
considered a topnotch horseman, kept the former riders busy and
safe at home.
It was during his stay
in Nebraska that James met, courted and married his future wife Grizelle, a
very pretty blonde who worked as a bank teller in a local bank in Crawford. The
couple would later have two daughters, Jacqueline and Charlene.
the war, James set up shop in New York. In the meantime, his former agent Bones
LaBoyne had become the agent for Arcaro. There were hard and hurt feelings when
LaBoyne decided to stick with Arcaro, instead of returning to guide James
career. Arcaro would later add leading money riding titles in 1948, 1950, 1952
and 1955, to those he had already earned in his pre-LaBoyne days in 1940 and
Among James dozen stakes wins in 1946
were six aboard Hirsch Jacobs $1,500 claiming treasure Stymie, a victory
aboard dancer/actor Fred Astaires Triplicate in the $100,000 Hollywood
Gold Cup and a win with Mighty Story in the Discovery Handicap over the great
In late July, James had flown in from his
New York base to ride Triplicate, a five-year-old son of Reigh Count, in the
California race after his regular rider Job Jessup had been suspended. James,
who reported after the race, We got all the breaks, edged out Louis
B. Mayers great mare Honeymoon by a neck in the 10 furlong race. The
final time of 2:00 2/5 equaled the Hollywood Park track record.
James was aboard Stymie through much of his
five-year-old season. The pair won the Edgemere Handicap at Aqueduct, the
Gallant Fox Handicap at Jamaica, the New York and Manhattan Handicaps at
Belmont and the Saratoga Cup and Whitney Stakes at Saratoga. In the August 31
running of $15,000 Saratoga Cup, Stymie became the fourth horse to win the 1
3/4 mile race in a walkover. Stymie won the 45th running of the Manhattan
Handicap over Pavot with that years Triple Crown winner Assault
dead-heating with Flareback for third in the $25,000 stakes. Stymie and James
also finished second to Assault, Arcaro up, in the $25,000, winner take all,
In 1947, James ranked fourth in
the nation in monies earned. Among his 80 victories was a win aboard his
gallant partner Stymie in the $25,000 Metropolitan Handicap. Champion distaffer
Gallorette, whose connections were never afraid to run her outside of her sex,
In 1948, Pavot, with Arcaro in the
saddle, evened the score on James and Stymie when he defeated him in the
$25,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Basil James, Stymies rider, is a
superior reinsman, and possibly no jockey could have avoided the predicament
created by Arcaros tactics, which was to make Stymie make the pace.
Arcaro knew that the son of Equestrian disliked the front-running chore, is
also at a disadvantage behind a slow pace. Cinderella Stymie
would eventually retire with 35 wins in 131 starts over seven seasons and the
title of worlds leading money winner ($918,485).
From 1949 until 1955, James would record nine more
stakes wins, including two prominent New York stakes on the good juvenile Ferd
in 1949. His last recorded stakes win came at Pimlico in 1955, when he was
astride Alberta and George Gardiners English import *St. Vincent when he
set a new American record in the $25,000 Dixie Handicap at Pimlico.
Retirement from Racing First, Second and
James retired from riding
the first time in 1956 and moved back to California where he opened up a
restaurant and bar in Arcadia called Basil James Handicap. In 1959, he and
Grizelle divorced and he went briefly back to riding. He tried training for a
short spell, but found himself not enough of a well-rounded
horseman to carve a success in that demanding profession, according to
daughter Jackie Hogan.
Hogan recounted that as a
child, she, her sister and her mother were not allowed to go to the track to
watch him ride. James told them, It was his job. How he made his living.
If I was a fireman, you wouldnt be coming to the firehouse.
I was raised the child of a famous athlete,
said Hogan, remembering the heady days in California when people like actor
Mickey Rooney and Buster Wiles would come to the house. He was a very
unique little man, she added. He called a spade a shovel!
Hogan finally got to see her father ride at age 18
when her visiting Aunt Shirley took her to Santa Anita one day. (In 1969, Hogan
began her career in horse racing, first as a hotwalker and then with a small
vanning company in California and later Washington. She was noted for her
ability to handle rough colts and stallions. At first, she didnt tell her
father of her racetrack activities, but of course he later found out. When he
did, he cautioned his daughter to Always conduct yourself as a lady when
on the backside.)
In the fall of 1960,
James nephew and namesake Basil Frazier (son of his sister Shirley and
her husband Don Frazier) was struggling as a jockey after recently losing his
bug. Uncle James suggested they go to the east coast, where he
would serve as the young riders agent. They first went to Florida for the
winter racing and later up into the mid-Atlantic states. Frazier vividly
remembers the respect the elder horsemen gave his uncle, especially in New
Greatness exuded off of him. If you
put him in a room with a group of people, they would gravitate towards
him, remembered Frazier.
ended after the better part of two years and James went to ride at the newly
opened Finger Lakes in 1962. Later he would take his tack to Agua Caliente,
where sometimes the two Basils would compete against each other.
Frazier also remembered his uncles sometimes
dual nature. He could be somewhat cranky or perverse, though he was
privately immensely proud of his nephew. When I won the Longacres Mile in
1974 [aboard Times Rush], upon returning to the jocks room, he was
waiting in my corner. I was expecting something like nice ride, but
true to form, he said, Well, that horse made you look pretty good.
Coming from Uncle Basil, that was high praise indeed.
Other memories of his uncle were warmed by his
out-in-out generosity. My dad was a rider also, but never the caliber of
Basil, Frazier continued. He was relegated to the bushes and
it was always a struggle of survival. But one thing you could count on; every
Christmas there would always be gifts from Basil and Grizzelle, and they would
always be something special. As much of a curmudgeon as he could be, he was
always generous with his success. Especially with me. There have been occasions
when someone was angry with me and said something like, Youre just
like your uncle. I always took it as high praise.
Back in Washington
In 1963, Longacres president Joe Gottstein journeyed to
the Mexico track to offer James a position with his organization. The horseman
would be a devoted member of the Longacres family for 30 years.
James served as assistant clocker and as a film race
analyst until Longacres closed in 1992. He was also employed as film analyst at
both Playfair and Yakima Meadows.
Hogan, James maintained his strong work ethic throughout his years at
Longacres, rising early every morning to be at the clockers stand by
5:00., home for lunch, and then back at the track by 1:00 p.m. to work as film
analyst. The racetrack was his life, said Hogan.
In 1967, James was installed in the Washington State
Sports Hall of Fame. As of today, only two other racing figures are in this
elite group and neither one of them racetrack and horse owner Joe
Gottstein or breeder Harry Deegan came from an athletic category.
In 1982, James was diagnosed with oral cancer. He had
radical surgery in March of 1983 and remarkably by May of 1983 was back part to
work part-time at the Renton track. Though his voice box had to be removed and
he had to eat with a straw, he never missed work, said Hogan.
When the track wasnt running, James was an avid
fisherman, and liked to work with his hands. He was good with wood,
said his daughter. He also loved cooking and cookbooks.
On April 10, 1998, James died in a Des Moines nursing
home at age 77. He had suffered from Alzheimers disease the last few
years of his life. His youngest daughter Charlene (Saffaf) died seven years
later in February 2005. Today, he is survived by his daughter, Jackie, of Kent;
her half-brother Basil James, of Seattle; grandchildren Jess James Hogan and
Miranda James; his nephew Basil James and various other nieces and nephews.
Famous turf writer and radio announcer Clem
McCarthy once wrote of Basil James during his riding hey-days: If you
took a vote among modern-day jockeys and asked them who theyd like to be
built like . . . same size . . . theyd probably tell you, Basil James.
And his is the face of a typical high-class race rider. As to pugnacity,
theres a bit of the battler in him, and a touch of the diplomat . . .
James knows when to take a desperate chance . . . and when to sit cool and bide
his time. Such a rider is not made, but born . . . and too few of them are
Special thanks to Jacqueline Hogan and
Basil Frazier for sharing their insights and memories of their famous father
and uncle, respectively.
Sources: 1947 Year Book of
the Jockeys Guild; various editions of American Racing Manual;
various editions of The Blood-Horse; The History of Thoroughbred
Racing, by William Robertson; Riders Up, by Louis Hildebrant; The
Smashers, by C. W. Anderson; various issues of The Washington Horse;
and many 1930-1940s unaccredited and undated newspaper clippings.
for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.