It is with deep regret that the Anaheim High School Alumni Association announces the passing of Class of 1947 graduate and famed jockey Alex Maese. One of Anaheim’s favorite sons, Maese’s devotion to his alma mater never faltered. He faithfully gave back to his school since graduating 65 years ago and often drove several miles from his home at age 83 to attended Anaheim events and reunions, most recently the February AHSAA Golf Classic.
Beginning with his time as an AHS football player under Dick Glover, the energetic Maese enjoyed a long and distinguished career in sports. A professional jockey who raced in the Kentucky Derby, he was introduced to the equine world by a boyhood pal. This happened in the 1940s at a time when Alex was waiting for a promised growth spurt. He wanted to parley his career as an Anaheim High single-wing tailback to the college level. In an era when a really big high school player was 200 pounds, Maese hit his ceiling at 5-4, 120 pounds, keeping him from his goal.
Maese’s destiny was sealed when a family friend who owned horses urged him to try riding. It was no instant love match between Alex and horses. As he said in one of many newspaper interviews he gave during his career: “At the time, I had never been around horses, never ridden one and had no desire to do so again.”
But, after earning his license as a hot-walker with the Del Mar in the barn of trainer Bill Motler, Maese worked his way into a saddle and established a lengthy, rewarding association with the beasts he once scorned.
Not yet a full-fledged rider, Maese his took first win in 1952 aboard Broker’s Clerk. He went on to amass more than 2,000 wins in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. He made 18,571 starts as a jockey, won 1,981 times and accumulated earnings of nearly $9 million. He hit the heights as the regular rider of Terry’s Secret in 1965 when he won the $125,000 Hollywood Derby.
On the ride of his life, the following year Maese was honored with the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, which has been presented by Santa Anita since 1950 to the thoroughbred horse racing jockey in North America who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the racetrack.
Maese was known as a leader among track jockeys and employees. He helped solve disputes among riders and built camaraderie among riders by forming jockey football, basketball and softball teams. One of his most successful efforts was the creation an all-jockey football team that raised thousands of dollars for Little League, Pop Warner and numerous other causes.
At the age of 53, Maese made his last competitive appearance as a rider at Gates Fields in 1981. A mount slammed Maese’s leg into the starting gate, fracturing a femur and providing amble reason for the retirement Alex had already been considering.
While his riding career ended, he stayed involved with the equine world and devoted his time and talents to his community by participating in numerous golf tournaments and other charitable events. He will be greatly missed by his Colonist classmates.
May 14, 1929 – Alex is born in Anaheim.
1947 – Alex graduates from Anaheim High School, where he was an exceptional Colonist Letterman as a star football and award-winning track athlete. He also played on Colonist Championship Bee Basketball Team. Small but mighty, Alex is a key player on the ’46 Varsity Football Team as a kicker. After graduating, he comes back to AUHS to coach the Colonist “B” and “C” football squads.
The following is an excerpt from a newspaper article about Maese written by John Daniel in 1946:
“Alex Maese, diminutive back for the Colonists, is posting quite a problem for Dick Glover and the coaching staff. It seems that Maese weights only 110 pounds, though a senior, and therefore should be playing on the Cee squad. But Maese has an educated toe, which was tutored for many hours this past summer by Ben “Aggie” Agajanian who is still booting them for the Hollywood Bears. (Note: Agajanian also played for the Pittsburgh Steelers.) Maese is so good at putting the ball through the uprights that he kicked three points after touchdowns against Colton last Friday. Such a kicker is a handy man to have around, as many games are decided by the extra point. But whether to keep Maese on the varsity as a field goal kicker or else release him to the Cee team on which he should play to his size is the question that must be answered by the coaching staff.
Though Maese, himself, may have answered the problem last Friday night in a play that had nothing to do with kicking the ball. Glover sent him in during the third period when Anaheim had the ball down near the Colton line. Maese, who is one of the fastest men out for football at the school, was supposed to, according to plan, take the ball on a quick opening play and run through the line. Instead, quarterback Bill Koontz called for himself to carry the ball. Therefore it was up to Maese to throw all of his 110 pounds against some opposing husky tackle to clear a path for Koontz. Maese was game; he made the block and Koontz ran off tackle for the third touchdown. So perhaps Maese earned the right to remain on the varsity.”
1952 – Begins career as a jockey. His small stature, along with natural athletic ability, lead to a long and successful career.
Sept. 15, 1952 – Rides his first winner at Pomona Fair Grounds aboard a horse named Broker’s Clerk.
Oct. 3, 1954 – Alex wins six of nine races at San Diego’s Caliente Race Track. His top mounts include Mr. Grumpy, Francia, Little Pick, Republican Day, Caelia and Khal Me Gold.
Dec. 5, 1954 – Alex sets new riding record for 50 wins at Caliente.
Aug. 1, 1959 – Alex wins The Arlington Futurity riding TV Lark.
1959 – Alex wins the 14th George Woolf Memorial Handicap at Caliente.
1960 – Stakes Champion – Coming up the ladder at Caliente, Maese leads all other jockeys in stakes on California tracks, with a total of 13.
May 5, 1961 – Alex rides Ronnie’s Ace in Kentucky Derby and finishes in the middle of the pack. In another Derby Race, Maese rides Sea Orbit, the grandson of famed thoroughbred Sea Biscuit. Though not nearly as famous as his grandfather, Sea Orbit was the only one of Sea Biscuit’s 108 foals to have a successful racing career.
1964 – Wins Del Mar Futurity (second win) with Terry’s Secret. Del Mar Jockeys’ Roll of Honor.
July 26, 1965 – Riding Terry’s Secret, Alex wins the $81,000 purse at Hollywood Park’s Sunset Handicap.
1965 – Riding Terry’s Secret, Alex wins the Hollywood Derby for a $125,000 purse.
1966 – Alex is honored with the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award.
Jan. 1, 1966 – Alex wins the Santa Anita New Year’s Day $25,000 Malibu Stakes riding Terry’s Secret.
1966 – Terry’s Colt is fatally injured at Hollywood Park the following year while training for the Gold Cup. Maese had ridden Terry’s Secret in every race the horse ever ran, believed to be some sort of a record for a jockey.
1966 – Poltex Stable’s Carl Roles, Terry’s trainer for whom Maese always rode, dies.
Nov. 25, 1967 – Alex wins Bay Meadows Handicap riding No Host.
Jan. 18, 1970 – Alex wins The Phoenix Gold Cup at Turf Paradise riding Olympus Drive.
1981 – Injured at Bay Meadows, Alex retires after 29 years as a jockey at age 52.
1986 – Alex is inducted in the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame.
While there are many other achievements that could be listed, an article in a scrapbook kept for Alex by his wife Rosemary, captures the essence of this outstanding Colonist:
A BOY NAME MAESE
There was an Anaheim High School quarterback by the name of Alex Maese. He was slight and light as football players go. He never weighed more than 120 but his coach, the late Dick Glover, said Alex had the courage of a 250-pound linebacker. Maese knew he was too light for college football but he loved sports so much he looked around for some way to stay in them. He became a jockey. It wasn’t easy. A jockey just doesn’t start riding horses at the tracks. Alex came up the usual hard way – cleaning out stables, exercising horses. Eventually he became of the better riders on the West Coast. He became the jockey of a colt by the name of Terry’s Secret. No other boy ever rode Terry’s Secret. Maese won the $75,000 Del Mar Futurity on Terry’s Secret and then the Hollywood Derby for $125,000. Obviously the horse had a future in the handicap ranks. But one day during a routine workout, Terry’s Secret stumbled, fell and broke his leg. Maese went over his head but escaped serious injury. The horse ambulance came. Some how they got the stricken animal on board. When they did Alex Maese got in the van too. Late some of the other riders admonished Alex Maese, saying, “You’ve been around horses long enough to know that was dangerous.” Alex replied: “Yes, I knew that but Terry has been good to me and I wanted to be with him on his last ride.”