Racing Into History

Pan Zareta, Saturday, February 26th, 1916
Image by John Mendes, provided courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection, Gift of Waldemar S. Nelson.

In the infield of the New Orleans Fair Grounds are two small white obelisks inscribed with the names Pan Zareta and Black Gold. They mark the burial locations of two of the most popular and celebrated racehorses of the early 20th century.

Pan Zareta, the “Queen of the Turf,” won or placed in 128 of the 151 races she ran from 1912 to 1917, making her the winningest mare in history. She raced on 24 racetracks throughout the United States and Mexico and held the world record in five furlongs. Pan Zareta fell ill with pneumonia and died at the Fair Grounds on January 19, 1918, at age 8. Local horsemen quickly came together and petitioned to have this very popular horse buried in the infield of the Fair Grounds at the 16th pole.

Black Gold ran his first race at the Fair Grounds in 1923 as a 2-year-old and won 18 of his 35 career races. But it was his four-derby winning streak in 1924 – Kentucky Derby, Louisiana Derby, Ohio Derby and Chicago Derby – that catapulted him to fame. The following year, he was retired to stud. When that proved futile, an attempt at a comeback came in 1927, despite public concern about his condition. On January 18, 1928, back at the Fair Grounds racetrack, Black Gold was mid-race when his foreleg broke at the ankle, leaving no option but to euthanize him. Due to his immense popularity, he was honored with burial next to Pan Zareta.

Pan Zareta’s grave was first marked by the giant live oak she was buried near. Black Gold’s grave was originally marked with whitewashed stones set in a star shape. Both were marked by square stone monuments with a saddle atop each before the current obelisks were placed.

Both horses have races named after them, which take place at the Fair Grounds annually. Traditionally, winners of those races have placed their winner’s wreaths on their graves in honor of the legendary horses.

Texas-born chestnut Pan Zareta, pictured here in 1916 at the Fair Grounds, was named after Pansy Zareta, whose father was a mayor of Juarez and a family friend of the horse’s owner. She raced with a solid-gold bit, considered to be her lucky charm. Kentucky-born Black Gold was named after his dark coat and his owner’s oil rights-based income. He has been memorialized in both a 1947 movie and a children’s book from 1992; both are titled Black Gold.

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