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Legendary Racehorse On The Move Even In Death

Del Mar will be the final resting place for the remains of a legendary racehorse unearthed recently at the now defunct Hollywood Park racetrack.

Aired 3/14/14 on KPBS News.

The remains of the first racehorse bred in California to earn more than $1 million was exhumed after nearly 50 years by a group of archeology students before being moved to Del Mar..

Native Diver, the first horse bred in California to earn more than $1 million and the eighth-highest earning horse of all time, was exhumed from his burial site due to the track's closure.

"Native Diver," who died in 1967, was the first racehorse bred in California to earn more than $1 million. Its remains were recently exhumed and moved to Del Mar by a group of archeology students.

The excavation was done by a group of archeology students led by University of Southern California anthropology professor Thomas Garrison.

KPBS Morning Edition's Deb Welsh asked Garrison about his department's response after having been contacted about the project by Richard Shapiro, the grandson of Native Diver's owner and breeder, Louis Shapiro.

Thomas Garrison: We were very surprised. We don't usually deal with things that are less than 50 years old. But at the same time we thought, 'wow, how cool. What a unique thing to be involved in.' So we jumped at the opportunity.

Deb Welsh: Now, you're on site at the Hollywood Park racetrack where the horse was buried; the exhumation process is underway. Can you describe the condition of the horse's remains?

Garrison: The horse was in incredible condition. It was magnificent. The skeleton was in amazing condition. We could see on the bones things that had occurred to the horse during the autopsy process, so there was really a lot of detail there. The whole skeleton was perfectly articulated and laid out, as we would expect it.

Welsh: Were there any kind of particular challenges this dig presented?

Garrison: Because the horse was buried 8-feet deep, we had to have a large pit excavated by a backhoe and the 40,000-pound monument to Native Diver had to be moved with a crane.

Welsh: I'm assuming the excavation's been complete. Do you, by any chance, know when the reburial will take place at Del Mar?

Garrison: My understanding is that they are preparing a new monument to Native Diver at Del Mar and they hope to reinter him just before the opening of the race season.

Welsh: Let me ask you this: If you weren't a horse racing fan before this project, are you now?

Garrison: I'm certainly intrigued. I've been watching all these videos of Native Diver's races and you can feel the excitement in the announcer's voice and see the crowd react. So, it's definitely something I would like to see in person.

"Native Diver" died from colic at age 8 in 1967, just nine days after setting a track record for nine furlongs while winning the Del Mar Handicap under 130 pounds.

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