Bob Vukanovich

Bob Vukanovich
When it comes to predicting the winner of a horse race, few can do it as well as Surprise’s own “Arizona Bob.” Arizona Bob, also known as District 5 City Councilman Bob Vukanovich, has been handicapping race horses, rubbing elbows with owners, trainers and jockeys for more than 50 years. There are few people across the western United States that have as much time in the Winner’s Circle as Arizona Bob. “Horse racing is known as the ‘Sport of Kings,’ and I’ve always felt like a king,” Vukanovich said with a wide grin and a twinkle in his eye. “Of course, horse racing is about money for most people, but for me, it’s about the atmosphere around a race track. There is nothing like it.” Vukanovich, who lives in Kingswood Parke, was born in Los Angeles and moved to Phoenix when he was 1-week-old. He recently returned from the summer racing season at Del Mar Racetrack outside San Diego. Now in his 80s, he’s been handicapping thoroughbreds since the late 1940s. “It all began with a couple of classes I took after the war at Golden Gate Field, north of Oakland.” At some of the nation’s most prestigious race tracks, like Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, Vukanovich has cleaned stalls, groomed horses and made friendships with top jockeys, trainers and owners. He’s even owned racehorses. His close, personal friends read like a list of Who’s Who in the American horse racing industry … Willy Shoemaker, Bill Hartack, Eddie Arcaro, Pat Day, Laffit Pincay and Johnny Longden. All are inductees in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. Vukanovich, a long-time friend of the Longden family, gave the euology for Longden’s oldest son Vance, a leading trainer who died earlier this year. The elder Longden, who died one month earlier, was the first rider to win 6,000 races and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1958. He retired as the world’s winningest rider. “People began calling me “Arizona Bob” more than 30 years ago,” Vukanovich said. “They had a hard time remembering my name. I took the nickname so people could remember me. And it’s worked.” Tracks across California, and Turf Paradise in Phoenix, still roll out the red carpet when Arizona Bob arrives for a race. A private viewing box, complimentary refreshments and usually an invitation to the Winner’s Circle are the normal courtesies extended to Vukanovich. “It is the ‘Sport of Kings,’ and they treat me like a king.” So after playing the horses for more than 50 years, has Arizona Bob made any money? “You know, I’ve made thousands and lost thousands. I’m probably about even. But as I said, for me it’s not about money, it’s about the atmosphere.” Archives: February 2016

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