THUMBS UP TO A GREAT CAREER – JOHN COOPER RETIRES AFTER MORE THAN SIX DECADES IN RACING
John Cooper, one of the top trainers in the history of Quarter Horse racing, will saddle his final horses and retire on Sunday at Los Alamitos Race Course. In a career that spans six decades, Cooper ranks fourth all-time with 1,520 Quarter Horse wins and third all-time with 121 stakes wins at the Orange County oval. That’s a lot of thumb up sings, his trademark pose in the winner’s circle and for the camera.
An Idaho native, Cooper (left) has trained some great horses in his career, including Champion of Champions winner Mr Doty Bars and champions Moonist, Chingaderos, Separatist and Sign Of Lanty. A winner of the 2016 Frank Vessels Memorial Award for his contributions to Quarter Horse racing, Cooper is also a member of the Idaho Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame. Cooper was part of the days when pari-mutuel Quarter Horse racing first became a reality in Idaho, and along with his wife, Carol, helped to establish the sport in the area.
"We built the track at the Green Triangle Ranch," he said. "This was our first chance to have pari-mutuel races - that's how I got started. We had been involved with Quarter Horses via chariot horses before that. Carol used to write up the charts of the races to send them to the AQHA. I worked as a valet; I worked in the starting gate; we were all just happy to have racing there."
Cooper made his way to Los Alamitos at the urging of trainer Blane Schvaneveldt in the late 1960s.
"I came with a horse named Uncle West, who won a couple of stakes races for us. They were having a two-week meeting at Los Alamitos, but I knew right then that we were going to come back.” Cooper made lasting relationships, working for the late Rod MacPherson, the late Ron Hartley, and Ron’s widow, Jeryl Hartley. His great horses competed at the top level for many campaigns.
“There have been 16 horses that have won more than 10 stakes races in their Los Alamitos career, and I’ve trained three of them,” said Cooper referring to Chingaderos, Moonist and Sign Of Lanty. “I think that says something.”
Cooper trained the great Tiny's Gay for his first three races, while also campaigning Mr Doty Bars, one of the most famous Champion of Champions winners ever. "We claimed him. He had some physical problems. We fixed his legs, and he went on to win the Champion of Champions."
Cooper and Carols raised and raced Chingaderos, who had great battles with the Bob Baffert-trained champion Gold Coast Express. Separatist was a tremendous colt, a champion and a runner that Cooper described as having great disposition. As for Sign Of Lanty, "He was just something else. He could run from behind or in the front. He was a champ,” Cooper said of the 870 champion. And then there’s Moonist, who Cooper referred to as a “Dandy.”
“He just kept getting faster and faster,” Cooper said.
Now 84, Cooper also won the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity with the Hartley’s Cartel Jess Rockin in 2019 and the Champion of Champions with Apollitical Pence in 2020. Aladuino and Black Fryday are among his other top winners. His final two starters will be Boondarbian and Insider Information in Sunday’s Southern California Derby. John and Carol have purchased a beautiful home on 2.2 acres of land in Nampa, Idaho.
“It’s time to retire,” Cooper said. “I feel good about it. I miss my family. They grew up without me. It’s time for me to give back and time for me to spend time with my wife and our children. My daughter lives just down the street from us. I’m happy about that.”