Ralph P. Neves
Native Diver was an American Thoroughbred racehorse bred and owned by Mr. and Mrs. Louis K. Shapiro who had claimed his dam, Fleet Diver, the daughter of Devil Diver out of Our Fleet by Count Fleet. Despite the fact that her immediate lineage included members of Blood-Horse magazine List of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century (Count Fleet at no. 5 and Devil Diver at no. 55), as well as the fact that Fleet Diver had just given jockey Johnny Longden his 4,000th racing win, Our Fleet's claiming price was the small sum of $3,500. They bought the race mare in January 1954. Five years later she was to give them Native Diver, as wild and unpredictable and charismatic as any horse seen on Californian tracks. He was by Imbros, himself a good racehorse, having set a world record in the Californian Stakes of 1954.
He was called "the Diver," and though he never won outside California or brought home any championships, he was as much a matinee idol in his time as Silky Sullivan was a few years earlier. Unlike Silky, who raced when he felt like it, Native Diver loved to run. It seemed he merely tolerated his bit and rider, taking no commands. The Diver ran all his races full bore. Sometimes he lost, quite often he won, and his fans found every race he ran thrilling.
He was wild from the beginning, injuring his back in a youthful fit of enthusiasm. Often he ran holding his head high to ease the strain on his spine. He was gelded to calm him down, but it seemed to make little difference.
At two, Native Diver won his first three starts by a combined margin of 23 3/4 lengths and was on his way to setting six career track records. He set three of those records carrying a hefty 130 pounds. And he was a versatile runner. He could sprint at six furlongs or rate at nine, setting track records at both distances. He won stakes at six different California racetracks, being the second horse ever to accomplish that feat.
But his greatest feat, which he is most remembered for, took place at Hollywood Park in Inglewood. Native Diver won the Hollywood Gold Cup three times in a row, from 1965 to 1967, finishing faster each time. Jockey Jerry Lambert was on board for each Gold Cup win.
Still racing at eight years of age, his owners vowed to retire him when he started to slow down. Sadly, just eight days after he won the Del Mar Handicap in 1967, equaling the track record, he fell ill with colic. He was taken to the equine hospital at University of California at Davis, and died there the next day.
Native Diver won 34 stakes races, was the seventh racing millionaire, and the first California-bred to earn a million dollars. He is buried in the Garden Paddock at Hollywood Park under a monument designed by Millard Sheets.