Target parking lot hides a golden past
By R.E. Graswich
Funerals are nothing new at Riverside and Broadway. Four cemeteries near the intersection have welcomed local residents into eternity since 1849. But who knew one of Sacramento’s monumental early sports figures was buried across the street, under the Target store parking lot?
It’s true. This tomb contains no ordinary athlete. Buried at least 6 feet down near the middle of the parking lot is Yolo King, also known as the Big Horse With the Gold Tooth. He was among the best California thoroughbred racehorses ever.
My friend Bill Conlin was obsessed with Yolo King, though he never saw the horse run. Bill was the city’s most celebrated sportswriter during a 60-year career that began in 1937. He was the perfect scribe to chronicle an epic animal whose accomplishments soared into the hazy mists. Bill wrote Yolo King’s story a dozen times for the Union and Bee.
Yolo King tore up local racetracks for two decades in the early 1900s. Conlin loved local history and sporting lore. He knew ancients who watched Yolo King trounce opponents by absurd margins. Those geezers reminisced for Bill.
Conlin had an exceptional memory, but didn’t trust himself to remember every nuance, especially after long afternoons in the Hereford House bar, today’s Riverside Clubhouse, down the street from Target. When he wanted to get something exactly right, he produced a stubby pencil and made notes on a saloon napkin.
Bill died in 1997 at age 84. I have his Underwood typewriter and a few books from his library. He left notes between pages. Many words aren’t legible, but I can see “Yolo King” and “Big Horse With the Gold Tooth” if I close my eyes.
For Bill, Yolo King’s story was indelible. The horse was owned by Ed Kripp, a sportsman, nightclub operator and gambler who built the city’s most lavish baseball field, Buffalo Park, at Riverside and Broadway. Kripp lived across the river in Broderick. Yolo King lived with him.
In early days of the 20th century, three local race tracks kept sports fans busy. The fanciest track was Union Park, near 23rd and F streets. Woodland and Davis had race facilities. Yolo King was unbeatable everywhere.
Success had a downside for Ed Kripp. As much as he loved to win, he was a degenerate gambler who often lost. Yolo King wasn’t a gamble. He was a sure thing. But to make a reasonable profit while betting on his glorious horse, Kripp had to wager massive sums for minuscule returns. Supreme confidence generates short odds.
To ensure Yolo King performed with top efficiency, Kripp brought one of the world’s best riders, a jockey named Tod Sloan, to Sacramento. Sloan won stakes races across the U.S. He went to England and rode for King Edward VII. He opened Harry’s New York Bar in Paris near the opera house. Harry’s still draws a crowd. So does the Paris opera house.
Even with Sloan aboard, Yolo King wasn’t without issues. He developed dental problems, an ulcerated tooth. Kripp knew the tooth had to go, but didn’t trust Yolo King’s smile to any veterinarian. He hired the best dentist in town and ordered bridgework.
Here’s how Conlin reconstructs the scene: “‘This is a great horse,’ Kripp is believed to have directed his doctor of dentistry, ‘and for purposes of mastication on his hay and oats, he shall have nothing but the best. I want him to have a gold tooth.’”
Years later, when Yolo King died, the owner’s sorrow demanded a unique ceremony. Kripp hauled the horse to Buffalo Park on Broadway at Riverside, instructed crews to dig a deep hole around home plate, and laid to rest Yolo King, the Big Horse With the Gold Tooth.
If Conlin were alive today, he would insist the gold tooth is still down there, under Target’s parking lot. Bill lived long enough to see Buffalo Park change names, burn down and become a shopping center. He would know gold sells for around $2,000 an ounce.
Figure half an ounce for a big horse incisor. Enough cash for a day at the races.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.