Native Diver's final run to his new resting place - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Native Diver's final run to his new resting place

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - The remains of one of California's greatest race horses will soon be reburied here at Del Mar.

A team of archeology students from USC recently dug up the bones of Native Diver at the now-closed Hollywood Park.

In Hollywood Park's hay day, no one tamed the track like Native Diver.

Native Diver was a native Californian. Earning lasting fame after he won three straight Hollywood gold cups. It was only fitting he be laid to rest at the race track he ruled.

Decades later, Thomas Garrison is the caretaker of California's most famous race horse. That is, for now. 

"This is the skull of Native Diver. It was actually the last piece we uncovered," Garrison said.

Garrison is an archaeologist at USC and headed a team of students who dug up the prized horses remains. The dig comes as Hollywood Park prepares to be torn down. 

"We saw this as a really great teaching opportunity for our undergraduates because how often do you get a chance to dig something that's been in the ground for only 47 years and see this preservation," he said.

Eight feet under, it took the students two days to get all the remains. Their next stop will be the Del Mar racetrack, where once again they'll be laid to rest. 

"When we found the first bones coming out it really had a meaning in that sense," Garrison said. "Then we knew, well this was a very famous horse that was very important for a lot of people."

Dominic Garcia: So I'm curious, you specialize in the Mayan civilization, what was it like getting a crash course on horse racing?

"Well it was quite a different experience. It was really interesting and the Hollywood track you could tell had a great meaning in So Cal," Garrison said. 

Back in the day, Hollywood Park was the place to be. If you were here there's a good chance you'd see Cary Grant or Joe DiMaggio. And they say when Native Diver raced, 10 to 15,000 extra people would show up to watch the champ.

"It was sort of like being in a ghost track. Lots of stories. Yeah," Garrison said.

Stories like the one about the person who performed Native Diver's autopsy. He said he'd never seen a heart that big.

There's also this one - about how crews found the champ - still racing after being laid to rest. 

"His legs were out stretched, his front legs were running forward like this and his hind legs were sort of kicked behind him," he said. "As he came uncovered I said it still looks like he's running a race."

In the end, Native Diver won 34 stakes races. The champ died at the age of 8 after falling ill to colic, eight days after winning the Del Mar Handicap.

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