ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 8, 2009) – Racing for the last time in the name of James Ortega, the late Thoroughbred horse owner who was one of nine people slain in what has become known as the Santa Claus Massacre in nearby Covina on Christmas Eve, Return of the King scored a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the second race at Santa Anita on Thursday.

“I feel like I just won a $5 million race,” jockey Martin Pedroza said in the winner’s circle. “I’ve known the family for a long time. I wanted so much to win this race. It gave me chills.”

None of the Ortega family members was on hand. “It would be much too emotional for them to be here today,” said trainer David Bernstein. A number of family friends turned out, however, to cheer home the 7-year-old gelding.

Return of the King was the last horse in the stable of Ortega, 52, and was left to his son, James Edward, in a family trust. The chestnut gelding, according to Bernstein, will now be sold.

He was sent off as the 2-1 second choice in a field of six horses running for a claiming price of $40,000 and a purse of $33,400 in the six-furlong event.

Return of the King tracked the early pace-setters while running in third, took the lead at the eighth pole and drew off to a three-quarter length win over Professnl Courtesy. The winning time was 1:09.50. He paid $6.20 to win.

Claimed for $16,000 in October of 2006, Return of the King had earned just over $100,000 for Ortega before adding $19,800 with Thursday’s victory, his fourth in the turquoise and black racing colors of James Ortega.

Ortega was the brother of Sylvia Pardo, whose former husband, Bruce, broke into the family home dressed as Santa Claus and began the carnage that resulted in nine deaths by gunshot or fire before Pardo took his own life.

When racing continues at Santa Anita on Friday, it will be the second of the track’s Free Fridays which offer free admission as well as free box seating on a first-come, first-served basis. Included is a $1 menu featuring hot dogs, beer, sodas and pop corn. First post is at 1 p.m.