My grandfather was a tough business
man. He built a seafood empire from the bottom up. He was a big time guy,
said Steve Sebastian, who was very close with his grandfather growing up.
He was tough when it came to business and was very disciplined and smart.
But he was also a very warm, charasmatic and loving guy.
Sebastians original office sat on Pier 24 in
Seattle before he later moved to a building in the downtown area. Many of the
boats from his fleet are still active in the Northwest. Steve recently found an
old photograph of the fishing boat Robert S, named after
Steves father. Steve had never seen the boat in person, even though he
had fished on most of them as a teenager. Earlier this year, Steve finally
spotted the Robert S at the Fishermans Terminal; proof that
his grandfathers legacy lives on, years after he has passed.
The Sebastian-Stuart Fish Company was sold in the early
1960s, a few years before Sebastian passed away, but much of the operation had
been liquidated cannery by cannery, fleet by fleet, before that time.
wife Evelyn moved to Seattle from her native England in 1918. The two had a
son, Robert B. Sebastian, and a daughter, Margaret.
He was very devoted to my grandmother,
Steve Sebastian said. He was a very doting husband, always respectful of
her. They were always very respectful of each other.
Sebastians son Robert passed away in the early
1970s, and daughter Margaret moved across the country and later lost touch with
the family. Steve believes his aunt has passed away, and he has not been able
to locate his cousins. Sebastians other grandchildren Steves
two siblings Rob Sebastian, who currently lives in Ohio but is moving to
Florida, and Judi Johnson, who lives in Everett.
In the early 1930s, Seb, as he was known to many of his
friends, had a few saddlebreds that he and his daughter loved to ride. While
his fish company may have been his first duty, his first love was always
animals. I love horses and dogs. Im happy just to watch them and
pet them, the elder Sebastian said in 1964.
Anyone who knew Seb had the utmost respect for
him. He was a very special and distinguished man. I never heard him raise his
voice, and he always conducted himself with great dignity, said Ralph
Vacca, retired general manager for the WTBA and co-owner of Doo Dah Stables.
All the times I saw him he always had on a starch white shirt, a tie,
jacket and his hat. He was proper, polite, quiet and generous.
When Sebastian first got started in the Thoroughbred
business, he claims he didnt really study bloodlines and bought three
cheap Washington-bred weanlings. A year or two of trying to win races with
those choices was enough, and he decided it was time to either get some real
good ones, or get out of the racing business all together.
I remember going to the farm with my grandfather
. . . he would always talk to the horses and had a true affection for them. He
had a personal relationship with each one of them, Steve Sebastian
commented. Everything he did, he had a passion for. He would read and
read and read. He really educated himself about horses.
A Trip to Keeneland
entered the racing scene on a large scale in 1944 when he went to the Keeneland
sales and purchased 14 yearlings. He was really the first Washington breeder to
go out and acquire high quality horses at the Kentucky sales. It was often said
that his foresight and success was a shining example of a breeder who looked
ahead to ensure his production would meet the requirements of the future. He
had originally bought only 13 at Keeneland, but was encouraged not to go home
with an unlucky 13. The 14th yearling, which he purchased for
$1,200, was Galla Damion, who, ironically put the Kirkland breeder on the
racing map. As a three-year-old, the son of Sir Damion set a new world record
for seven furlongs and was considered one of the early favorites for the 1946
Kentucky Derby and was the oustanding prospect for the $100,000 Santa Anita
Derby. He was a three-time stakes winner of $69,790 and later would become a
significant sire in Washington.
was my grandfathers favorite. He turned out to be quite a horse for him.
My grandfather even had a set of drinking glasses made with etchings of Galla
Damion on them, which I still have, Steve Sebastian said.
In May 1964 Sebastian told the story of his purchase of
Galla Damion to this publication, then called The Washington Horse. As
he told the story, it was the last night of the sale and he was seated in the
audience at Keeneland. His companion, Fred Veysey (manager of the Olympic
Riding and Driving Club of which Seb was a member), returned to their hotel
tired from a long day at the auction. I saw the last one and he looked
like a big, overgrown horse, Seb said. He wasnt much on
looks. The bidding on him started at $1,000. When I raised two fingers, the
auctioneer asked if I meant $2,000. I said, No $1,200. No
one else bid. The next day, Seb took Fred to see his new purchase. Veysey
took one look and began shaking his head, Pretty plain-looking horse. He
sure doesnt have quality, but he has quantity!
Six months later, Veysey called on the phone from Santa
Anita and told Sebastian, Youve got a stakes winner.
Sebastian knew right away he meant Galla Damion, the overgrown horse he bought
on a whim to round up his yearling purchashes. The entire 14 head cost
Sebastian $26,200, which Galla Damion practically paid off with his first
stakes win at Santa Anita.
Somebody has to
start something, somewhere. Making that trip to Keeneland was a novel,
cutting-edge move at that time, Vacca informed.
Galla Damion continued to improve and it wasnt
long before offers were being made to purchase the young horse. But Sebastian
turned a deaf ear and refused to sell him, no matter how large the offers got.
When Galla Damion was injured in a freak accident
in California, everyone, veterinarians included, advised Seb that he would
never race again and should be put down. But Sebastian would have no part of
that either. Attempts to heal the torn flesh of the young stallion were in
vain, as he kept re-opening his own wounds, so Sebastian turned his efforts
over to an Army veterinarian at Fort Lewis who used a kangaroo thong and large
buttons to close the wound. Galla Damion was laced up and on the road to
recovery. The giant stallion never got the opportunity to demonstrate his
promised racing potential, and since he was never able to race again at the
same level, he began his stud career at Sebastian Farm. It was no secret that
some very flattering offers were made to Sebastian to stand Galla Damion in
other states, but the Washington horseman stood his ground and continued to
embark on a program that would bring fame to the Thoroughbred industry in the
My memory as a
12-year-old was that my grandmother Evelyn always held a resentment against the
other horse that injured Galla Damion at Santa Anita, Steve Sebastian
When Sebastian turned to breeding in 1950,
Galla Damion became the strength of the farm. Sebastian had offers from mare
owners as high as $2,000 a season for the studs services. Student Prince
was another 17-hand stud at the Sebastian Farm, bought at the same sale as
Galla Damion, but Sebastian sold him in 1952 to I.V. Chelin, a Seattle broker.
The Other Claims to Fame
Sebastians stable was a great one to work
for, said John Chatalas, who started working for the Kirkland breeder in
1952 as a hotwalker when he was 15 years old. Chatalas later progressed to a
groom before getting a job as a flagman at Longacres. I was so grateful
to be able to work for Sebastian. I was the only kid they ever hired and I
Another significant member of
the yearlings purchased at Keeneland turned out to be Dusky Chance,
Washingtons 1962 broodmare of the year and dam of four stakes winners,
two of which went on to become state champions. Her leading earner, Dusky
Damion, a son of Galla Damion, won or placed in 18 stakes races in Washington
and California and earned $171,650. Dusky Damion was horse of the year in 1962
and was the leading money earner in 1963. In 1964 the horse was titled the
king of Washington-bred money winners when he ran third to
Inclusive and Mr. Consistency in the $50,000-added San Luis Rey Handicap at
Sebastian was a good loser, and
a gracious winner. His stable raced a lot of really, really great horses,
Dusky Chances second champion,
Dr. John H., was bred by Sebastian and named after his cardiologist, but was
raced through most of his career by Ned Skinner and Melville Jack
McKinstry. Dr. John H. is the only horse that ever came close to sweeping
Longacres top three events in one year, as he won the Washington Futurity, the
Longacres Derby and finished second in the Longacres Mile at age three.
Dr. John H.s sire, Stage Glitter, another of the
14 yearlings purchased at Keeneland, was a stakes winner. Although his career
only covered 24 races over a period of three years, it included a stakes win
and a stakes placing against the best of the 1948 western three-year-olds, in
which he won $20,465. Chatalas remembers Stage Glitter as an onery horse who
had steel bars on his stall that he was able to bend.
Another horse in that group of 14, was Blue Tiger, who
drew zero interest at the Keeneland sales, so Sebastian snatched him up for
$2,000. Blue Tiger, trained by Rhodes Donnell, won the 1949 Longacres Mile in
Sebastians colors (Galla Damion finished fourth in the $18,200 race). A
winner of 20 other races, including the Seattle Handicap and Independence Day
Handicap, the gelded son of Tiger earned $64,550 for his owner. Blue Tiger was
another big horse, well over 17 hands tall, and often needed to be backed in
and out of his stall because of his large size.
1949, Sebastian had two more Kentucky juveniles in his barn at Longacres. Don
Dean and Don Shamrock, both sired by the Cup horse Challedon. That same season,
Rhodes Donnell stated, Racing is a whole mess of maybies.
Maybe one of these babies will run to the moon. Maybe
C.J. Sebastian was asked once if he would have done it
any differently, and his response was No. Ive never paid a big
price for a horse. Ive always looked for their conformation and breeding.
There are just as many good yearlings that are bought cheap as there are
$40,000 horses which never get to the races. I like a mare with guts too. Not
one that had won a lot of races, but one that showed she had heart.
Donnell became Sebastians farm manager and helped
raise and train Cold Bay, Mr. Seb, Dusky Night, Miss Seb, Tarnada, Dusky Spark,
Dusky Damion, Galla Alla, and Stage Actress, among others at the farm.
Donnell passed away at age 56 in 1959, only days after
he had been hurt transporting a horse from Longacres to the Sebastian farm. The
horse he was hauling escaped the trailer and Donnel was injured in the
incident. Complaining of chest pains before entering the hospital, he would die
several hours later as a result of pneumonia.
Everything had to be in perfect shape when
Sebastian came to the track. It was a big deal when he was there,
Chatalas said. He was a very kindly man. He left a lot of things for
Rhodes Donnell to run. Im sure the two of them saw eye-to-eye. Nothing
was ever too good for the horses. They were well-kept and well-cared for.
Sebastian was among the top 10 breeders in
Washington beginning in 1953, ascending to third in 1959 and second in 1960.
Seb was named 1963 Washington turfman of the year and was the leading
Washington breeder by earnings three times in 1961, 1962 and 1963 (also by
races in 1963). As of the year 1963, Sebastians total lifetime earnings
as a breeder had reached $499,812. 1963 was also the year that Sebastian-bred
Thoroughbreds earned more purse monies than the 346 other Washington breeders
when he amassed $90,321. To top it all off, Sebastians homebred Dusky
Damion was at the top of his game.
remember how respected he was at the track. There was always a stream of people
coming to talk to him and say hi, Steve Sebastian said. Everybody
knew him . . . he was a real presence.
Through 1966, C.J. Sebastian was the second leading
breeder of all time with $623,465, behind only Herb Armstrongs
$1,038,422. The following year he dropped to third place with $631,234, behind
Armstrongs $1,058,152, and narrowly behind T90 Ranchs $633,304. He
served nine years on the Washington Horse Breeders board of trustees and was
the associations president in 1957.
takes good sportsmanship on the part of all people in breeding and racing to
make it the high class sport and industry that we all want it to be,
Sebastian noted in an interview in 1963. Be friendly, respect the other
fellows position and feelings, deal fairly with your help, track
management, the officials and the public, negotiate differences, and work for
improvement by bargaining. I dont believe in strikes or violence, threats
Leaving It All Behind
Sebastian sold his farm and breeding stock to Skinner
and McKinstry in 1961 after he had suffered from some bouts of serious illness.
Included in the transaction to Swiftsure Stable were 33 Thoroughbreds and his
40-acre ranch and breeding farm located near Kirkland. The amount of money
involved in the purchase was never disclosed, but it was believed to be the
largest single expenditure made at that time for Thoroughbred holdings in the
history of the state of Washington. Today, Evergreen Hospital stands in the
location where Sebastian Farm once stood.
Ironically, the first year in which Sebastian finally
topped the breeders list was also the year in which he sold the farm.
Sebastians love for the Thoroughbred
couldnt keep him away, and he again entered the yearling market in 1963,
this time in Washington. In 1964, his horse Alation won the Washington
Futurity, earning the biggest purse ever garnered by a two-year-old in the
Pacific Northwest at that time ($21,620).
Sebastian continued to race on a modest scale up until
his death on Saturday, November 25, 1967, at age 82. His wife, Evelyn, had
preceded him in death just five months earlier.
Today, making a quick jaunt across country to purchase
yearlings is no big deal, but back in those days, the trip was no small feat.
When Sebastian decided to travel to Keeneland, his idea was to improve the
breed and contribute in a positive way to the Thoroughbred industry. He was a
great leader and pioneer of his time, and was a very large part of the growth
of the industry in post World War II Washington. It may not be so obvious
today, but his actions and decisions certainly have trickled down into
todays world of racing.
to think about what one person can accomplish with a vision for the future and
a will to see something suceeed. C.J. Sebastian left behind the kind of legacy
that not every man could have left, and he did the things that not every man
would have done.
for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.