A hog wild day for Santa Ana runners during Baker to Vegas


As swan songs go, this was a pretty good one. Santa Ana Police Sgt. Dominic Padilla has been one of the driving forces behind the department’s relay team that competes in the 120-mile Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup race for law enforcement.

On Sunday, Padilla had the chance to run one of the best stretches: the 20th and final leg through the cool early-morning hours into Las Vegas, to the cheers of throngs at the finish line and into the embrace of his teammates. Known as the Glory Leg, or the Hollywood Leg, the last stretch is often a reward bestowed on high-ranking or dedicated members of the department.

Photo courtesy of the Santa Ana Police Department

Padilla, who has been running in the race for 27 years, got the honor in what he said was probably his last Baker to Vegas race.

“I wanted to bring it home for the team,” he said.

Anchored by Padilla, the Santa Ana Police Department team, nicknamed the Hogs, recorded a time of 14 hours, 45 minutes, 43 seconds, to claim 10th place in the Open Division and 13th place overall in the top race of its kind in the world.

With 258 teams and more than 5,000 runners from Canada and the United States, the annual relay race across deserts and over mountains between California and Nevada is not for all. But for a hardy bunch from SAPD the race has been a testing ground for their grit and fitness through the years.

And it’s not just the SAPD men. This year, for the second time, SAPD fielded an all-women’s team that captured seventh place in the women’s division in 18:31:25.

Photo courtesy of the Santa Ana Police Department

Santa Ana’s men’s team was able to cut a little more than 30 minutes off its overall time from the previous year and moved up one spot in the Open category and finished third among Orange County teams. The NYPD’s elite team was the overall winner in a course-record 12:19:43.

“We’re extremely happy and proud,” said Padilla, the team captain. “A lot of runners are ready to work out and come back next year.”

As positive as the performance was, SAPD was unable to regain local bragging rights that go to the winner between the Hogs and archrival Anaheim Police Department. The winner retains a foot-tall statue of a runner that reads “#1 in Orange County.”

Anaheim took seventh in the Open category in 14:05:33, edging eighth place finisher Orange County Sheriff’s Department at 14:10:57.

Photo courtesy of the Santa Ana Police Department

Unlike some previous years when a number of runners were battling injuries, Padilla said the Hogs went in and emerged mostly healthy. The team also benefited from several new runners who brought youth to the team.

Last year, Jim Rose, who had co-captained the team for years with Padilla, ran the final leg in his last year with the team.

Baker to Vegas is a race like few others. From a small two-lane highway 25 miles north of the tiny town of Baker, best known through the years as home to the world’s tallest thermometer, Baker to Vegas winds a dusty trail with more than 5,000 feet of net altitude gained before dropping into the glitter of Las Vegas. Over the years, Padilla has traced every mile of it in one way or another.

Photo courtesy of the Santa Ana Police Department

Baker to Vegas has become infamous over the years for unpredictable weather, and this year was no different. Unlike two years ago, when temperatures reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit on the tarmac, temperatures were cool, topping out in the mid-70s and dipping into the 30s overnight and at elevation. However, windy conditions caused problems in the afternoon.

“In the early legs there were high crosswinds and low visibility,” Padilla said. “It literally looked like a sand storm out there.”

According to race General Manager Ruben Crane, winds blew consistently at 40 to 50 miles per hour with higher gusts. The Santa Ana runners fought through it and at times were aided by the wind at their backs for stretches, which helped account for generally faster times overall.

In previous years, Santa Ana ran a second Open team, the Gorillas, which did not compete this year.

Photo courtesy of the Santa Ana Police Department

No sophomore slump

The SAPD women’s team cut its time and improved its placement in its sophomore season. The Foxes, as the Santa Ana team is nicknamed, cut about 8 minutes off their time from a year earlier, taking seventh place in the women’s division.

The Los Angeles Police Department women’s team won in 15:36:25 29, which was more than 20 minutes faster than its winning time a year ago. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department team took second in 16:13:04, followed by NYPD in 16:38:43.

The Santa Ana team was created in part thanks to the efforts of Officer Daria Osorio. There had been talk about a women’s team in earlier years, but no one had followed through.

However, as Santa Ana continues to recruit women to the department in its effort to increase its percentage of female officers to 30 percent by 2030, events like Baker to Vegas help get the word out.

Photo courtesy of the Santa Ana Police Department

Record pace

In the race’s 38th year, and third since the 2020 and 2021 events were canceled due to the pandemic, the New York City Police Department stole the show. Not only did the out-of-staters defeat the Los Angeles Police Department Elite team, the defending champion and winner of eight of the past 10 Challenge Cups, but New York’s finest shattered the course record, beating the previous course record by LAPD from 2018 by more than 17 minutes.

“They crushed it,” said Crane.

NYPD, running for just the second time since 2016, carved a remarkable 70 minutes off its time in 2023. LAPD, despite finishing ahead of its previous record pace, slipped to third place overall behind the California Highway Patrol Elite team, which clocked a time of 12:27:10. LAPD clocked in at 12:35:35.