THE OUTSIDE RAIL | by Joe Clancy

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Fast, slow, friendly, mean, large, small, English, Irish, American, filly, mare, gelding or stallion, the horses always mattered to Betty Merck. She grew up riding ponies, graduated to fox hunters and point-to-pointers, became a racehorse owner at 75 and led the National Steeplechase Association owners’ list at 89.

“I love to spend time with horses,” she said simply in 2009, when asked to explain why she was involved as an owner. Merck backed up that statement by retiring her horses, frequently to her farm in Bedminster, N.J., and giving them as much care and respect in retirement as they received while racing.

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It might have been the best track record in Thoroughbred history – an easy time to remember, in a historic race, at a historic venue and in bold/daring fashion. And now it’s gone.


But that doesn’t mean it will be forgotten.

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Thirty feet in the air on a lift fixing a gutter on the barn, Jack Fisher heard Connor Hankin call out, “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?”

The trainer looked down and said, “Why, what’s going on?” It could have been anything, really. A loose shoe on a horse, some broken tack, a stuck tractor, Roscoe the donkey was lost, maybe Hankin had an exam to study for and would have to miss the next week’s jump races. But Fisher had a gutter to fix.

“You might want to come down from the lift for this,” Hankin said.

Hill Parker ran into some traffic around Rochester, worried about how hot his filly was getting and contemplated the electrical options available for putting a box fan in a horse trailer.  

Behind the wheel, navigating a 13 1/2-hour drive in 90-degree heat on a Friday, he also smiled proudly. Thursday, the Lexington, Ky. resident won a Saratoga hurdle stakes with Get Ready Set Goes – a 4-year-old filly bred by his mother Frances Hill “Snowie” Myers, who died in September 2014. A lifelong horsewoman, Myers was 74 and imparted plenty of horsemanship to her son.

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Richard Boucher and Willstown stared a Saratoga Grade 1 stakes score smack in the face. At 46-1. 

“We came down to the last fence and I had her beat, I had her beat,” Boucher said. “And then Blythe Miller and that horse went on and beat me. I’m like, ‘You’re kidding me, you’re absolutely kidding me.’ I had a third once, but that second in the Turf Writers is the closest I ever came and that was pretty close.”

Until Thursday.