And Wise Dan is back.

THE OUTSIDE RAIL | by Joe Clancy

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Plenty has been written about trainer Dickie Small, who died of cancer April 4. Plenty of other stories have been told, but not written, by friends and family over the past 10 days or so. Here’s one from longtime friend Ted Mudge about a trip to Camden, S.C. a few years ago. Small loved it there and told Mudge to tag along, that he’d love it too. Finally, Mudge agreed and Small said they were leaving at 7 in the evening.

While not quite Thelma and Louise, the excursion is good for a laugh, and classic Small.

They left Small’s farm in a pick-up truck with two dogs and a cooler full of Diet Pepsi. They arrived at a Camden hotel at 3:30 the next morning, in a driving rainstorm.

“Oh good, we’re going to get some sleep before we train the horses,” thought Mudge. “It’ll be nice to get out of this truck and lie down on a bed for a little while.”

Small had other ideas. He let the dogs out for a break, put them back in the truck and said, “Better get some sleep.”

The two men and the two dogs rested in the truck while the rain hammered down. Two hours later, there was a rap at the window.

“Time for breakfast,” Small said. He led Mudge to the small restaurant behind the hotel. After breakfast, they trained the horses, took a tour of the Camden Training Center, went to The Tack Room tack shop for some conversation and shopping, hit up a local gift shop, ate lunch at 10 in the morning, got back in the truck and were back in Maryland by 7 that night.

“It was a 24-hour road trip,” said Mudge, who never went again.

Small was like that. He drove almost everywhere, including a trek to Iowa to run a horse at Prairie Meadows.

“If there was anything interesting, he’d get off the road to go see it,” Mudge said. “Anything within two hours of historical significance, he’d stop and see it. On that trip to Iowa, he went to the site of the plane crash Don McLean sings about in American Pie (where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in Clear Lake, Iowa).”

 

 

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I’m glad there was no hidden camera in the barn when I got in the fight with the King’s Bishop colt at Delaware Park all those years ago. He nearly killed me, and I broke the handle of a pitchfork when I hit him across the back. I’m sure I swore at him. Sorry. And he barely flinched.

I’m glad there was no hidden camera in the barn when Fourmatt, the best horse in the stable, fell off the treadmill and rolled out the barn door. I probably swore. He was fine, but it was terrifying. I’m really glad there was no hidden camera the day the same horse bled from the nose while turned out in a round pen. That’s when I knew, for sure, he’d never be a racehorse again.

I’m glad there was no hidden camera in the paddock when I fell off stud colt Money By Orleans while jogging in a straw ring on a bone-rattling cold morning in Pennsylvania. He ran around loose trying to mount Rollicking Run, a filly on the same winter jogging set. I know I swore, once I got up off the ground.

I’m glad there was no hidden camera in the barn when I tried to put a saddle on the unbroken 2-year-old I thought was the new 3-year-old one winter. I’m glad there was no hidden camera in the barn when I stuck a safety pin through the bandage and into Spring In Athens’ leg. He bled, a little, but he was OK.

I’m really glad there was no hidden camera on the racetrack at Delaware Park when the horse I was galloping broadsided a loose one running the wrong direction up the stretch. My horse was a 17-hand gelding by Best Turn so he pretty much just shook off the crash and kept going. I have no idea what happened to the other one.

I’m also glad there was no camera to see the life draining from the trembling, dreadfully sick lead pony on another day in another barn at Fair Hill. I patted him on the face and talked to him while holding his halter so the vet could give him a shot. He was too sick, we couldn’t figure out why and there were too many horses to protect from whatever he had. It all happened quickly, quietly, peacefully. I cried a little. The horse dropped to the ground. I took off his halter and told him everything was going to be all right.

If you work with horses, closely and for long, you like them. You aren’t an animal abuser. You appreciate horses’ innocence, their fragility, their mortality. But you also manage what you do. They can hurt you and themselves if you’re not careful. They can be afraid of things less than half their size. They can be difficult to figure out. Some come with hidden self-destruct buttons. Ultimately, you’re responsible and that's the hardest part. Just as ultimately, somebody else is frequently calling the shots and all you can do is the best you can. But at it’s core, it’s very core, any animal sport must take care of the animals to the best of its ability. Racing can never be made 100-percent safe. There will always be risk and racing will always have to work to manage that risk. 

We published a position statement or treatise or whatever you want to call it about the state of racing this week. We think things should change. We think the old days are over. We think it’s a crisis (of public opinion and perception more than of horse welfare, but the results are the same). We think the industry is in danger. It’ll never go away or die, but it will also never be settled if it can’t come to grips with the responsibility needed to steward the raising and training of animals to run at high speeds in public in a modern world.

Things to think about:

• Thoroughbred racehorses are athletes, not pets. They’re going to get hurt, they’re going to need medicine, treatment, supplements, remedies, surgeries, diagnoses, veterinarians. To think otherwise is foolish.

• People are going to push the envelope. It’s a race, not a pretty horse contest. The horses train, get fit, compete. There’s money on the line. People invest, get  paid, work to be better than the next guy. 

• All horses would do better with more down time. Run them when and where you want, but find ways to send them to the farm, to give them some rest, to let them be horses in a field somewhere. I love to see the Eastern turf horses coming back in the spring off five-month layoffs. Ben’s Cat and Wise Dan take extended breaks every year – even if there are opportunities elsewhere. Obviously, horses of that quality are easier to rest than others but the point is still the same. No other sport’s season lasts all year. Racing never stops.  

• Reach out to other nations that race. Ask for help. Copy them. Hong Kong, England, Ireland, France, Australia. The uninformed say horses in those countries train and race medication free. Obviously they don’t. They do have tighter controls than the United States and do a far better job of keeping out race-day medications and punishing rule-breakers. Other nations have better rules, clearer procedures, harsher penalties and – for whatever reason – more finality to it all. In the United States, it seems like a suspension is merely an opportunity to appeal. A ban should be a ban. Other countries have the advantage of one governing body. But they aren’t without problems. They just seem better equipped to deal with problems. The British Horseracing Authority website has a Frequently Asked Questions section about medication and doping control – with 47 questions and answers about withdrawal times, prohibited substances, supplements, herbal products, pre-race testing, steroids and so on.

• Much of what was on the PETA video is perfectly legal and benign. A horse was being examined with an endoscope. It might look bad, but it’s a diagnostic tool (the same type of tool used in humans). Other video clips showed horses’ joints being injected. While awful if overused, the treatment can relieve pain, decrease swelling, avoid surgery and return horses to productive racing careers. Good stewards of the horse use such remedies with caution and care. The audio of the blacksmith talking about a lack of a pulse in a horse’s foot? That’s a good thing. You don’t want to feel a pulse in a horse’s foot.

• Training operations are too big. I realize this is America, the land of opportunity and capitalism and free enterprise and Amazon and Wal-Mart and server farms and Exxon merging with Mobil but there’s something to be said for encouraging smaller training stables. One trainer with hundreds of horses and multiple divisions teeters on the edge of reducing horses to numbers, statistics, commodities. And that looks bad to outsiders. 

• Owners play a key role. You can speak volumes by choosing a trainer. Try a young person. Think about a smaller outfit. Think twice about a barn with a history of medication violations. Ask questions. Demand answers. Get detailed veterinary reports about your horses. Ask more questions. Don’t choose a trainer solely because of his or her winning percentage or superb use of speed figures as race-placement tools. Choose a trainer who cares for horses, honorably, and then let that trainer do his or her job.

• Invest in better advocates for the horse. Owners, trainers, assistants, jockeys, officials, veterinarians, anyone with a license ought to go through some training on what to say and how to say it – to the media, to the public, to newcomers (especially) – when it comes to horse safety, care and welfare.

• It’s not really about Lasix. Powerful owners and breeders say they want Lasix use stopped now. Horsemen’s groups disagree with some national medication reform because it calls for the end of race-day Lasix use. Get over yourselves, everybody. Nothing can be done until all races in the country are conducted under the same rules, so get that figured out first. Then worry about Lasix.

• The synthetic surface issue is a puzzle. It’s obviously a safer thing for horses to run on and plenty of trainers swear by it. It’s also different and people are intimidated or something. American racing over-reacted and installed too many without enough research. Now American racing appears to be over-reacting again and taking them out. The Breeders’ Cup is being short-sighted by basically requiring all potential host sites to be dirt-based only. What's wrong with a synthetic-track hosting periodically? Not a thing. The world is small and the world is oriented toward turf and synthetic surfaces. Only here do we say dirt is where horses are supposed to race. 

• The #fullstory campaign should continue, unofficially, and should have started years ago. It should also change to #fullstoryracehorses. Why keep playing to PETA? Leave out the agendas, just show racehorses getting some love or living the good life. 

 

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Although I did not know you, I heard Lonnie speak of your family.
I just wanted to thank you for sending Lonnie the Steeplechase Times, he did
enjoy reading it during his illness. I thought you would like a copy of his obituary.

God Bless,
Tina Fuller

 

That short note, and a four-page funeral program, arrived in our mailbox in November 1999. It felt like a punch in the ribs. Lonnie Fuller was a friend, a mentor, a hero. I hadn’t seen him years, but thought of him often then (and still do). He was a racetrack groom, who worked for my father in the 1980s.

Three weeks after he died, his wife found a Steeplechase Times newspaper among his possessions, looked up our address and wrote a letter telling me he’d passed away. Lonnie died. Lonnie died? Aw damn, Lonnie died. We didn’t know he was sick. We didn’t get to say goodbye.

That was more than 14 years ago, but Lonnie’s name surfaced in me again this week when Tom Law said he was doing an article on Nancy Kelly, whose nearly 30-year career at The Jockey Club earned her the Eddie Arcaro Award from The Jockeys’ Guild. The Arcaro award honors someone who has shown exceptional commitment to jockeys and the guild. Kelly oversees all fundraising efforts of The Jockey Club, including the Safety Net Foundation, which has distributed more than $14 million to needy individuals and their families.

As part of her job in 1999, Kelly helped Tina Fuller by paying for Lonnie’s funeral and burial. I don’t remember how, but I had heard about the program run by The Jockey Club and thought of it when I got Tina’s letter. I called Kelly (not sure I was emailing in 1999), got the information, sent a note to Tina, collected some paperwork and sent it all on to Kelly. Once she verified Lonnie’s long career at racetracks in the United States and Canada, she sent a check to his widow. Bing, bang, boom, done.

By Jockey Club standards, it probably wasn’t much. By retired racetracker’s family standards, it made a huge difference. I can’t find the thank you note Tina Fuller sent me, but it was heartfelt. She was surprised, touched, honored and I could tell the contribution meant a great deal. It told her that her husband mattered to this industry, that his life’s work didn’t go unnoticed.

I was impressed then – and now  – with Kelly’s work and the quiet, effective, process of doing the right thing. The foundation made a big difference with a small gesture for a man who cared for hundreds of Thoroughbreds – and a couple of Clancy kids too. Lonnie’s family wasn’t counting on that money, but it came and eased a burden. It was a beautiful thing. Still is.

Now, let me tell you about Lonnie.

He was big, black, smart, tough, cool, dashing, proud. He taught me how to bank a stall, how to hang a hay net, how to roll a shank and set it (just so) in a halter on a hook on a stall door. He taught me how to get to the track kitchen and back before the set returned from the track. He taught me not to walk into the security guard’s room in the Lasix barn (well, he was late doing that, but I got the message). Lonnie frequently wore a Gilligan hat, drove a 1963 Chevy, lived in a bunkhouse (sometimes) and had a gold tooth. He called people he liked Cuddy, which in his words meant “friend, pal or buddy.”

I met Lonnie when he worked for trainer Nick Fall at Delaware Park. Summer. 1982. I was in high school. Fall’s horses were on the backside of our group and Lonnie and I crossed paths often. One of us would “make a run” to the kitchen for snacks or sandwiches every morning. I rode, a little, but mainly worked as a groom. An Advocator 2-year-old used to lie down and roll in the shedrow while cooling out. He rolled right out of the barn with a rookie hotwalker one day. Lonnie would bellow from his side, “What’s going on over there, you rookies?” Another horse, Spring In Athens, won three times in 20 days – Aug. 1, 9 and 22 – at Delaware. As if that wasn’t a busy enough schedule, he finished seventh at Keystone Aug. 18.

Holly Robinson came on board that summer and before the year was out Lonnie was working for us too as we moved from Delaware to Maryland (and I went back to school). Then we flew. Lonnie stepped everything up a notch around our barn. He cared, he worked, he fixed things, he got stuff done. He made the horses stand up and look sharp. He rolled a perfect standing bandage, taught me how to lock it in place around the ankle, not too tight and not too loose, then showed me how to do the Vetrap rundowns on raceday.

The next summer, we were at Timonium. The place hummed with Lonnie, Holly and the crew. We entered the shedrow decorating contest and Lonnie spent hours improving things. We had Saratoga straw pillows out front, polished and soaped halters and shanks, stall boards on every door. We washed the webbings every day. On judging day, we outlined those Saratoga straw pillows with lime and even dabbed the perfectly raked shedrow dirt with lime stars from a burlap sack.

We lost. Lonnie and I swore it was fixed.

I went to college, Lonnie kept working. He normally went home for the winter, but spent a couple with us – one at the farm in Oxford, Pa. and another at Fair Hill Training Center. Lonnie frequently and joyfully scared the life out of country-boy farmhands and learned to drive, badly, a tractor and spreader.

The summers blend together, but we were back at Delaware Park in Henry Clark’s old barn shortly. We won good races with Dandy Danny, Fourmatt, Money By Orleans, Tattiebogle and bad races with Family and On The Side. I taught Lonnie about jump racing and he took great pride in a front-running win by Smokum Scout at Delaware Park. Lonnie liked horses like Scout – big, strong, fast, on the edge of running away. Lonnie wanted tough horses. He also wanted to show them how to behave, how to listen. He’d learn about them, figure out what they liked. He commanded respect, and got it. If he didn’t, there was always that little twitch on a snap he kept in his pocket.

I remember an awful colt by King’s Bishop. He was mean, plain and simple. Lonnie rubbed him, tried to make him learn. It didn’t really work. I once got so mad at the horse I broke a pitchfork handle on his hind end. Just a mean, mean horse. He should have been a gelding, but was too well-bred. I’m sure Monty Roberts or somebody could have helped us, but if Lonnie couldn’t make a difference I don’t know who could.

“I don’t know about that one, Joey, nothing we do seems to work,” Lonnie would say. “He’s not happy when you feed him, he’s not happy out of the stall, he’s not happy in the stall. I don’t know.”

We worked, we laughed, we sang (“I got a girl named Bony Maronie, she’s as skinny as a piece of macaroni.”), we ate, we rode in the back of the van (I almost fell out once while on the Bay Bridge), we talked, we bought stereo equipment, we dreamed of fixing up his old car. He told me about working as a welder during a break from the track early in his life. He told me about “Lovie.” That was Tina. She wasn’t his wife then, but they were a couple. They’d reunite every winter. He once told us he was the father of William Fuller the football player. We didn’t believe him.

Then he went to Canada with Robinson to take a job with Roger Attfield. The horses were better. The pay was better. The job was better. Lonnie rubbed stars. By then, I kind of understood. Grooms like Lonnie didn’t stay anywhere forever. They worked, made a living, found a better opportunity, took it. He spent the better part of a decade with us. That was a long time by racetrack standards. He’d still find a way to sneak back to the area, and would show up at various places to say hello – like a relative returning from the service or something.

When Sam and I set our wedding date in 1990, we sent Lonnie an invitation. I have no idea how we found his address. At some point, he said he’d come. We knew he wouldn’t. Then he did. Somebody dropped him off at the end of the driveway and in he walked to the reception – all dressed up in a suit and a stylish hat. Lonnie, the racetrack groom, better dressed than anyone in the place (even the groom). We took photos together, he gave me a massive hug, no doubt told Sam she looked beautiful and then he left. The photos never turned out, the film wrecked in the developing. 

Lonnie bounced back into our lives a few years later, helping out in the barn with some hunters and things, then stepped back out again. His obituary said he left the racetrack in 1998, came home to Baltimore and got a job with AmTrak. He and Tina got married, after 32 years together. He joined a church, he got sick. He was 54 when he died.

Read about Nancy Kelly's Eddie Arcaro Award.

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My sons want to go to a funeral. If there’s a sure sign you’re getting old, this is it. Jack, 17, and Ryan, 20, both asked about attending Monday’s service for trainer Tom Voss, who died this week.

We’re not related to Voss. We didn’t grow up in his neighborhood. But, like plenty of people in those categories and beyond, we’re impacted by his death. Deeply. Voss was there, part of the fabric, part of a life in and around racing. Voss was straight out of central casting, a character who would have fit in racing’s history no matter the era. He was half-grumpy, half-cheerful, half-aloof, half-rich, half-poor and all horseman. Voss, 63, had a heart attack at home and died quickly. He wouldn’t have been the type to wither, to stick around. Given a choice, he probably would have planned to go in the saddle, aboard one of the many horses he rode, the way John Wayne would have died in a movie. He's so mad about missing out on that ending that he'll hit Monkton with lows in the single digits next week.

Voss trained racehorses for more than 40 years. He grew up riding, tried his hand as a jockey over timber, rode in the Maryland Hunt Cup, then went off and established a flat stable. He was a Mid-Atlantic stalwart in his 20s, racing and winning in Maryland, Delaware, New York, wherever he hung the yellow THV webbings and parked that three-horse Imperatore van. 

In the 1990s, he expanded the steeplechase base – he used to say it just happened – and leaped to the top. He finished fifth in 1995. Two years later, he won a title. Then, he made it look easy with three consecutive championships and a three-year winning percentage of .312 from 2000-02. In the midst of that, he rode 9-year-old flat horse John’s Call to the top of the game. They won two Grade 1 stakes, finished third in the Breeders’ Cup, went to Japan, traded opinions and jabs with Bobby Frankel.

My boys don’t really care much about that. Ryan remembers the man he met for real at Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point (held on the Voss family farm) years ago. Voss handed the kid a starter’s flag and a job.

“I’m the starter, you’re the recall man,” Voss grumbled. “When I drop my flag, you drop your flag. Got it? That’s all you have to remember.”

Ryan nodded, I think, and off they went. They spent the day together. Later, we went to the house for an end-of-the-races party. Like its chief occupant, the home was a study in contrasts with barn clothes and works of art sharing spaces. Ryan was struck by the paintings (of women) and the dozens of pairs of riding boots. “Mr. Boss” told my son to look around. He went upstairs, downstairs, found a photo of Chuck Norris on the piano, met some dogs, said hello to people from one end of that house to the other.

Years later, Ryan spent part of a Saratoga summer hotwalking for Voss. Ryan was green and sleepy (Cathy Sheppard bought him Vitamin Water to help the latter). Voss was tolerant. They went to lunch together after work, at a place nobody else went. Eventually, Voss paid Ryan – handing him $120 straight out of his pocket. Ryan is still trying to figure out the hourly wage, but he made an ally. Voss asked about Ryan when he hadn’t seen him for a while, told him to stay in school when he did see him. They talked about sushi, college, girls, I don’t know.

Younger brother Jack followed along. He never worked for Voss, though the trainer treated him like he did. Somehow, Voss got Jack’s phone number and would call – at any hour, on any day – to ask about leaving the fans on in the stalls, putting blankets on the horses at night and any other question trainers worry about.

“You going back to water off?” Voss would grumble.

“Sure, Mr. Voss, sure. I’ll be there,” Jack would reply. “Should I turn off the fans or leave them on?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. Might get cool. Might stay hot, too.”

And so it went.

Son No. 3 Nolan knew Voss, bantered with him, got lots of “what’s your brother doing?” comments. He’ll miss the rest.

Voss once bought an ad in Steeplechase Times with the simple text, “The game is afoot” and it’s – thus far – the only ad we’ve ever sold quoting Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare.

Voss was afoot. He could be infuriating. I’ve said over and over that I could more easily get Todd Pletcher on the phone for a story than I could Voss. Other reporters would badger me, “How do you get him to talk to you?” You don’t, but it works better if you don’t really try. Just have a conversation, you never know where it might go but it just might turn into something amazing.

When I heard he died, the 2002 article I wrote on him came to mind immediately. It was awful (the process, not the article). We barely talked beforehand, though we did spend a day riding around and watching horses train at the farm. He called me on his way home from the gym one night. The gym? Another time, he left me a message from Bethany Beach. The beach? He talked about studying the Civil War and the Titanic. Really? Tom Voss?

Other conversations have come and gone, and have flowed back and forth since Wednesday morning:

• An interview about Maryland Hunt Cup winner Florida Law; Tom swore the horse spoke to him the night before the race.

• A conversation about John’s Call (in retirement) on the Oklahoma rail at Saratoga; Nolan asked how fast John’s Call could still run, and Voss answered; Now if I had asked that question, forget it.

• This gem about horses racing off the farm, from 2000, “The secret to the farm is a horse recovers from a race much faster here – mentally. He relaxes faster here. At the racetrack, he does the same old thing. I don’t think we make a horse run any faster, but the proof is in the pudding. There’s a lot more notoriety and attention when you’re at the racetrack. We’re hidden back here. We pop out for the races, run the horses and we’re gone.”

• Or this one, an introspective moment, from 1997, “I would have loved to have been alive in the 1920s or 30s when it was all sporting and you just wanted to see whose horse was better. They didn’t have all the pressures we have. I’m two or three generations too late.”

He was 47 when he said that, and he was right. But we would have missed him.

 

• • •

PHOTO: Tom Voss strolls the Springdale Training Center in South Carolina. Tod Marks photo.

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Eight thousand four hundred ninety five. That’s how many words I have in a file called “01-06 notes.docx” on my computer. They didn’t all arrive Jan. 6. That’s when they started. And they haven’t just been on one computer either – they’ve been bouncing around between a desktop, a laptop, Google drive.

They came from Edwin Merryman, Tom Mullikin, Dale Schilling, Becky Davis, Jamie McDiarmid, Chip Reed, Carol Kaye, John Hughes, Larry Johnson, Randy Funkhouser, Charlie McGinnes, Louis Merryman, Brooke Bowman, Holly Beck, Dermot Carty and Tom Bowman. Less than half of what they said wound up in print, or will wind up in print. Most of the interviews were done for the February edition of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred.

If you don’t read the monthly print magazine, you should. I’m the editor so I’m biased, but it’s always full of good stuff – from a whole lot of sources. The January edition includes a wonderful profile of Holly Robinson by Vinnie Perrone and a powerful Q&A on medication reform with Duncan Patterson. February includes stuff gleaned from those notes – a long feature on the new Heritage Stallions operation in Maryland, a lengthy report checking in with some of the Mid-Atlantic’s most notable broodmares – and plenty more like Bettina Jenney reminiscing about life at Derry Meeting Farm and an update from the Keeneland January sale.

But this isn’t about the magazine. This is about talking to people, about the stuff writers like to do. We like to talk, ask questions, communicate, write, edit, change, improve. We can live without the process of getting something from interview to blank page to article to published product. That’s details, and details frequently stink. They’re a lot of work and loads of hassle. If I didn’t have those, I’d get a lot more done. I’d contribute to this column more often. I’d have more freelance jobs. I’d have a book or two or three or four. That novel people say is in every writer would no longer be in me (people also say most novels should stay there).

But back to the good stuff.

The words in that notes file ring with racing. They deal with stallions, mares, racehorses, foals, work, effort, optimism, pessimism, danger, known, unknown, family, business, risk, reward. Some are off the record, though I wish they weren’t. Some are powerful. Some are sappy. All, to me, are ultimately about hope for racing is a game of hope at pretty much every level and every stop – stud farms to shedrows, foaling stalls to foolish undertakings.

Nobody, anywhere, can guarantee anything in Thoroughbred racing. Maybe that’s what makes it so interesting.

As part of a conversation in that notes file, veterinarian/breeder/new stallion venture partner Dr. Tom Bowman put it in 31 words.

“The formula has so many working parts that nobody knows when you’re going to strike gold,” he said when asked about success or failure in the breeding business. “You still can’t measure heart and whatever genetic key unlocks that is still an unknown.”

Maybe he should be a writer.

 

 

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