The Outside Rail

Mr. Versatilities Part 2

You never know where a nugget of information might begin and this one comes from Joe Clancy Sr., father of two-thirds of the team behind thisishorseracing.com, whose grasp of racing history starts far earlier than the racing history of his offspring. 

Two weeks ago, I questioned the heretofore accepted fact that Jonathan Sheppard and Sidney Watters Jr. were the only two people to train American champions on the flat and over jumps – adding Peter Howe (1972 jump champion Soothsayer and 1976 older filly/mare champion Proud Delta) and James E. Ryan (1949 sprint champion Royal Governor and 1953 jump champion The Mast) to the list.

Another trainer, Morris Dixon, belonged in the club as well – or so I thought. Every historic list I could find listed Dixon as the trainer of 1952 steeplechase champion Jam and 1947 sprint champion Polynesian. The latter also won the 1945 Preakness Stakes, giving Dixon the rare distinction of training a classic winner, a steeplechase champion and a flat champion. Of course, Papa Joe (as his grandkids call him) threw cold water on that claim with a phone call this week. It seems that Dixon’s son, Morris Jr., trained Jam – the fact confirmed by some further deep dives into various books around the office. Somewhere along the line, possibly in 1996, the Jr. got dropped from the champions listing for 1952.

So the trainer-of-champions-on-the-flat-and-over-jumps list lost a member. Of course, the list of people to train a flat champion, train a classic winner and sire the trainer of a jump champion gained one.

Both Dixons were successful trainers, though the father was something of a Mid-Atlantic legend thanks to Polynesian and dozens of other successful runners on the flat and over jumps. Based on his farm in Pennsylvania, Morris “Pop” Dixon won the NSA training title in 1950 and his early stable included horses owned by Charlotte Dorrance Wright and the Widener family. Over jumps, Dixon won the Temple Gwathmey with Adaptable and Iron Shot and trained major winner Balustrade. Later, his top horses included Castlebar II, Master Irish II (my favorite steeplechase horse as a kid), Tib’s Eve and others on the jump circuit. Dixon was equally adept on the flat, even beyond Polynesian. His 1970s stable star Grey Beret ran 103 times, winning 22 and earning $386,241 with two graded stakes wins. He ran in Delaware Park’s Donald P. Ross Handicap five years in a row (winning in 1976, finishing second in 1977 and 1980) and made four starts in the William du Pont Jr. at Delaware (winning in 1979). Sea Dahlia, a granddaughter of Polynesian, won a dozen races and placed in a graded stakes.

So, four – not five – people trained American champions on the flat and over jumps though we’re still trying to sort out one more potential member of the club. Rouge Dragon, the 1944 steeplechase champion, raced for W.G. Jones and (according to some published sources) Hirsch Jacobs. If it’s Jacobs, he was also the trainer behind flat champions Stymie, Personality, Affectionally and Hail To Reason.

Dad came up empty.

Mr. Versatilities: Sheppard not only jump/flat champ trainer

Open a history book and start checking things. It’s not always wise, but it is fascinating. For, oh and I don’t know how long, it’s been relatively accepted that Jonathan Sheppard and Sidney Watters Jr. were the only two people to train a steeplechase champion and a flat champion in North America.

Sheppard’s horses won 13 year-end championships over jumps, led by Flatterer’s four and Café Prince’s two. Flat stars Informed Decision (2009 female sprint division) and Forever Together (2008 female turf division) added to the trainer’s Hall of Fame resume. For Watters, the jump titles came with Shadow Brook in 1971 and Amber Diver in 1963. His flat champions were Hoist The Flag (2-year-old male of 1970) and Slew O’ Gold (3-year-old male 1983). Like Sheppard, who was inducted in 1990, Watters joined racing’s Hall of Fame – way too late in 2005.

The rare dual-purpose feat deserves recognition, but Watters and Sheppard aren’t alone in that club. The roll call won’t take long, but it’s more than an exacta.

Peter Howe trained Soothsayer, the 1972 jump champion, and Proud Delta, the 1976 older filly/mare champion for main client, Montpelier.

Morris Dixon’s versatile stable included 1952 steeplechase champion Jam, and the champion sprinter of 1947 Polynesian.

And before you think the sprint/steeplechase double is unique, James E. Ryan won the 1949 sprint title with Royal Governor and the 1953 steeplechase crown with The Mast.

That’s five, with the possibility of a sixth if I can find some confirmation. Some reference guides list Hirsch Jacobs as the trainer of 1944 steeplechase champion Rouge Dragon. Others have W.G. Jones. I’m inclined to lean toward Jones based on repitition, but if it’s Jacobs he was also the man behind flat champions Stymie, Personality, Affectionally and Hail To Reason.

And that’s it. I think.

Sheppard, of course, recently announced his retirement and was even more recently honored by the New York Racing Association with the renaming of the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup as the Jonathan Sheppard Stakes at Saratoga starting this summer. Honor him, applaud him, but don’t forget the other guys.

Driving Jonathan Sheppard

It was 2008. Jonathan Sheppard was in yet another chapter of his storied career and The Blood-Horse magazine wanted a feature story. Steeplechase Times still existed, and I still wrote freelance articles for other racing publications.

Cool Songs 2020

The website title says horse racing so you should expect some horse racing in this spot. This is not it. OK, here’s a little . . . the Eclipse Awards voting choices for 2020 were difficult, maddening and kind of weak at the same time. Here’s to better stuff in 2021. But, let’s turn to something else. Music.

Preakness Thursday is still Preakness Thursday

Thursday morning of Preakness Week typically brings many things to Pimlico Race Course: Sunrise tours of the stable area, Clydesdales, the Archbishop of Baltimore, banter among rivals at the Alibi Breakfast, selfies with the Woodlawn Vase and finishing touches for the Thoroughbreds entered in Saturday’s Grade 1 stakes.

A Winner

Farm general manager Bruce Hill was at home, alone because his wife doesn’t want to be a jinx, when he sat down to watch Live Oak Stud homebred Win Win Win compete in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga Race Course Saturday. 

Protest Power

Mack Robinson, Jackie’s brother, didn’t use his silver medal from the 1936 Summer Olympics to meet people. He wore his Olympic team jacket to the only job he could get, as a street sweeper. White residents of Pasadena, Cal., called the cops on Robinson and made him take off the jacket.

Tom’s Moment

When Tom’s d’Etat crossed the finish line in the Stephen Foster last week, jockey Miguel Mena stood up in the irons and brought his finger to his lips in the universal signal to “Shhhh.” There were no fans in attendance at Churchill Downs, but Mena was speaking for his horse who silenced everybody with the Grade 2 stakes win.

Saluter

Hang around horse racing long enough and you will hear old-timers say, after some inspirational on-track performance or another, “They don’t make horses like that anymore.” The statement is a cliché, hyperbole, exaggeration and wrong – nobody really “makes” horses. They’re born. Nature is in charge, not man.

Paddock Schooling

In 1984, my dad sent me (and a van driver) to run a weird, gawky horse named Family at Laurel Park while my dad went somewhere else to run a different (probably less weird and gawky) horse. Dad said he’d get somebody to saddle Family, since back then you needed an assistant trainer’s or trainer’s license to tack up a runner in the paddock. No problem. The van driver drove, I did the rest – including my first application of rundown bandages for a race. In the paddock with Family, I looked for our would-be saddler and saw no one I knew. There was a valet, me, the van driver, the horse and an annoyed paddock judge.