Dad would have been proud.
Tuesday morning, I wrapped up an interview that meandered to and from horses, motor homes, the Civil War, California weather, college golf scholarships and Virginia grass with trainer Tom Proctor and walked up the road between barns at Oklahoma.
Then I heard a quiet voice say, "Excuse me, loose horse, por favor, loose horse, por favor."
My son Jack and I looked up and there it was - headed right for us at a fast walk. Loose horse. Dark bay, tongue hanging out the left side of his mouth, blue tack, white shadow roll, four white polos, stirrups dangling loose, no rider.
The wanderer stepped from behind a barn, doglegged around a muck pit and a car, hesitated for a half-second, picked up a slow trot and crossed the road. Despite my best "Whoa, whoa boy, whoa," I missed him. Damn. He trotted toward the track, between two barns, made a U-turn and wound up hemmed in - slightly - by a wash pad.
I tried again, "Whoa, whoa bud, whoa" and stepped on to the wash pad. This time he listened and stopped, sort of. He started to walk off again when I got alongside but I grabbed one of those stirrups and as Jack said "did some kind of Tarzan thing" for leverage and put my hand on a rein. Got him.
I caught a horse. A nice horse. Friendly, quiet, calm, lost - definitely. He seemed happy to be back with a human. I ran the stirrups up on the leathers just like Dad always says, turned him around and headed back toward the groom who alerted us in the first place.
"Not mine," he said.
Well, he certainly wasn't mine. But he didn't belong to anyone in the vicinity.
The saddle towel said JM and we fairly quickly came up with John Morrison - after a faulty attempt at Jimmy Jerkens (also blue and with a J). Jack rummaged through my bag of tricks for a barn list and found Morrison. "S-36, Dad. It's says Barn 36."
We were a long way from 36, but we started walking back down the road - past Proctor sitting on his tack trunk next to Snow Top Mountain, past Will Phipps and straight into Patty Roy. She's Morrison's assistant and was looking for her horse.
I had him.
"Oh, Houli, what are you doing?" she said as I handed over the reins. "He's something else. Of course it was him. He's a lot of fun."
Not so much for the exercise rider who wound up on the ground after Houli stopped quickly while jogging out back, but oh well. Owned by Jeffrey Tucker, Houli is actually Don't Fooli Houli - a 7-year-old son of Freud with a symmetrical record of three wins, three seconds and three thirds in 14 career starts. The New York-bred won here last September at nearly 19-1 and finished fifth here in a starter allowance on the turf Aug 31.
Tuesday, he was jogging behind the Oklahoma barns near the horse van parking lot - working his way back toward another race. A lead pony and rider stepped out from behind some trees, Houli spooked, hit the brakes, dropped his rider and headed for home - sort of.
The wayward Thoroughbred, earner of more than $135,000, went straight when he should have turned left and ran into me.
Made my morning.
- Joe Clancy