The Outside Rail

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop . . . the hoofbeats closed in as I crossed Union Avenue toward the Oklahoma stable area at Saratoga Race Course. About halfway across, I looked back and a big-but-little bay horse was on my heels and closing in.

He reminded me of a first-grader at recess on the first day of school. Unsure. Shaky. Lost in a “I've-never-been here-before” way. 

“Come on, you can do it,” I found myself instinctively saying.

The horse, ridden by Shirley Jerkens, kept walking and stepped a bit closer until his head was at my shoulder. He relaxed, glanced at the stopped cars to his left and his right, eyed up the crossing guards with their SLOW/STOP signs and booming voices, measured the golf carts, spied a bicycle or two, stared at some other horses and kept walking with trepidation. We made it across the four-lane road and headed for the horsepath on the other side, where Jerkens let out a laugh.

“Did you see him?” she called to her husband Jimmy, the horse’s trainer at the wheel of a golf cart coming other way.

“No,” Jimmy replied. He’d gone to the Oklahoma training track to see his horse train. Shirley, in a mixed signal that happens all over the racetrack most mornings, had gone to the main track. The gallop was the same – mile-and-a-half, mile-and-a-quarter, something relatively slow and steady and non-descript.

But Shirley gushed about how her young mount did it. He’d handled the gallop, the new (if unintentionally so) setting, even crossed the busy road twice. Jimmy listened, nodded, said he was sorry he missed it.

“Good thing I’m married to him,” Shirley said after the conversation ended. Any other exercise rider might have gotten more than listening, nodding and apologizing.

Then Shirley went back to talking about her horse, who kept walking alongside me toward his barn. I felt like I was taking a dog for a walk.

“This horse has to be good, right?” Shirley said. “A horse with this much personality just has to be good.”

Maybe, maybe.

I asked his name. She said Nihos or Knee Hose or something. Two-year-old, she said. With a lot of learning to do. But boy is he cool to ride. He sure didn’t mind my company, and we walked down the horsepath together until I had to go left in search of an interview and he had to go right toward his barn.

I should have gone with him, held him for a bath, asked if I could hotwalk him or something. But . . . well, work.

I stopped, had a look and got reminded – again – of the power of a horse. Add Mihos (whose name I found thanks to Equibase and Google after some digging) to the list of Thoroughbreds to capture my attention, thoughts, affection. He joins others such as Ben’s Cat, Caroline Thomas, Demonstrative, Divine Fortune, Get Stormy, Here Comes Ben, Imagining, Jersey Town, Roadhog, Spring Quality, Wise Dan . . . and a hundred others you may or may not have heard of.

I’ve written about, groomed, ridden, led, bathed, held, patted more horses than I can count. Some just stick with me. Don’t bother looking for a reason. It could be ability, personality, performance the people speaking for them, random circumstances (like catching a loose Purest Form at Saratoga in 2011 and nabbing Don’t Fooli Houli the same summer), but they stick.

And Mihos stuck.

Bred in Kentucky by Wayne, Gray and Bryan Lyster, the bay colt was purchased for $320,000 at Keeneland September in 2017 by Centennial Farm. Hey, at least I have good taste. Sent to Jerkens, the son of Cairo Prince didn’t run at Saratoga but made his debut at Belmont Park in late September. Sent off at almost 14-1, he finished third behind fellow first-timers Vekoma and Epic Dreamer after 6 furlongs in 1:08.93. Vekoma won the Nashua Stakes in his next start and is 2-for-2 for trainer George Weaver. Epic Dreamer stretched out to 1 1/16 miles next time and won in style for Kelly Breen Oct. 26. Mihos scratched from that race with a fever, missed a little time to recover, and got back to work for Jerkens at Belmont Park. After three workouts, he showed up in an Aqueduct maiden race Nov 24 and won with ease while geared down late as the heavy favorite.

I was so proud of him.

 Mihos2Mihos (who won his second career start in November) gets cleaned up back at the barn. Susie Raisher photo