The Outside Rail

They don’t make horses like Quick Call anymore, but that’s OK. The one they did make might just live forever. The 35-year-old gelding is the senior resident of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances farm at the Wallkill Correctional Facility in Wallkill, N.Y.

And he was a Saratoga star. Quick Call made 17 starts at the Spa, winning nine. Twice he won three races in a single meet (1987 and 1988). He won two in 1989 and one in 1990. Those feats, his 16 total wins, 15 seconds, a dozen thirds and $807,817 in earnings helped fuel the creation of the Quick Call Stakes in 2008 but his post-racing life had as much to do with it.

Since 2001, Quick Call has resided at Wallkill where he’s the dean of the TRF’s “oldtimers” field now overseen by farm manager Kelsey Kober. The Kentucky-bred simply lives his life – eating, drinking, sleeping, getting groomed and passing along lessons to his human caretakers.

“A lot of the gentlemen tell the other inmates in their units that they work with this famous horse and when those men get an opportunity to come out they all say, ‘We want to see Quick Call. Where’s Quick Call?’ ” said Kober. “That’s a nice experience, to see others react to him. We see him every day so we’re spoiled. But he’s special to other people too.”

Kober was at Saratoga Race Course Thursday, for the 12th Quick Call Stakes, and tried to summarize a horse she only came to know recently.

“To have him in my care is very special to me,” she said. “I’ve been with TRF and the Department of Corrections for a year and a half so this has been an experience for me as well. He’s older than I am.”

He’s older than many. Bred by Warner Jones Jr. and David Greathouse Jr., Quick Call was foaled in 1984. Ronald Reagan was president. The Raiders won the Super Bowl, over the Redskins. Chrysler introduced the minivan to the world.

Owned by Lynda Stokes, Quick Call made five starts as a 2-year-old in 1986, winning a Belmont Park maiden and finishing fifth in the Saratoga Special Stakes. 

He was far busier the next year – making 18 starts including four wins, three seconds and two thirds. The son of Quack started four times at Saratoga. He won Aug. 5 and 10, finished fourth in the King’s Bishop Aug. 22 and closed the meet with another win Aug. 30 to help his trainer – future Hall of Famer Sidney Watters Jr. – claim the meet championship with 12 wins.

The 1988 season was even better as Quick Call won five of 15 starts including all three Saratoga starts, two handicaps (Aug. 4 and 13) and the Grade 2 Forego Handicap Aug. 21. He won the Forego again in 1989, with a tune-up handicap win eight days earlier. In 1990, he won a Saratoga handicap  Aug. 16, but was denied a third consecutive win in the Forego by Lay Down. 

Hall of Famer Pat Day was aboard for the Forego wins, and called Quick Call a force in upstate New York.

“He was really good there,” Day said Thursday. “He stepped up his game in Saratoga. It was uncanny how and why he did that. I don’t know the why, but it happened. The atmosphere, the air, the water, the people around him, something helped him. Horses that would beat him down south, he’d put them away easily up there.”

Like anyone who talks about Quick Call, Day marvels at the horse’s longevity.

“He’s still alive?” he asked/exclaimed to me Thursday.

I told it straight, “Well, he looks a little old . . .”

Day cut me off, “He should. To be standing and going at 35, bless his heart. That’s a horse.”

The truth is I’ve never seen Quick Call, mostly because my schedule won’t line up with the public availability at Wallkill – it is a prison after all and open houses are sporadic. The TRF’s Kim Weir says it’ll happen this fall. I hope so. I’d love to meet him. He sounds like a star. 

He is to Kober, though, as one of the people responsible, she carries some trepidation.

“He does not sleep standing up, he sleeps laying down and it freaks me out and freaks the inmates out that I have to go out and check on him sometimes,” she said. “But he’s just asleep. He is 35. He needs to rest. He has a great life. We don’t bother him, but he’s part of everything. He’s very calm, relaxed, he loves attention – he loves his ears itched, that’s the one thing I’ve learned that he loves.”

Kober, who grew up in a family that worked with Standardbreds, said Quick Call looks good. She credits him, the inmates who groom him regularly, Poulin Grain’s Fibre-Max feed. His teeth are good and his coat gleams (once he sheds out fully from the winter). The blacksmith says Quick Call has the hooves and bones of a 20-year-old. 

And maybe there’s more to it. He is retired, but he also serves – as an example for racing, a teacher of men in need of (as the farm’s name implies) second chances and a host to officials who visit. In honor of his 35th year, the TRF created a 1,000 Wishes campaign – seeking $35 pledges to celebrate Quick Call and retired Thoroughbreds. Representatives manned the Community Booth Thursday and were busy. You can learn more at trfinc.org/quickcall.

Weir said you don’t have to know Quick Call to appreciate him, and that helps connect people to a horse they don’t really know. Hopefully, he feels the love. Kober believes he does.

“I think of it as we’re in good spirits,” she said when asked what his secret is. “He is constantly getting loved, constantly getting attention and I feel as if that is what’s kept him alive this long. The good spirits matter. That’s the sentimental part of it, and that matters with a horse this old.”

I hope so.