Mile Markers

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It was a Bruce Haynes roadtrip. 

Get up at 3 in the morning, coffee in the thermos, a bag of almonds, suit on a hanger, radio on blare and on the road. It’s only 480 miles from Landenberg, Pa. to Bristol, Va., should be there by 10:30.  

First speeding ticket by 8:00 – 77 in a 65 – I guess Bruce doesn’t have any pull up there yet. 

Yeah, Bruce Haynes won’t be driving his rig full of horses to the races any more. The 46-year-old do-it-your-selfer died of a heart attack last Thursday. 

He left three hard-working sons, a stoic, soft-spoken wife, a farm full of 31 horses and a manhole in the sport. That’s why I made the 960-mile round trip on Monday – for the John Prine of steeplechasing. He thought enough of me to give the call on Rowdy Irishman, I can make his kind of roadtrip to show respect.  

Some family – original and unflinching. No complaints, non-pretentious, working through the ruts to get to the crests. 

The church was packed, standing-room only up and down the altar, along the sides, two rows deep in the back. A few steeplechase people but mostly friends and family from Tennessee. Mike Berryman cajoled his toughest words – a goodbye to his best friend.  

Bruce did it like nobody else in steeplechasing. He and his family invested their money while doing the work of a chain gang. Nobody out-worked them and they reaped their biggest reward with the mud-loving Rowdy Irishman. My favorite photo is of Bruce running down the stretch at Nashville, tie atwitter, mouth wide-open, pumping his fist to the bravery of Rowdy. 

There were others – both good and bad. Key To A Miracle, Summer Island, Rarity Bay, Shady Valley, Sprucapade . . . and a gaggle of cheap trying-to-make-good horses long since forgotten. He never paid much for any horse. 

He campaigned the third most horses last year behind Jack Fisher and Jonathan Sheppard. If you wanted polish and a tailor-made suit, Haynes wasn’t for you. If you wanted reality, he was your man. Sometimes  his tie was too short and sometimes he needed a shave, but that’s what happens when you get dressed back at the barn and run your own horses.  

Haynes resuscitated Jonathan Smart’s career after the former champion jockey returned from injury. Smart rode everything for Haynes through the mid 90s and made a few of the Haynes roadtrips, usually to ride at Foxfield on Saturday and High Hope on Sunday. No budget for airfare. 

“I remember being curled up in that truck, up and down those hills, all night between hunt meets,” Smart said. “He was a great friend and great to ride for. Once, I scratched a horse at the start because he was lame, he had run at Red Bank the week before. I was down at the start thinking, ‘Man, what am I going to do?’ I came back and Bruce thanked me. He thanked me. Amazing.” 

In a word, yeah, amazing.

– Sean.