Old Schooling

- -

My father only had one question.

“But, where is the intra-net?”

Dad, it’s not anywhere. It’s a web of computers, they connect with each other.

“But it’s got to be somewhere.”

I gave up. My father still doesn’t own or use a computer and he holds a grudge against the Racing Form for not running charts any more. How’s a guy know where a horse finished if he doesn’t have a computer? Dad got a cell phone about three years ago, that was a breakthrough.

I watched my father at Keeneland Thursday morning.

There was Barclay Tagg talking to his three assistants, relaying the training regimens for the stable’s other three divisions. He took out his Brook Ledge training chart and went through every horse, writing in the day’s exercises for each horse under his care.

Like drawing on the wall of a cave.

Tagg would read the horse’s name and Tim, Derek or Robin would relay what they did that day. Occasionally, Tagg would interject.

“Just jog her, that’s fine.”

“I thought a race was coming up for him.”

“That’s fine, she’s going to New York anyway.”

The whole process took about half an hour, as Tagg took out a yellow highlighter and marked when the horses breezed and wrote in notes for post-times for races Friday and Saturday. Tracy Attfield, who runs TLore computerized training program, could revolutionize Tagg’s morning. It won’t happen.

Dirt-floor old school.

Tagg sat in a folding chair, paddock boots propped up on cardboard boxes at his feet, assistants coming and going for extra equipment, Doc Cheney coming for two mints – one for him and one for the writer in the corner.

Every time Tagg hung up on one call, his phone would beep with a new message.

“It never stops, all day long it rings,” Tagg said. “I never even leave messages any more. It takes too long to leave them and it takes too long to listen to them.”

Especially in April when you have a couple of Derby horses in your shed.

It’s that time of year for trainers, owners and anybody connected to the Kentucky Derby. The invitation lies on the table, it’s just how you want to RSVP.

Decline or accept?

Tagg will know more after Big Truck takes his crack at the Blue Grass. The horse has surprised him thus far.

“He was a New York-bred Hook And Ladder, he was a pretty horse but you never know if they’re going to stay sound or if they’re going to move forward or if they’re going to go the distance,” Tagg said. “You never know. Like War Pass in the Tampa Bay Derby, I told that kid to ride for second and if something happens to War Pass, you’ll win. I’m competitive too and I know what happens, if War Pass is in front, you’re looking at him and moving a little. I told him he’s got to beat himself or we’re not going to beat him.”

War Pass beat himself and Big Truck picked up the next breadcrumb on his march to Louisville. A march Tagg knows well.

He did it right with Funny Cide, primping him to peak on the day. He did it wrong with the lightly seasoned Showing Up who ran as hard as he could for as far as he could but faded in Barbaro’s Derby.

“He wasn’t ready for that,” Tagg muttered as the horse galloped back.

Like all trainers with a Derby horse, Tagg lies in wait trying to decide if any or all of his 3-year-old stars are ready to fend off the blade of the Derby.

“Funny Cide, I was pretty sure right away,” Tagg said. “I would have bet my life that he was a mile-and-a-quarter horse from day one. That’s not something I made up in hindsight. But he was so hard to control, I had to swim a river to prove it.”

Funny Cide never threw Tagg a life preserver.

“He was a lot of work, you couldn’t gallop him, you couldn’t pony him, you couldn’t back him up, you couldn’t go forward. You split his mouth open every time he galloped. He had gashes in both sides of his mouth his entire 3-year-old year,” Tagg said. “When it rained like hell at Belmont that hurt. We had some other blips, he went fast in his work, he won by 10 in the Preakness.”

Tagg won’t denote Funny Cide status to Big Truck or Tail Of Ekati. They still have work to do.

“Right now, Tale Of Ekati and Big Truck, they’re tenacious, they dig in, they try – that’s a damn good quality in a long-distance race,” Tagg said. “And you know, you’ve got to be there if something goes wrong.”

After Saturday, Tagg will know if Tale Of Ekati has company heading to the Derby.

And Dad will know if he’s got the first two legs to his superfecta.

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap