Everybody has them. Life horses. They arrive, take a part of your heart/brain/whatever and stay there. For life.
The reasons are plenty: racetrack performance, morning gallop, big ticket, memorable ride, stirring win, gut-wrenching defeat, injury, illness, comforting nuzzle at a difficult time. Mine come from all of those and more: Sleepytime Gal, Joe Mac, Dandy Danny, Patches, Fourmatt, Owhata Chief, Joe Mac again, the lead pony whose name I can’t remember, Rollicking Run.
And that’s today’s list. Tomorrow could be different. The day after that, different again. But that’s the point. Horses, Thoroughbreds usually because of what we do, filter in and out of our lives – they live, learn, strive, perform, die on our watch. The good – not necessarily racetrack good – ones touch our lives and we put them on a list, remember them.
Buck Jakes was that kind of horse. Charlie Fenwick came to see him on the advice of my father back in 1992. Dad saw the big, long-striding gray at Fair Hill Training Center. “Whiskers” trained him, wanted to sell him. Fenwick arrived in a pin-stripe suit, watched Buck Jakes school so-so over a chicken coop, then got on himself.
“He was jumping over a coop in and out of the woods, he was jumping it but all four legs were going in four different directions,” Fenwick recalled last week. “I decided to get on him and be a little more aggressive. I liked the way he jumped. We cantered, I shook him up. If I hadn’t have done that I would not have touched him with a 10-foot pole.”
Fenwick bought him for longtime client Arcadia Stable. Buck Jakes went on to win two Maryland Hunt Cups, two Pennsylvania Hunt Cups, two International Gold Cups and three Grand National timber stakes in a steeplechase career that spanned parts of nine racing seasons. The performances ensured a lifetime of memories, but he went one better and planted himself in Fenwick’s life. In retirement, Buck Jakes became a foxhunter, a pet, a companion, a teacher, a symbol. He died Jan. 4 at age 24. The old horse colicked, went to New Bolton Center, improved (a little), regressed, improved, went back home to Maryland and really didn’t get much better. Fenwick made the decision to not let the horse suffer, to not put him through too much – then thought about all the people Buck Jakes touched.
The list could have included himself, my father, anyone fortunate enough to see the big gray fly a fence like he did in the Maryland Hunt Cup or that day at Willowdale when he made the Steeplechase Times cover. But Fenwick was talking more about personal connections.
Helen Pitts and Clare Thorner, Heather Bankert, Siobhan Fitzgerald, Talya Hord, Amy Siebert, Tolley Ewing, Jess Hobbs, Danielle Brewster (Oster), Stephanie Minor and Annie Weeden came to mind but there are surely others.
“All of those people worked for me for at least a year, and I believe they all rode him regularly and hunted him,” Fenwick said. “Some were more accomplished than others, but they all loved him, and he loved them.”
As a steeplechaser, Buck Jakes won for four jockeys – Anne Moran, Victoria Schlesinger, Gregg Ryan and Fenwick himself. Moran came to New Bolton for a visit last week, feeding the horse his favorite jelly beans.
“We took him to New Bolton, to figure out what we could do for him,” Fenwick said, “but in the end I think he went up there to say goodbye to Anne. She saw him three or four times while he was there. They had a connection from the beginning.”
And at the end.
Fenwick’s children Charlie, Beth and Emily and his wife wife Sherry rode the horse on the farm or in the hunting field. Teenage amateur jockey Connor Hankin – who was == when Buck Jakes’ racing career ended – got a taste for racing speed aboard the retired stakes winner.
“He gave as much fun after his racing career as he did during his racing career,” Fenwick said. “He stayed very active, and crossed paths with a lot of people. He had a wonderful personality and was in very good health. He had a heart murmur we watched and we didn’t ride him as much during the last six months but he was a very active horse.”
When he got sick, Fenwick called Kevin Howard for help and the longtime friend/employee leapt in to help – on a Sunday, during a Baltimore Ravens game, in the dark, in the cold. Fenwick drove the truck, Howard rode in the trailer with their horse to New Bolton. The horse was fine – “a real saint” is how Fenwick put it – through the whole ordeal.
“Kevin took care of him all the way through, helped me and the horse,” said Fenwick. “We were very lucky to have people who are so wonderful care about the horse.”
Lucky, but not surprised. Horses make people care.
*PHOTO: Retired by not inactive, Buck Jakes went for a ride with Charlie Fenwick. (photo by Lydia Williams).
**Daily Racing Form’s Barbara Livingston remembered Buck Jakes in a recent post.