“Nice article on Chad Brown winning his first race at Saratoga,” John Fahey III said while leaning on the racing office counter Thursday.
“Thanks. I’ll write the same one when you win your first.”
“OK,” Fahey said.
Two days after Chad Brown, 29, won his first Saratoga race with his first Saratoga starter, Fahey, 30, duplicated the effort when Fort Apache Star upset a starter allowance Friday. Consider Fahey content with his decision to bring four horses to Saratoga. A decision made July 5.
That was the day the condition book came out on NYRA’s web site. Fahey searched the conditions. It’s not like Pletcher or Asmussen looking at a condition book. It either works or it doesn’t work. Fahey has 11 horses in his care. It didn’t take long to download the stall application.
“I saw spots where my horses fit, like this horse here,” Fahey said. “I was surprised, just because it’s ‘Saratoga.’ You used to need good allowance horses, good babies and stakes horses to belong here.”
Fahey circled the sixth race in the book (carded as Friday’s seventh) for Fort Apache Star, a 4-year-old he claimed for $10,000 in March at Fair Grounds. Fort Apache Star had lost his last three races before that day, all by double digit margins. Fahey took the blinkers off and shortened him up. The chestnut gelding responded immediately, finishing third at Keeneland in a $30,000 conditioned claimer, second at Churchill against the same company, then stepping up and winning for a $50,000 tag. Spartan Stables’ gelding finished fourth on the turf at the end of June, setting him up for his Saratoga debut.
Fahey liked that spot and then picked out a few other races that fit other horses. Fahey decided he belonged at Saratoga.
Then he talked to his wife, Jennie, and told her he was leaving for six weeks. Leaving his 3-year-old son and his 1 1/2-year-old daughter. Then he called his owners to tell them he wanted to go to Saratoga.
Jennie Fahey was cool with it. Fahey’s owners went along with it, but were hesitant.
“Are you sure?” many of them asked.
“I was sure, but I wasn’t very sure,” Fahey said. “It was a big step. To leave the family . . . I’m sorry. It just hits you.”
That’s what happens when you win your first race at Saratoga. Everything hits you.
Eighteen years on the backstretch. Eighteen years of dreaming.
Fahey followed his dad onto the Churchill Downs backstretch, walking hots for Glenn Wismer. His dad taught school and spent summer vacations walking hots and working the mutuels at Churchill. The younger Fahey went to Eastern Kentucky University, just like his dad, but the racetrack was always more addictive than schoolwork. He worked off and on as “hotwalker, groom and half-ass foreman” for Wayne Lukas and then worked as the assistant to the assistant in the Steve Asmussen juggernaut.
“It jumps in your blood and stays there. There isn’t many things I’d like to do other than this, or could do,” Fahey said. “So far, we’ve had some success. We haven’t had any big time owners or big time horses. I had a horse in the Claiming Crown last year and I’ll have one in it this year. For a guy like me who’s got 10 horses, trying to pay the bills and feed the family, those type of horses mean a lot.”
Leave it to Fahey to win his first race at Saratoga with a horse he claimed for $10,000 in March. Fahey walks a different walk. He doesn’t fit the mold of Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mark Hennig, Dallas Stewart . . . no, he calls himself a half-ass foreman. He’s no half-ass trainer.
“I don’t have 40 or 50 horses that I can keep plugging at them and picking spots. I’m proud of what we’ve done,” Fahey said. “I’ve got good owners supporting me and it’s nice to repay them with this.”
Fahey’s son, George, starts pre-school in the fall. His daughter, Lizzie, is 1 1/2. The emotions started to come again as Fahey stood outside Clark’s Cottage, where his small string of Saratoga horses bed down for the season.
“My wife’s a saint, she’s supported me every step of the way,” Fahey said. “I go to New Orleans but we plan on that and we can deal with it. Coming up here came on so quick, July 5 and we were shipping two weeks later, it’s a lot. It’s pretty cool to win one. That helps. It jumps on top of you and puts you in a headlock, something like this.”