Standing Pat, Standing Tall

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The woman yelled from her cardboard blanket, disheveled and surrounded by newspapers and popcorn boxes. She yelled at anybody who walked past. A can of Bud Light in one hand, she pointed with the other and barked unintelligibly at anybody who came into view.

Pat Reynolds, recovering addict, walked past. She yelled at him.

“You want to help her?” he was asked.

“One day maybe,” Reynolds said. “But not when they’ve got a can of beer in their hand.”

Reynolds would know. He asks which time when asked where he went to dry out, sober up and straighten out his life. He’s tried to help others, but knows the cliche, they need to help themselves first.

“A guy called me to help this jock out, come talk to him. I walked in the house and he’s sitting there with a big mound of white powder, all the apparatus, he’s stretching like he’s doing isometrics, he’s got a big bottle of vodka, some landing gear – a big bottle of valium – for when it’s over,” Reynolds remembered. “I said ‘I’ll see you later.’ He said, ‘Wait, he wants to talk.’ I said, ‘He’s got other plans, bro. He doesn’t want to talk, he’s got everything he wants to talk to right here in front of him.’ It’s hard to buy into all that stuff, like you need help, you gotta grieve, but you can’t go through it any other way.”

The trainer started on the backstretch walking hots for Elliott Burch, went out on his own in 1976, and hit rock bottom sometime in the ’80s. That’s when Bill Durkin, Pat Myer and other backstretch angels helped him.

“I didn’t have any keys. Because I didn’t have a door to put them in, it didn’t last too long, but that was my lowest point. I didn’t have any stalls, I had no horses, they said go take a powder, get yourself together, when you come back it’ll change,” Reynolds said. “I came back and got a job as an assistant with my buddy Bill Badgett. I got myself together, started to apply myself and things started to turn around. God’s been good to me, let me tell you.”

Reynolds eventually got those stalls he lost, picked up horses and owners he had squandered and began to produce wins from modest stock. Still, he didn’t win his first stakes until 2001 when Peeping Tom won the Carter Handicap. He had claimed Peeping Tom for $40,000. Reynolds met Paul Pompa a few years after that and good horses began to trickle his way. Alysweep, Shawklit Mint, Tom’s Thunder, Watchmon, Zakocity won stakes and gave Reynolds creditability. Now, he trains almost solely for Pompa.

“It’s eggs in one basket, sure, but I’m secure with it. You don’t know what could happen in this game, but we have a pretty good relationship, I don’t worry. I don’t worry anyway, if I get canned, I’ll get more horses somewhere, it’s always worked out,” Reynolds said. “Good horses find their way over to me, whether it’s a knack or luck, I’m not going to question it. It’s not like I have a big pool to choose from. I get five or six babies, last year I had a 2-year-old filly Backseat Rhythm and a 2-year-old colt Big Brown. They worked out.”

In the Trustees’ Room after the stakes, champagne flowed and Reynolds sipped from a glass of Coca-Cola.

“Up here, you feel like the odd man out, but not really. What am I gonna have, a little drinky, winky, winky of champagne?” Reynolds said, after excusing himself from the celebrations. “There was really nothing else to try, nothing else to do, it just got boring, that lifestyle. These horses give you aspirations. These horses give you enough of a charge.”

Reynolds cashed his tickets, tipped the woman behind the window a $20 bill and headed for his car. Reynolds is not Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen or any other trainer on the grounds. He does this crazy hands-over head voodoo move that looks like part genie, part wizard, when something good happens. He’s always good for a quote, most you can’t use, but he’s always talking, rambling to his own tune. He refuses $50 bills from the teller, “They’re bad luck.”

Own man? Own universe.

“You know how it is when you’re growing up, what the Godfather said, ‘You can be a man!’ You think you’re supposed to be able to fight every day, overwhelm your problems, never air your dirty laundry, never ask anybody for anything. That’s the direct opposite of what you need to recover,” Reynolds said. “Anybody that I ever seen get better, recovered, always had to ask for help from somebody. I needed 1, 1A, 1X to help me. Paddy Myer. Bill Durkin. Champs like that, grabbing people on the backside, taking them to meetings, paying for them, without blowing their horns, those were the guys.”

At the end of the day, Reynolds climbed into his car. Asked if he minded being written about, he – once again – answered honestly and somehow eloquently.

“Look, I’m not one of those guys who want to come out with it and all that,” Reynolds said. “It’s not something you want to run around and wear on your sleeve, but you can’t change what’s already happened. I worked through it, take steps to maintain myself, and the horse gods and the main God do the rest.”