Remembering Liza Stude: Horsepower and horse power

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Liza Stude leads up a runner at Fair Hill in the 1970s.

Liza Stude liked horsepower, and horse power. And somehow made the two passions her life. Part of a collection of people who worked for my father when he trained a racing stable of flat and steeplechasers in the Mid-Atlantic, Liza died Monday, March 20. She was 66.

Born in Wilmington, Del., Liza blended horse jobs with other pursuits involving motorcycles and race cars. I remember some of this – a fast car or two in the barn parking lot, talk of Daytona, a leather jacket maybe and a way-tougher-than-most personality. Liza and her sister Sue, who stayed around a lot longer and way more consistently, were part of the team in the barn at Delaware Park or the farms in Pennsylvania in the 1970s and 1980s. I was a kid, then a teenager, then off to college but I’ll always remember the simple horsemanship they displayed whether they were driving the van, leading up a runner, bandaging a leg or wrestling a goat into a situation he didn’t necessarily want to be in. People like Sue and Liza kept horses calm and people confident that everything would be OK no matter what happened.

Sue emailed me this week about Liza’s passing and hoped I could help spread the word to some of her horse friends. It brought back a lot of memories.

Sue’s favorite horse, by a mile, was Restless Singleton – a big, black, grouchy turf mare who won three in a row (July 19, Aug. 4 and Aug. 16) at Delaware Park in the summer of 1978. Sue had a T-shirt made with the simple message, “Get Restless.” Superstitiously (or stupidly), I wore the same blue and yellow polo shirt for each race, meaning I look the same in all three winner’s circle photos. Restless, a daughter of Maryland stallion Restless Native, won five races, placed in a stakes and had one foal. Trained by my father, Tattiebogle was big and restless (sorry) like her mother and won six races including a stakes in the 1980s. My father trained her first foal, Twigazuri, to a win in her third start and she later became the dam of Grade 1 winner Futural.

None of that happens if Sue and Liza didn’t take such good care of Restless.

Liza grew up in Cecil County, Md., graduated from Elkton High School in 1974 and participated in 4-H programs and Pony Club. Her first job in racing came in high school, as a groom for Hall of Fame trainer Burley Cocks. In addition to my father, she also worked for Dr. John Fisher, spent a season working for the Valentine family’s foxhunters in Pennsylvania and spent several years with Patti Miller and Jeff Seder at EQB (Equine Biomechanics and Exercise Physiology) also in Pennsylvania.

As a teenager, Liza spent a winter in Camden, S.C., and a summer working for Cocks in Saratoga and got a taste of the big time. She always remembered how kind Seattle Slew’s trainer Billy Turner, a former Cocks employee, was to her. While with Fisher, Liza had a love/hate relationship with Fire Control, champion steeplechaser of 1976. As Sue put it, Liza “loved how talented he was, and hated how hard-headed he could be.”

Miller called me Wednesday afternoon to make sure we caught up about Liza.

“Liza was one of those underrated, dedicated people who stayed with horses despite the work involved,” she said. “She loved the horses. She loved the rhetoric. She loved the work. She was such a colorful part of our lives and we’re really going to miss her.”

Liza could, of course, also fix a tractor, provide advice on the replacement of an engine in a blue Volkswagen Beetle purchased for $50, pitch hay bales with ease, muck stalls and steady an unruly horse. At EQB, Liza worked with the horses in the barn but also shifted roles to work on the film crew taking high-speed galloping videos and proved to be a valuable asset when trying to gauge horses’ breathing.

“She kind of made her own hours with us, but that was OK because the hours could change, and she did a little bit of everything,” said Miller. “She had a great sense of humor and just fit in with everything we were doing. She was also really smart. She knew what she was looking at and what she was hearing.”

Early in her career, Miller also worked for my father as an exercise rider and recalled a particularly tough horse who ran off for several laps of the indoor track at Brandywine Stable next to Delaware Park.

“Your dad was so mad he took the horse to the races and I remember Liza ran him and he won,” Miller said. “Well, Liza just ran with that and would say ‘Who’s the sacrificial lamb today?’ whenever it was time to ride him from then on.”

Beyond horses, far beyond, Liza attended the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Florida and was its first female graduate according to her sister. In the late 1990s she attended the Bertil Roos Racing School in New Jersey to be certified to drive in automotive road racing events.

She drove her Volkswagen Golf race car at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut and drove drag bikes at Daytona Bike Week several times. In the early 1990s, she had her own motorcycle shop, Liza’s Powersports in Chesapeake City, Md. 

She moved to West Virginia several years ago after reuniting with her former partner Jerry Laird, who died last year. A fan of the mountains, Liza stayed in West Virginia and was a regular watcher of racing – horse, car, motorcycle – on television.

Liza is survived sisters Sue and Lucinda, and daughter-in-law Roxanna Honaker.