“Who is that chestnut horse?”
The chestnut horse free-wheeled around the shedrow at Lizzie Merryman’s barn at Fair Hill Training Center for the second time – big, scopey, long head, free-walking, a natural sequence of momentum and verve. Jockey/exercise rider Billy Hollick sat still as a sprinkle on a doughnut, long leg, bracing against a horse who naturally walked too fast.
“Who is that chestnut horse?” I asked again.
I handed a leather bridle I was holding to Lizzie as she tacked up her stakes mare With Patience on a cold Mid-Atlantic winter morning.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to see that chestnut horse.”
I hopped in my Honda Civic and fishtailed out the stone driveway like it was closing time, ripped past the speed limit signs, parked at the starting gate, ducked through the pine saplings and ran down to the outside rail of the dirt track. The chestnut horse walked onto the track, stood, stared and then broke into that natural sequence of momentum and verve again. He jogged like a soldier on a march. He galloped like a sergeant, high-blowing like he was barking orders. And sauntered home like the general, mission accomplished.
He had me at hello.
I followed him back to the barn, leaving my car at the starting gate, just watching him walk along the horse path and down the hill to the barn. I cornered his trainer, Vince Moscarelli.
For the third time in 15 minutes, I asked that same question.
“Who is that chestnut horse?”
“He’s a homebred of Mom’s and Doc Bowman’s. Maryland-bred. Unraced. 3-year-old,” Moscarelli said. “Hasn’t done much, two minute licked a couple of times as a baby at Delaware, went home to grow up and now he’s just coming back into work.”
“Yeah, who’s he by?” I asked, hoping for hope.
I huffed, searching my limited pedigree knowledge for a nice horse by Concern. The few I had seen were bay and small. This horse was anything but bay and small.
“What kind of mare?” I asked.
I puffed, trying to ignore what sounded like an incongruent mating, again, in my limited pedigree knowledge. The few I had seen were gray and fast. This horse was anything but gray and fast.
“Is he for sale?” I asked.
“I guess Mom would sell him.” Moscarelli said.
We watched him for another couple of days, picking over him, “A little straight in his shoulder, maybe a little narrow for his size…” but were still impressed.
Lizzie galloped him, loved him. I remember her saying if we don’t buy this horse, we’ll never buy a horse, or something like that. She was bullish.
I asked Suzanne Moscarelli if she wanted to sell, “Well, you know, you always have to have wares in your barrow,” she said.
I called Dad about the big chestnut horse. Dad told me about buying Federico Tesio winner Fourmatt from Suzannne and her husband Vinnie, “They raise good horses and they’re great to deal with, honest, old school.”
Hollick was crestfallen that we were trying to buy the horse, “I can’t believe they’re going to sell this horse.”
Dr. Kathy Anderson vetted him for us, in the middle of the process, she turned and looked at us, “This horse gives you a good vibe.”
We made the deal for Good Night Shirt.
Lizzie, with help from Gillian Barnes and a team full of patience, made him into a nice horse, he could have been a runaway, they taught him to temper that natural sequence of momentum and verve. I rode him once, we jogged the hills of Fair Hill, he ran off with me without ever getting out of a jog, his power was palpable as his neck went up and his head went down.
We sprinted him on the dirt once, he came running, then tried him long on the dirt twice, he was galloping while the rest were running. Switched to the turf, he finished third at Colonial Downs, it was starting to click. Then he won two straight over the Pimlico turf. He leveled off in two tries against two-other-than competition in the fall, lugging in and finishing last at the Meadowlands in his final 3-year-old start. Chris DeCarlo rode him that night, he came back like he had seen a ghost.
Just a few years removed from riding races, worrying about money, uncomfortable with risk (well, monetary risk), restless in every way, I made the decision to sell him that winter. Lizzie told me I was making a mistake. A big mistake. I did it anyway, selling that chestnut horse to Jack Fisher and Sonny Via.
The rest is history. A million dollars worth of history, a Hall of Fame worth of history.