Speed Dial

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Rusty Arnold’s phone rings at 10:30 in the morning. Every morning. For 27 years.

That’s when G. Watts Humphrey Jr. calls. Some days, the owner and the trainer talk about each horse in the stable, where they’re going, how they’re doing. Other days, they talk about sports, politics, the state of the game, the state of the world. Some conversations are a minute or two, other times they last 15 minutes, sometimes longer. Christmas. Thanksgiving. New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day. When the horses are winning. When the horses are losing.

I’ll do the math for you, 365 days for 27 years, that’s 9,855 phone calls.

“I know when my phone is going to ring every day. He doesn’t call you at 9 o’clock at night, he doesn’t call you at 2 in the afternoon, he calls you once a day, sometimes we go over the stable, sometimes it involves baseball or football or something else, that’s your day,” Arnold said. “Now, if you run one, you’ll talk after they run. It’s been that way for nearly 30 years. He’s a Marine, he’s a military type, he keeps his schedule. Every now and then he’s in a meeting and he’ll call you a little later, but 99 percent of the time that’s when your call’s coming.”

Over the years, Arnold and Humphrey have discussed the likes of Clear Mandate, winner of the Grade 1 Spinster and nine other races on her way to $1 million. They’ve talked about 2012 Lake George winner Centre Court. They’ve lived and died by the speed of Victory Ride, winner of the Test in 2001. Nowadays they talk about a promising Uncle Mo filly at Keeneland. They ponder the Shine Again for Awestruck. They look forward to another maiden for First Wave, second earlier in the meet. They share their respect for Caress contender Morticia, a mare they bred together, talk about the potential of her little sisters and brothers and discuss who they’re going to breed to next.

“Her conversations haven’t been any different than the rest of them,” Arnold said. “We talk about where we’re going to go, he’s happy for us that we bred a nice filly with them. He’s impressed that she shows up every time she runs, that’s the main thing.”

Arnold and Humphrey are old school. Their relationship is old school. The loyal owner, breeding his own, selling the colts, keeping the fillies, allocating a certain number of horses every year to his main trainer and then standing back and allowing the trainer to drive the bus, the horses to run their races. He found the right man when he found Arnold.

A son of a trainer, the 64-year-old Kentuckian has plied his trade with class and consistency, staying the course and banging out a living, producing at least 20 winners every year since 1979. He hit a high of 97 winners in 1985, a low of 22 in 2005. His demeanor has never changed (although, he does seem a bit bouncier after winning the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks with Ashbrook Farm and BBN Racing’s Concrete Rose in July). For all the right reasons, Arnold is as respected as any trainer on the grounds. His relationship with Humphrey is one of those reasons.

Closing in on 30 years, Humphrey and Arnold are today’s Mellon and Miller, today’s Dreyfus and Jerkens, today’s Calumet and Jones. It’s rare and it’s a credit to both men. In Thoroughbred racing, trainers are judged in a lot of ways, mostly by win percentage and stakes wins, but the more accurate barometer is the longevity of their relationships. To accurately judge a trainer, it’s not how many owners but it’s how long an owner, that’s the real gauge of a trainer’s ability, his personality. It’s like when you hire someone, you’ll be better off hiring the candidate who’s had one job for 10 years than the one who’s had 10 jobs for a year each.

“It’s unheard of in our business. He’s stuck with me through some tough times and some good times,” Arnold said. “He doesn’t change much when they run really good or when they run really bad. When they run a bad one, he’s as disappointed as you are but he’s not one of those guys, when you win a Grade 1, he doesn’t jump around and high five you. He just knows you’re going to have good days and bad days. I’m just lucky. There are a lot of good horse trainers that when something goes a little south, they get fired.”

And don’t get him or me wrong, Arnold has been fired plenty of times but his relationship with Humphrey and his relationship with the Bromagen family who owns Concrete Rose goes back even further.

“We’re in a business where you can’t get your feelings hurt by getting fired,” Arnold said. “I’ve had guys fire me, it happens, you hit on a little dry luck and they’re gone. But Watts has stuck through it the whole time. The Bromagen family even longer, I had Tricky Creek for them, way back. Right now, we’ve got a really good group of horses.”

May the phone keep ringing.