by Murray Brown
I’m going to start this week’s column with my Pet Peeve of the Week.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s of little consequence, but I often wonder about the professionalism and experience of those who bring their measuring canes when inspecting yearlings.
I can see a novice doing it because their experience and “eye” might be limited. However, I would think the horseperson with experience and a decent eye can surely tell at a quick glance, in relative terms, whether a horse measures longer, the same or shorter than its height at the withers.
Having said this, I need to also point out that one of the greatest horsemen that ever lived, Soren Nordin, was rarely found without his measuring cane.
The reason I bring this up is that in a new environment, yearlings can often be skittish when something new is presented. This certainly applies to sales facilities. More than once, I’ve seen a yearling attempt to clean house when approached or even just touched with a measuring stick.
But, to each their own.
I don’t know about other farms, but I do know that Dr. Bridgette Jablonsky at Hanover measures all the yearlings both in length and height. I’m certain she will share the information. All you have to do is ask.
Memorable yearlings shoppers, part 2
Further to last week’s column, when I detailed some of the most memorable yearling shoppers — good and bad — of all time (full story here) here’s part 2, with the likelihood I will add a few more names next week:
Leonard J Buck: Mr. Buck was perhaps the most interesting and wisest man I’ve ever known, both in and outside of harness racing. He was an absolute perfectionist. The farm that he established outside of Hanover was the most beautiful small farm I’ve ever seen. He was a world renowned horticulturist. Everything had to be just right. He wouldn’t allow power mowers to cut his grass. The mowers had to be of the push variety. He felt the power motors were okay, but not good enough for his fields or his horses. He was the same way when it came to buying horses. He wanted only the best and was always willing to pay for it. Of one thing you could rest assured. If Mr. Buck bought a yearling, you would be fairly certain that it was good looking. He had a way of asking questions that made you think that you knew more than him, but you never did.
Two stories involving Mr. Buck.
When he first got into the business, his adviser was the great harness and thoroughbred trainer Thomas W Murphy. Buck once told me a story about when, accompanied by Mr. Murphy, they went to visit Hempt Farms to look at their yearlings. They were met and welcomed by the farm’s manager Jimmy Rue. Mr. Murphy said to Rue, “Young man, I want to see your best yearling.” Jimmy, as would most farm managers, responded, “Well Mr. Murphy, we’ve got several very nice yearling, it’s hard to pick just one.” Mr. Murphy looked at him and said, “If you haven’t got one that stands out, you don’t have anything that would interest us.” He told Mr. Buck to get into the car and they drove off. Mr. Buck said that he was never more embarrassed in his life.
Another time, it might have been my first or second year at Hanover, we had two really nice Tar Heel colts, one was out of Sister Byrd, the other was out of Sister Chief. Mr. Buck liked the Sister Byrd colt and instructed Jim Harrison to buy him for his account. Jim went to Mr. Buck and told him, “Mr. Buck, I got the colt for you.”
“What do you mean, Jim? The colt I want hasn’t sold yet.”
Harrison had mistakenly bought the one out of Sister Chief, the wrong colt. Mr. Buck just laughed and said “Well then I’ll buy them both. Go back in and get the Sister Byrd colt for me.” As it turned out, they were both decent, but the one Harrison bought in error was the better one. Mr. Buck renamed him No Error.
Jonel Chyriachos: Chyriachos was a Greek who became one of the leading horse trainers in France and throughout Europe. He was fond of saying “I am a very good horse trainer, but I am the very best owner trainer in the history of trotting”. His stable of owners included the likes of the Aga Khan, several Rothschilds and numerous other notables. The day he showed up at the Fairgrounds he was accompanied by a pair of gorgeous twin blondes who were his traveling companions. I don’t mean golden retrievers either.
I remember him telling John Simpson, Sr. something which I’ve never forgotten. He was looking at yearlings and said, “The man who is looking for the perfect horse or the perfect woman will spend the rest of his life without a horse in his stable or a woman in his bed.”
Clarence F Gaines: Mr. Gaines was probably the most fastidious owner ever when it came to shopping for yearlings. He would come to the Fairgrounds with his catalog together with a notebook on which he made notes on the yearlings in which he was most interested. In addition he would also carry pictures of any that had been advertised in the trade journals. He was a great believer in watching yearlings in action. He could not be disturbed when watching yearlings going up and down the lead strip. By the time I first met him his interest was solely on trotters, although previously, he also had pacers. He usually relied solely on his opinion or together with that of any partners that he might have had. Money, barring ridiculous prices, was rarely an issue to him. If he wanted to buy a yearling, then he almost always bought it. There was one that got away though. He and his sometimes partner K D Owen were prepared to buy the top leading trotting colt at Hanover in 1967, my first year at the farm. He was a Stars Pride colt named Galahad Hanover. The colt could almost literally trot a hole through the wind. I thought that he would bring a whole lot of money as did others. A whole lot of money in those days was $35,000 to $75,000. His selling price was a huge disappointment. He fetched only $15,000. More surprisingly, Mr. Gaines and Mr. Owen were not the buyers. It turned out that just to reassure themselves, they would get the seal of approval on him from Dr John Steele. Doc Steele was somewhat ambivalent about the colt’s chances of staying sound. He was skeptical about his hocks. Thus, they dropped out of the race. In retrospect, I think that if they knew he’d bring only $15K, they still would have rolled the dice. The P.S. to the story, of course, is that Howard Beissinger bought him for the Antonacci and Lomangino families. They changed his name to Lindys Pride and he became a world champion and Triple Crown winner. To the best of my knowledge, his hocks never gave him any trouble.
Herve Filion: My man Herve. Very few probably remember this, but there was a time before his stable was tragically wiped out by that horrendous fire at his training center, that Herve — together with his partner Marty Shulman — was a top-end yearling buyer. He didn’t really study looking at yearlings much. He’d mostly come to the farms and would speak with John Simpson, Sr. They would swap stories and pick each other’s brains. They genuinely really liked each other. His yearling choices were often predicated on which ones Mr. Simpson said he really liked. His best two Hanover purchases were likely Otaro Hanover and Crain Hanover.
Glen Garnsey: An all-around good guy. He did his work, but he was generally quick about reaching conclusions on his likes and dislikes. He had the biggest hands of any horseman that I could recall. If he was dependent on the four-finger throat test, then not a single yearling would pass his inspection. He and Mr. Simpson were really good friends going back to their days at Vernon Downs together.
John Hayes: If being focused was a necessity in yearling selection, then The Senator, a name placed on him by Montreal Star columnist Baz O’Meara, personified it. He would only look at pacers. He said he hated trotters and one time said to me that he felt that they should be banned. I could never understand that though, because there was a time when he only had trotters in his stable and did very well with them. I remember him having a double-gaited horse by the name of Pershing’s First who set a world record under saddle on both the trot and the pace with Benoit Cote driving. The Senator’s next area of focus after pacers, was colts only and Tar Heel colts in particular. There eventually came a time where he opened his perspective to colts by Bret Hanover, his own Strike Out and the occasional Albatross. L. W. “Monty” Moncrief was in charge of prepping the Hanover yearlings at the time. If he heard Hayes was coming, he’d either make himself scarce or take a couple of stiff shots of vodka. Mr. Hayes was perhaps the roughest person I’ve ever encountered looking at yearlings. He’d jerk them to and fro, he’d push and pull, to be truthful, I loved the man, but it wasn’t very pleasant to watch. Monty would start mumbling to himself and then disappear.
Terry Holton: Big Tee would always come with his aide de camp Jerry Knappenberger. They would usually stay over and look at the yearlings over two days. Like Ned Bower and Jim Hackett, Terry would generally make the acquaintance of many of the bartenders in town. Unlike them though, he would show up bright as a daisy the following morning, ready for work and never missing a beat. Unlike Bower and Hackett, Big Tee had the modifying influence of Knappy to keep him under control.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Dr. John Hayes asks: “In the days when mudders were truly adept at racing in mud, who were the best or some of the best mudders that you have seen?”
Of all the horses I have seen, one name comes to mind. The horse was named Snipe Reward. He was a full brother to Olin Davis’ wonderful filly Quick Lady. Both were raised by the Davis family. Snipe Reward was a solid A pacer in the Montreal area. However, if the track was muddy or heavy, he could demolish any pacer on the grounds. Two other examples were horses sired by Goose Bay. If the track was bad and there were Goose Bays on the card, they usually represented a good bet. Another example was horses trained and driven by Frog Redden. I don’t believe I ever saw him lose a race in the mud. Mr. Redden was a renowned foot specialist. I’m guessing that the softer terrain might have benefitted the sore-footed horses that he raced.