by Victoria M. Howard
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to train horses for a famous clothes designer? Well, ask Anne Schlichtig.
At one time Schlichtig and her life partner Tom Merriman trained for high-end fashion designer, Roberto Cavalli, in Italy. Two of their Italian stars were Nettare Dei, who won The Premio Renzo Orlandi at Cesena and The Premio Aste at Taranto.
They also had the 2-year-old filly Orata Dei who Anne drove and won her first Italian race.
Later, Merriman drove Orata Dei and was victorious in the prestigious Coppa Dell’ Allevamento at Treviso. (see photo below).
The couple privately campaigned for Cavalli, racing at 14 Italian racetracks winning several Gran Premios.
It was at Montecatini that Schlichtig became the first American woman to drive a winner in Italy. Now, that’s a hard act to follow.
Born into the business as a second-generation horseman, Schlichtig grew up on a small farm in Huntington, Long Island.
“My parents had a talented filly named Riverboat who raced at all the New York tracks in the inaugural Sire Stakes program. For three years my mother and I shipped Riverboat to all of her engagements. Luckily, I was never caught by the truant officer for missing school.
“I spent my youth primarily at Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceway where I got my start learning how to care for, shoe and train horses from Dick Baker of the Stanley Dancer Stable. I had the great fortune and privilege of observing, questioning and learning from some of the best trainers and drivers ever; extraordinary horsemen like Joe O’Brien, Howard Beissinger and Jimmy Cruise.
“I wanted to learn as much about the business as possible so I attended The Horse Science School when I was 13-years-old. I went to college at Tulane University majoring in biology and did graduate work in cardiovascular pharmacology. After graduation, I worked as a veterinary assistant to Dr. Raymond Cotter at Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceway.
“When I was 16, I drove my first race in Goshen and when I was 23, I opened my first public stable. In working with and observing many trainers over the years, I learned at an early age to be flexible and attentive to a horse’s needs.
“The main difference I see in today’s training styles is due to the ease at which young horses train down and the great gaits and attitudes that most possess. I attribute that to our refined breeding programs and expert handling and prepping. A good horseman will moderate the conditioning program with a balance of distance and speed.”
Tom Merriman, also a renowned trainer/driver, has driven many great horses. They met in 1977 at Yonkers Raceway where the two raced against each other. Several years later, they teamed up personally and professionally.
They trained for late owner Fred Monteleone, developing and racing the horses Monte Hall and Civil Action. Schlichtig was awarded credit for Civil Action winning the Peter Haughton Memorial in 2001.
Civil Action would go on to win The Townsend Ackerman the following year in a faster time than the Hambletonian on that same day. After earning a million dollars in two seasons of racing, Civil Action was sold to the Italians.
Monte Hall raced the circuit and joined the free-for-all ranks. He retired at the end of his 6-year-old campaign with earnings just shy of $1 million.
“Later on, I was the sole trainer of the horse Cincinnati Kid, who won The Campbellville at Mohawk in Canada in 2003,” Schlichtig said.
“Cincinnati Kid not only won The Campbellville (now known as The William Wellwood) but also set the Ontario stakes record of 1:56.1 — which was the fastest 2-year-old record that year. He shared the time with the great Cantab Hall, whom he would finish second to that year in The Breeders Crown.”
Schlichtig has owned and trained hundreds of horses and claims she has had several favorites.
“The one thing they all had in common was a generous heart and gave all they had to offer — regardless of their ability.”
Having been in the sport for over 50 years, Schlichtig has seen many changes in the sport.
“Throughout my career, I have raced in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Kentucky and Ontario. I see the declining interest in our sport and believe it is the victim of a society that demands a faster pace of entertainment and instant gratification. Sadly, I am not sure what one thing would remedy the situation.”
Today, Schlichtig helps train for the powerhouse Tony Alagna Stable during the winter at Sunshine Meadows Training Center.
In the summer, Schlichtig and Merriman go to The Meadows Racetrack in Pennsylvania where they are an integral part of The Norm Parker Stable.
I asked Anne if retirement was in the near future, and she laughed.
“No retirement here, folks. This is not a ‘job,’ but a lifestyle I cherish.”