1st Series Chronicles of a broke horse trainer "It's a Small World"
HorseN Around with Mister Ed – “IT'S A SMALL WORLD”
Anyone who has been in the horse world for a significant length of time is familiar with the concept that "the horse community is a small community". As a racehorse trainer at many small to medium sized tracks over a period of 17 years, I was always amazed at how many people in various parts of the country knew me, or at least knew of me, from other parts of the country. Usually, I had crossed paths with a friend or a friend of a friend somewhere who had occasion to at least mention my name in passing. I believe it was somewhere around 1988 (give or take a year or two) that Missouri was on the brink of establishing horse racing at a few locations under the stewardship of their relatively new gaming commission. The only recognized meet that I am aware of ("recognized" meaning that the results of these races were accepted by the Jockey Club of America as officially counting on the race record of any horses competing at the race meet) in Missouri was hosted by the Sedalia State Fairgrounds as probably some sort of a test, I guess. The meet had pari mutuel betting just like other tracks. There was even a "tote board" in the infield which displayed odds and payoffs in real time and the whole thing was a big deal to the state and especially to horsemen within the state. I was training a stable of 10-12 horses at Fairmount Park, Ill. The track is located in Collinsville, Ill. which is right across the river from St Louis. I was born and raised in Missouri and was extremely excited about actually getting to run in my home state. The haul was only about 200 miles so there was no way that I was not going to be running something there every one of the 4 weekends that the meet was scheduled to last. The only fly in the ointment was that the purses were so small that you could win a race and maybe still not cover your
gas, motel, meals, etc. while you were there. After a little creative thinking I devised a plan that actually worked well. In the world of horse racing there is a rule, at least at the smaller tracks, that states if your horse has ever run below the bottom claiming price for that track (at Fairmont it was $3000) then the horse must run in the top 4 finishers in one of its next 4 races at $3000 or higher claiming price. Many of the horses that came into Fairmount came in from tracks in Nebraska, Oklahoma or Louisiana where there were claiming prices as low as $2500. If your horse fell into this category, it meant that you had to run top 4 in one of your first 4 races to be able to keep the horse at Fairmount. The racing was presumed to be fairly easy at Sedalia due to the low purses and in fact many of the races would only have 5 or 6 entries. This resulted in me being able to charge a reasonable fee to haul horses in jeopardy to Sedalia for other trainers at Fairmount and have all of my expenses covered. I could only haul 3 horses in my old trailer but that meant 2 for pay and 1 for me so it was a perfect setup for a broke horse trainer. My whole staff at Fairmount consisted of my wife and I, a couple of grooms and an old boy named Gordon who had moved up into the Collinsville a few years before from Florida. He lived in an old trailer house a few miles from the track and had a tendency to drink a little more than his share of beer but he was just one of those super likeable race trackers that you run across once in a while. He didn't know enough about horses to really be called a "groom" but was very handy as a runner and general shed row cleanup hand. I had to leave the grooms at Fairmount for the Sedalia trips since there were still horses to be cared for there. I also would need decent help at Sedalia since I would have 3 horses there by myself and would occasionally have back to-back races. Gordon was adamant about wanting to go with me, but the truth was that I really needed a pretty good hand at Sedalia and I decided I would be better off finding a groom looking for work at the Sedalia track.
I arrived at the Missouri State Fair Grounds midday on Thursday since the races were scheduled for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. When I pulled in for the gate guard to check my license and my horse papers, I noticed a lanky, somewhat gaunt, young man standing by the guard shack. I took him to be in his thirties and he was staring somewhat hopefully at me as I checked in. After the formalities, I leaned out my window and asked if he was looking for work. His reply was "mister, I need work bad". I asked if he knew anything about horses and he immediately informed me that he was the best I would ever find. I had no real reason to believe him, but his demeanor and his confidence seemed to make him worth trying. As we headed to the horse barns, he told me his name was Jack and asked if I minded swinging thru the trailer parking area for a second. We did and when he got out of the truck he headed for an old red trailer and banged on the side of it. To my surprise, his cute little red-headed girlfriend came out of the back of the trailer. He offered a quick explanation that he and her had come to Sedalia with a trainer from Georgia on Tuesday. This trainer had brought in about 20 head of horses and was planning on "setting the world on fire" at Sedalia. Jack and Jan slept in the old horse trailer Tuesday night and when they went to the barn Wednesday morning the stalls were empty, the trainer was gone and these two were left there with no money, no job and only a few chips and soft drinks to survive on. More than likely this trainer had spotted someone already there that he either owed money to or had crossed paths with in a not so friendly manner. When we made it to the barn, it became obvious that Jack had been around horses and was experienced in racetrack procedures. Him and I together had the stalls bedded, the horses put in for the night and feeding completed in very short order. When chores were done, I asked them if they were hungry and if they had a place to stay. The hungry part brought an immediate, urgent "YES" and the place to stay
brought on blank stares. The motels in Sedalia were booked pretty solid for this event in town but I had been fortunate enough to get a room with 2 double beds about a mile north of the track on Hwy 65. I told them that if they didn't mind sleeping in a bed with an old, hairy legged man in the other bed I would swing by and get a couple of large pizzas and a 12 pack. You would have thought I had offered them steak and lobster from the response I received! We settled in running horses for the weekend and I was able to book the motel room for the month. The second and third weekends went like clockwork with their help. The fourth and last weekend of the race meet proved to be somewhat of a problem. Remember Gordon, the old boy who was left behind at Fairmount? He proceeded to throw a complete "hissy fit" on Thursday when I was about to leave Fairmount. He said he was going to get to Sedalia somehow even if he had to stowaway with the horses. The operation at Sedalia was going smooth and I decided that Gordon could go and help and if need be, I would simply pay Jack for showing up even if I didn't need him. We got to the track a little early and after unloading horses, Gordon was bedding stalls. Jack showed up about his normal time and I saw him striding towards us. When he saw Gordon bedding stalls, which was his job, his gaze left me and headed straight for Gordon. My first thought was a possible altercation over the job but Jack didn't appear to be angry so I had no clue. Jack walked into the stall, bent over to look at Gordon's name tag, stuck out his hand and said "How are you doing Dad"! They had not seen each other in 9 years. Gordon had told me about a son he left in Florida when he and his wife had divorced. He had always taken pride in the fact that the teenager seemed to have a knack with a horse and could ride about anything. There had been absolutely no communication since Gordon came north.
As it worked out, I hired Jack as an assistant trainer at Fairmount and Gordon continued to be the shed row handy man. The little redhead somehow disappeared along the way and Jack really never spoke of her. IT'S A SMALL WORLD! Ed McCarty
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