Jul 17, 2008


Back in the mid-seventies I came down from Vancouver to Keeneland to see what I could learn from the July sale. One early morning I came across Woody Stephens and had the temerity to ask him if I might join him as he made his rounds. Only later did I discover that Woody loved an audience I was grateful for the opportunity to see him in action.

One thing I remember him saying was to take time to peer in the stall when shopping for a yearling. “You want to see if he’s a stall walker. If so, the bedding will be disturbed all over the stall,” he warned.

When Woody inspected a yearling he would lift up the tail and drop it from shoulder height.
“A horse has to have some snap to his tail,” he said. “Otherwise there may be some weakness in his spine. A horse has to have a strong spine. Stay away from them if they don’t . I do like coon-tailed horses though. They’re runners.”

Not long after I returned to Canada I was asked to go to a sale at Hollywood Park and try to buy a 3-year-old by Ack Ack. Charlie Whittingham trained the horse for a man who had died. When I arrived in LA I noticed that the colt had virtually no tail, perhaps several inches of stubble where the tail was missing.

I called my client and discussed the situation, mindful of Woody Stephens’ dictum on the matter.It also seemed odd to me that the horse would not have been already sold inside the Whittingham barn. I advised the client to pass. He said try to buy him.

I bought the horse for $45,000 and shipped him to Exhibition Park where he raced soon after arrival. The gates opened and he took off down the track from an outside post position. He ran scarcely 100 yards before he broke down behind with a fractured pelvis.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But I couldn’t help but think of Woody’s tutelage about healthy spines.

A couple of decades passed and I met Woody once again in the Woodbine turf club. He was having lunch with his former top assistant Phil Gleaves. We were all in Toronto for the Molson Million .A raging storm had emptied the place and we had it to ourselves.

Woody wanted to bet every race and relied on my handicapping. We made a few dollars but the real payoff was listening to his stories. He could be a little redundant about his five straight Belmont victories, noting that “I had the exacta in all five”. It left you wondering which meant the most to him, the Belmonts or his betting prowess.


Jeff Siegel and Joanne Jones were chatting on HRTV the other day about Herat. They recalled the diminutive son of Northern Dancer who was sold to John Franks and left the Woody Stephens barn to join Jack Van Berg’s California outfit. As usual, that reminds me of a story.

Van Berg persuaded Franks that Herat deserved a shot at the upcoming Santa Anita Handicap with its million dollar purse. Those types of races were scarce two decades ago.

Franks rarely left his Louisiana home and he did not like California at all. But this time he flew the Franks Petroleum jet to Santa Anita. I joined him there. John was not a betting man, as a rule, and $20 across the board was his standard play.

I was surprised then to have him hand me three hundred dollar bills and instructions to bet across the board on Herat. I told him that I thought Greinton couldn’t lose but he wanted some action so off I went.

On the way to the windows the thought did occur to me that booking the bet was an option. I mulled it over until I glanced at the tote board. Heart was 99-to-1 on the board but started closer to 200-to-1.

Crowds of 80,000 were not unusual on Big Cap day and I suddenly realized that this would be a risky time to become a bookmaker. I got a little panicky as the minutes ticked away and the horses were on the track. Greinton was the cynosure of all eyes while Herat pranced onto the track looking more like Bambi than a horse with a chance in the Big Cap.

In the nick of time I got the bet down and made my own play on Greinton. Passing the sixteenth pole Herat was still in front by a length and looking for the upset of the century.

Laffit Pincay muscled Greinton up to the 14 hands Herat and gradually pulled away to win in the final strides.

Herat proved to be a sagacious purchase. He won the New Orleans Handicap and began to attract the attention of Kentucky breeders. Allan Paulson bought into the horse and backed him with some good mares as did Franks. Herat unfortunately developed fertility problems and could not handle a large book of mares..

Jul 16, 2008


We all lost a friend with the sudden death of Luke Kruytbosch. What a high-spirited, gregarious, thoughtful soul was Luke. We first met while doing racing telecasts in Western Canada and the friendship grew when we both migrated to the Kentucky mainstream of racing and breeding.

Luke had the two best attributes a racecaller needed. He was accurate and enthusiastic whether it was the Kentucky Derby or a bottoms maiden claimer. Luke was unafraid to pump a little life into a mundane card, like the time he informed us that Bubba Gum was sticking to the rail.

One day I alerted him to the fact that a maiden I had bred was thought by trainer Bobby Barnett to have a chance in the nightcap at Churchill Downs. Luke got a bet down and gave us a masterpiece call of a maiden claimer circling from the “back of the pack” to win in the last stride at 20-to-1.

He was a consummate professional in his work and a loyal friend. What else is there to say?