We needed information and sources so we could analyze the state of horse racing in Texas for our cover story in Fort Worth Business.
“Do you know anything about horse racing?” asked one person whose help I requested.“ Do you have any experience in it?”
“Yes,” I replied.
I wanted to add but didn’t: “Oh, do I ever…”
She didn’t probe and that was fortuitous. My story takes a while to tell and though humorous in spots it’s not one that would encourage a person to get into the game of horse racing.
It’s a tough business and for most of those in the game, there is more hobby than business to it. For many, it’s an unrequited love affair.
Our cover story suggests that the future of Texas racing is unclear at best and downright bleak at worst. Too bad for us, because horse racing is a wonderful sport and it has the ability to provide jobs, great entertainment and significant revenue for municipalities and the state.
My own story illustrates that the glimpse of the horse racing world you get while watching the Triple Crown races on television is mostly Hollywood, a glittering parade of big fancy hats, celebrities in all-out party mode, and colorful horse owners and trainers whose personalities often overshadow the actual athletes, the horses.
Real life is the story of me and the three racehorses I have owned. All were harness horses – those who race pulling a sulky.
First was “Sabby,” who had an awful name and an even worse racing career. He never won a race or placed in the money in my four or five years of ownership. I regularly awake with a start at night and believe I still own him but cannot find him. As we traveled the circuit of state fairs with “Sabby,” we rented two stalls at each track. One for him and the other for the trainer.
We were always one win away from a motel room. Each race blossomed with the promise of a bed and warm shower.
There were two others.
Second was “Saratoga Ideal,” who once won six races in a row, and had the qualities you love in a horse. He had a great competitive spirit, a champion’s heart, and a gracious physique. As a racehorse, he brought me and my family great joy and even a little money. A lifetime of hard racing, sometimes at the top of the sport, ultimately took its toll on him and he went gracefully into retirement.
Not all of these stories have a happy, peaceful ending.
My last racehorse and the one that drove me out of the racing business was “Denny Hanover.”
Among his many tics and idiosyncrasies, the strangest was his fear of water. Hearing it from a hose, being sprayed with it or being out in the rain frightened him into hysteria. The mere threat of rain forced us to scratch him from races. His trainer had to be part horseman and part meteorologist.
During Denny Hanover’s final race under my ownership, sprinkles of rain began to fall so he tossed his driver from the sulky, turned around and ran like the wind toward the finish line – but going in the wrong direction.
The horse was draining my bank account and I was hoping to sell him to a prospective buyer who had come to watch him race that day. I was sure the horse’s panic attack had eliminated any chance of a sale. But what happened after the race tells you a lot about those who love horses and harbor the relentless hope that the next race will be a win.
Approaching the shed row and Denny’s stall after the race, I saw the possible buyer petting the horse. Apologies began spilling from my mouth when he cut me off.
“I love this horse,” he said. “I’ll take him.”
Such is the potential thrill and pride of owning a race horse. Owning Denny Hanover was a losing proposition in more ways than one, but the stories about him are priceless.
Richard Connor is chairman of the parent company of Fort Worth Business, DRC Media. Contact him at email@example.com.