Posted by Skook on 27 June, 2011 at 11:19 am. 21 comments already!


When I was a young man, I heard the old adage that women used, “clothes make the man”; consequently, I tried to always dress well and look my best. The years have made dressing less important to me, but at one time, I looked pretty dang good.

I’ve always dressed in the Western Style, even though I received a lot of snickers in the Northeastern U.S. and in Europe, but I wasn’t going to slap my heritage in the face to look like someone else. The rudest thing I ever heard was from a couple of toughs in London who made a comment about wearing a chamber pot on the head. It took me several hours to figure out, through their thick accents, that they were talking about my Western hat.

It was just as well, I am slow to anger and rarely rise to the bait of insults; however, it is a remark I remember some twenty or so years later. The boys did show a bit of wit; although, they probably wondered at my reluctance to respond, it’s was just that I couldn’t understand their accents.

Another rude group was the waitresses in New Jersey. They seem to delight in mean remarks meant to criticize other people’s accents and dress. I thought it was strange behavior for people who depended on other people’s generosity for their livelihood. They liked to make an issue of my slow country accent and often asked the person I was with what I was saying or if I was alone they would ask for me to point to the meals on the menu.

I looked at them as recalcitrant horses and played along; relying on the premise that you need to take what a horse has to pass out, at least until you can out finesse or outsmart it. So I played along and endured the insults and ate in peace with measured dignity.

Now one of the most bizarre contradictions to this dressing rule was a trainer I met at Sportsman’s Park in Chicago during the late 70’s. They were actually running the spring meet at Hawthorn, the track next door, but he was stabled at Sportsman’s Park.

I received word to report to a job in a certain barn and walked into the barn at eight AM. I introduced myself to the foreman and he pointed out the trainer. This was a short heavyset man, working down the shed row like a groom. The whole situation seemed wrong. Small men are common on the track because they are often former jockeys and gallup boys that age and get heavier later in life. They usually just slip into another occupation and spend the rest of their lives at the track. I was six foot two and two hundred and ten pounds of muscle and bone back in those days and considered to be a big man. It’s true I towered over most of the race trackers, but off the track in Chicago, I was just an average sized guy wearing western clothes.

This trainer came out of the stall with a big grin, a western hat and white tennis shoes. As he walked toward me, I was wishing I was somewhere else. In those days, I had too much pride and I thought it was insulting to the Western way of life to wear an expensive Western hat with a pair of tennis shoes. These days, I wear a Western hat with tennis shoes until I finish work and then I put on my Western boots, even if it is just to drive home. But at that point in my life, I was a little more idealistic. Actually, most of the trainers I worked for were from big city race tracks and they accepted me for my skills and integrity. The guys didn’t wear the Western style unless they had some claim to authenticity, it was an unwritten rule of etiquette.

He was a friendly little guy and impressed upon me that I had come with good recommendations and the assurances that I could keep my mouth closed. Actually, I cultivated the fact that I could be trusted to take secrets to the grave and that I would never talk about another man’s horse. It is a good reputation to have; especially, in Chicago, where some of the owners and trainers might be involved with the underworld. Yes it’s true, I often worked for mob types, but they trusted me, not everyone was trustworthy when those C notes were waved under their nose. I was asked many times for inside information and learned that I could never trust the person asking me the questions. They also learned they might as well ask an oak tree or a granite boulder for information, for asking me was an exercise in futility.

I let the trainer do the talking as we walked down the shed row looking at some nice New York horseflesh, standing in the stalls. He had four horses that he was mainly concerned with, we ducked into a stall to look at the first one.

I looked at the horse and told him that it was a good looking horse and he replied that he was indeed a good looking horse, but more importantly, he was going to make us all rich. I thought it was a joke and smiled at the remark.

He wanted the teeth done that morning in case there were any impacted deciduous teeth and otherwise, he was to be lightly floated. That part was easy enough. He then critiqued the hooves and the legs and told me how he wanted the hooves trimmed and what kind of shoes he wanted nailed on. I was impressed, the man knew legs, feet, and shoeing: in fact, he knew them so well, I wondered if I might be in over my head,

He wanted to show me some more horses, but I said I wanted to get to work on this one while the information was still fresh. I walked out to the truck for my equipment and when I returned, I started following the directions very closely. The trainer would get down on his knees to study each hoof after I trimmed it and each shoe after I nailed it on; I felt like I was back at the university taking a practical exam. There were four horses that were a team effort between the two of us. I worked on about eight more, but the first four were the most important.

When I was done, he paid me in cash, but he held onto the money when he laid it in my hand and said, “When these four horses run, bet this money on the first one, then bet the winnings on the second one, then place it all on the third one, and then parley it on the fourth one.

I walked away thinking the man was a good horseman, but was certifiable. The odds against a streak of winners like that were astronomical, if you actually bet all four horses and they won, paying a decent price, you would score at least a hundred thousand. I was just glad to have my cash.

A week or two later, I received a message to report back to the barn. The trainer told me that everything was going well with the horses, but he needed a rider that could sit there and not be afraid to let the horse run his own race and not be playing games with the horses and the gambling.

I told him about a young boy from Montana that had nerve and wasn’t all that friendly with the other pinheads. He asked me to tell him to be there in the morning.

A few days later, the first horse ran and paid $64.00 for a $2.00 bet. I couldn’t believe it. The second horse ran and paid $45.00. I was in a state of shock. The third horse ran and paid $36.00. The betting public was starting to pay attention and they weren’t going to let him play these games all alone.

All this had transpired and I had yet to bet a dime on my inside information. I decided to bet the farm on the last one, I heard he was entered, but when I looked at the form, he was entered in a grade 1 stakes race for three year olds at the end of the meet. This was too much, no one cuts up races and plays the gamble at that level; besides, the horse was way over matched, the best three year olds in Chicago were in the race plus several ship ins were there from other states. The race had so many class horses you wouldn’t be able to find my friend’s horse with a search warrant.

He won by many lengths, while improving his position; actually, he set a new track record and received a call that afternoon to run in the Preakness.

The one chance I had in my career to become rich and I passed on it all; maybe, it was that Western hat and those white tennis shoes, who knows, but my preconceived ideas cost me a fortune.

The prestigious news channel CNN is planning to bring in psychics to find out what is happening with the economy and global finance. It seems the Fed Chairman is lost and bewildered when it comes to performing his job. Of course, when you are dishonest in your efforts to analyze the past, you are starting with a deficit. Tim Geithner is convinced the failed Obama policies of the past are the keys to the future and President Obama sees the future in Green Technology and the Green Jobs the technology that has virtually killed Spain’s economy and most of Europe.

Now these guys can fumble around like cub bears making love to a football and CNN can call in their psychics, but me personally, I’d rather have that little guy in tennis shoes wearing a Western hat.

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