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Fathers, Sons & Horse Racing

I watched the US Open yesterday. Justin Rose, the supremely talented Brit, won his first major in clutch fashion playing the last two holes with ice in his veins. I noticed as his final tap-in dropped he looked to the Heavens, talking to someone that was important in his life. We found out later he was thinking about his father, whom left him when he was only 22.

In the interview he later noted that it was his dad that guided him through the sport of golf and taught him how to be a "good man". I think that's the most important thing a father can do. If you teach your son to be a good man - mostly by leading by example - your job is done.

Yesterday got me to thinking about that. I too lost my father at a young age, and I know he tried to teach me the things needed to be a "good man". In horse racing, the lessons taught me are still with me.

I remember in high school a horse the stable owned was being retired and it was important to him to find the horse a good home. After trying for month's something came open and off he went. Mission accomplished, or so everyone thought.

Several months later he heard through the grapevine that the horse was not in a good home, but was being left outside and getting little food and water. My dad got on the phone and worked to find out what was happening, drove 500 miles to where he was stabled and was appalled. He arranged to find him a new home on that trip and finally did succeed, this time for keeps.

Close to twenty-five years later I take that lesson with me. When I buy a horse I immediately think 'what can I do with him if he cannot race?'. Honestly, it is the first thing I think of, because of that lesson. I truly believe as a horse owner it is your job - not the trainers or anyone elses - to make sure the horse you own doesn't end up somewhere awful. I didn't come up with that on my own.

I remember other times too, like when we drove what felt like 1,000 miles to get to a rural track to make it to a race where a problem trotter was racing in an Ontario Sires Stakes. We were late - and lost - but made it as the horse was rounding the turn behind the gate, only to watch him break stride. A couple of the owners saw red and immediately wanted to tear a hide off the trainer-driver for not having any success, mainly out of pure frustration. My dad just told him "we'll get them next time" knowing the trainer was doing everything possible to get the horse to stay flat. I think of that each time I get a bad result, too. The man or woman taking care of my horse is trying their level best and they are as disappointed as I am. They certainly don't need to hear me yelling and screaming at them. I didn't come up with that on my own.

I remember the other things too, like when a horse needed time with an injury to give it to him or her. Injecting and driving on was something that wasn't really considered. Paying your bills on time and not overextending yourself was another lesson that stuck with me. Those are basic things as a horse owner we all take into account. I didn't come up with them on my own, though.

I wish I learned everything and did everything perfectly. I've made mistakes and have been nowhere near perfect as a horse owner. But it sure wasn't my dad's fault.

I hope everyone had a good Father's Day and I sincerely hope that when you are making a decision with your horses, that you know someone is watching. In twenty or thirty years most of their decisions and how they conduct themselves in the sport will have a lot to do with what you taught them; sometimes when you might've thought they weren't even paying attention.


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