SPORTS WATCH

The appeal of man’s four-footed friends

For a horse player, it’s hard to beat the desperate charge of horses bred and trained to give their whole being to winning

TRENT FRAYNE October 14 1991
SPORTS WATCH

The appeal of man’s four-footed friends

For a horse player, it’s hard to beat the desperate charge of horses bred and trained to give their whole being to winning

TRENT FRAYNE October 14 1991

The appeal of man’s four-footed friends

For a horse player, it’s hard to beat the desperate charge of horses bred and trained to give their whole being to winning

SPORTS WATCH

TRENT FRAYNE

It was the contention of the sports scribe Dick Beddoes that the only true horse lover was another horse. Even so, it is possible for two-legged admirers to grow enormously fond of their four-footed friends.

For instance, after E. P. Taylor’s fiery little colt Northern Dancer won the Kentucky Derby, the owner was greatly surprised by the response to the victory. “Hundreds and hundreds of letters arrived from all parts of Canada, and the United States as well,” Taylor told me. “The great majority were from young women, girls in their early teens. I had no idea that these young people had so strong a feeling for horses.”

This sort of thing is currently happening to your agent over a brilliant filly called Dance Smartly. It hasn’t reached the point where little notes are being written to her owner, a tall, lean, sharp-featured man named Ernie Samuel, but there have been early-morning visits to her boudoir at Toronto’s Woodbine Race Track where she’s stabled on the north side of barn 14A, halfway down.

There, she stands perfectly content on a tossed bed of fresh-smelling straw, awaiting the start of serious training for the biggest test of her life, Breeders’ Cup day at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 2. This is the day of the eighth annual Breeders’ Cup series of seven races, each with a purse worth at least $1 million. She’ll race in either the mile-andone-eighth Distaff against fillies and mares, or the mile-and-one-quarter Classic against the best horses of any gender or age for a purse of $3 million. Her owner, Samuel, and her trainer, Jim Day, Canada’s leading saddler of thoroughbred horses, a slim, tall, 45-year-old in goldrimmed glasses, will decide which race to put her in after they see how she trains through October and assess the calibre of the two fields.

Meantime, she stands quietly at Woodbine, a remarkably tranquil horse for one who has run with such verve and fire. She’s called Daisy by the people who work in matching red-and-gold windbreakers, the colors of Samuel’s Sam-Son

Farms, at the gleaming barn 14A, caring for the 27 race horses Jim Day has stabled there. She was named Daisy by Teresa Rice, a cheerful, blond woman who is her groom. Dance Smartly reminded Teresa of Jessica Tandy, the British-born star of the movie Driving Miss Daisy. So she became Daisy. “She is sure of herself,” Teresa says. “She has a little sauciness and is very determined.”

She is also very rich. This year, Dance Smartly has won better than $2.3 million, and is unbeaten and really unchallenged in seven straight stakes races, including the Queen’s Plate, the Prince of Wales Stakes and the Breeders’ Stakes, the Triple Crown of Canadian racing. For this trio, she won an additional $l-million bonus put up by the Bank of Montreal as a publicity gimmick. The most recent triumph for this big, dark-brown, long-backed three-year-old was in the Molson Million, where she whipped, among others, Fly So Free, last year’s two-year-old champion colt in the United States.

It’s always nice to feel a tingle for a wealthy woman, but, really, it’s how Daisy wins (oh yes, I call her Daisy when I’m visiting) that’s her big appeal, inducing some fans to feel she’s the best Canadian-bred since Northern Dancer in

1964, the year he won the Kentucky Derby, the most heavily hyped, shmaltzy horse race on earth. She is a delight to watch: even walking, her stride long and calm. “She walks like a woman,” a woman of tall style was heard to murmur at the Woodbine walking ring.

But it’s on the track that Dance Smartly wows the racing fans. Her fashion is to come driving out of the final turn into the homestretch, her rider flattened out, enjoying the ride, never laying a glove on her, letting her pull free of the field and glide like a great dark locomotive under the finish line. First, of course.

For a horse player, it’s hard to beat a stretch run, the desperate charge of horses bred and trained to give their whole being to winning, and so it’s easy to get attached to those who refuse to fade in the drive for the wire. Half a dozen years ago, there was John Henry, the great old gelding (a gelding being a male horse whose interest in the opposite sex has been terminated by a shears-bearing veterinarian). John Henry was one of those dead-game runners that would come off the pace and stick his long, wet, black nose on the wire just ahead of everybody else’s. Or sometimes he’d be on the lead, his tired old heart thumping like an oil rig, all these feisty sprouts coming at him, and game John declining to give up the lead, holding on, holding on, and just making it to the wire with the same old long, wet, black nose just before everything swept past him.

John Henry was owned by a guy named Sam Rubin, and one time when John was 9 or 10 or so, Rubin was asked how long he planned to keep John in training.

“Well, I keep saying we’re going to race him until he has his bar mitzvah,” smiled Sam, “but I don’t like to say so around John. You see, he doesn’t know that he is Jewish.”

In a different way, Daisy has a broad appeal, too. Like, it’s unusual for a filly to dominate colts as clearly as she has done it this year, and she’s been doing it on both grass courses and dirt tracks and at relatively short distances of three-quarters of a mile or relatively long ones of a mile and a half. And so far, her American rider, Pat Day, hasn’t had to use his whip to find out how deeply this horse’s resources can go.

Her trainer, Jim Day, no relation to Pat, is a Canadian bom in Thornhill, on the northern outskirts of Toronto. His father and mother both were interested in show horses. When Jim was 18 in 1964, he made Canada’s equestrian team, riding a five-year-old jumper of small account, Canadian Club. They grew together. When Jim was 22, he and Canadian Club helped Canada win its only gold medal at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. “Jim was the Wayne Gretzky of show jumping,” Jim Elder said once. Elder was a veteran rider on the Canadian team.

When Ernie Samuel bought Canadian Club, he and Day became acquainted. In 1977, when Samuel undertook to build a racing stable, he persuaded Day to train the horses. Since then, Jim has become Canada’s best, which doesn’t necessarily make him a horse lover, but does pose the question: Could he have done it if he didn’t love horses?