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(Click on the link. The 2YO give Stephen a goodbye gift…take a look)

(Stephen Lyster and his ole’ old buddy, Geno)

I’ll be the first to admit.

I don’t like change.

And, the older I get, the bolder I get in that statement.

I don’t like change, worth a damn.

I didn’t like it when my mom switched the kitchen sink and started washing dishes out of the right side, rather than the left side, where she had washed our dinner dishes for the previous 80 years. (I let her know it, too, even though she has not switched it back.)

I didn’t like it when Major League Baseball put an “imaginary man” on 2nd base to start the extra innings and went to 7-inning double-headers during COVID. (A disgrace to the game, and I let them know it, too.)

I didn’t like it when I couldn’t get “The Sporting News,” delivered to my door every month; I couldn’t walk up and pay admission to Keeneland; or get leaded gas — that cost about .25-cents per gallon — pumped into my Galaxy 500 by one of my dad’s best friends, in Oscar Clifton, at the only gas station in Midway, at the time. (I didn’t know who to complain about all those changes, but I am sure it would have made a difference, if I did.)

A lot of times, I just refuse to accept it, in my mind. I pretend that it doesn’t exist; that it won’t happen; that everything will just be the same when I wake up from this awful nightmare.

I probably makes things worse by ignoring, but I do it every time until the very last second when reality makes me address the absolute truth that the great Bob Dylan sang about:

“Come writers and critics…

“Who prophesize with your pen…

“And keep your eyes wide…

“The chance won’t come again…

“And don’t speak too soon…

“For the wheel’s still in spin…

“And there’s no tellin’ who…

“That it’s namin’…

“For the loser now…

“Will be later to win…

“For the times they are a-changin’…”

And, a bit later in the same song…

“The line is drawn…

“The curse it is cast…

“The slow one now…

“Will later be fast…

“As the present now…

“Will later be past…

“The order is rapidly fadin’…

“And the first one now…

“Will later be last…

“For the times they are a-changin’…”

On this Friday, of this very fateful week which I will never forget without a tear mounting and moist filling my eyes, my life changed.

Not for the better, mind you. At the least, not for me.

And, as you might imagine and expect, I didn’t take it very well. In my soul. In my heart. Or in my throat, where my stomach suddenly rose to meet and greet.

About a month ago, I got a call from one of the best young people I have ever had the opportunity to be around in my entire life.

I met this kid when he was a real kid — about 5 or 6 years old. He is the second son of a great friend, R. Warren Lyster, and his wonderful wife, Gay.

As things would turn out, this little kid would turn out to be my son’s, Brad’s, best friend and a kid I had the great opportunity to coach in baseball for about 10 to 12 years. I loved all my kids that I and others got a chance to coach. But I really loved Brad and Stephen. The both of them were tough as horseshoe nails and game as a G1 Stakes winner in the stretch of a tight race. They were easy to love.

So, after his college days were done and when Stephen’s dad, Warren, decided to stop training horses at the racetrack, it was about the same time that young Stephen decided to start training horses at the racetrack. Apple meet tree.

And, it didn’t take me too long either, to find a horse or two to turn over to the aspiring young trainer, hellbent on beating the odds and winning horse races with the game’s rock stars.

After all, I had horses with his dad. Might as well have horses with the kid, too, I thought.

After all, I knew this kid was a winner. And, he would do it the right way. Day in. Day out.

After all, I loved this kid.

That was about 14 years ago, when Stephen Lyster got his first training license and started to saddle his first horses in Kentucky. It was about 14 years ago, when I went about trying to buy a horse or two to give to him to train.

Over the past 14 years, I never did have enough money to buy really promising young horses and turn over very good horses to Stephen to train. In fact, I really never did give Stephen many horses that could or would out-run me — a fat, old man who couldn’t and can’t outrun a single Clydesdale. Pulling a wagon full of cold, crisp beer barrels.

But Stephen took every one of them. Never complained a single time. And, he put every ounce of energy and every bit as much time into them that Lucien Lauren put into the grand Secretariat.

Over the past 14 years, Stephen was also saddled with many horses that were either culls or castoffs from some of the more prominent owners in the game then and now, too.

But Stephen took every one of them. Never complained a single time. And, he put every ounce of energy and every bit as much time into them that Bill Mott put into the great Cigar.

On the rare occasion that Stephen would develop one of the culls and castoffs into a true runner with promise, he would get a call with the news that his horse was being moved to the big city; to the big time; to a bigger trainer with a bigger name.

It was never fair to Stephen. Not one bit.

But Stephen took every one of the blows. Never complained a single time. And, he put every ounce of energy and every bit as much time into all of the horses entrusted into his care that Charlie Whittingham spent on the magnificent Sunday Silence.

Over those 14 years, we have had our share of horses together. For the most part, the vast majority of those steeds were truly forgettable with uninspiring resumes and more stories of woe than triumph.

We had a young colt who never lost a race, only because he lost most of his intestines due to a severe colic attack that required emergency surgery. He made a very nice riding horse in Georgia.

We had two promising horses — a colt and a filly — whom we claimed, winning a multi-person shake on both. After we got them, they never ran a race again, due to an assortment of injuries. One became a nice trail horse in Kentucky and the other a very nice nurse mare somewhere in Oklahoma.

We had a very promising filly, who ran a huge 3rd on Louisiana Derby day in her first start, only to fracture a knee in her 2nd career start that required her to be retired from racing. (She did become the dam of 3 horses — all winners — including our special mare Diamond Solitaire.)

We had more than our fair share of disappointment, heartache and pain. When the phone rang, and I saw it was Stephen calling? I knew this was not going to be good news. We just weren’t cut out to get good news.

The old, hard-boot trainer Woody Stephens once told me that this is not a sport you play in short pants. I never truly understood what he meant by that saying until I owned horses of my own. Then, I understood. I guess. In other words, it ain’t easy and you get a lot of scrapes and bruises along the way. It ain’t for the faint of heart.

But it didn’t keep us from trying. And, trying. And, trying.

And, we did enjoy a few good times along life’s two-turn race.

We won three races in a row — for the only time in my ownership life — with a filly I purchased at Fasig-Tipton. Her name was In a Flurry. I have her halter hanging in my office at the Lake.

We won a Maiden race at Churchill Downs with a filly that I bred and was out of Diamond Seeker, the horse that busted a knee at the Fair Grounds years before. Miss Jacqueline went the first quarter mile in :21 & change and then ran off in the stretch to win by over 6 lengths. Still to this day, it is the only win I have at my most favorite track of all time. My lovely wife, Leigh Ann, cheered like she did in high school at Graves County. We celebrated until the sun came up. I have her halter hanging in my office at the Lake.

We won a couple of races at Horseshoe Indianapolis with a Majestic Harbor gelding by the name of Knight’s Move. He always gave us all.

And, then Diamond Solitaire came along.

If you don’t know her story yet, you have never read these pieces. But to save you time, Diamond is the last foal out of Diamond Seeker. When the baby was a week old, her mother suffered a severe bout of colic. On the van trip to the clinic, the mom accidentally kicked her baby. The mom had to be euthanized. The baby sustained a broken leg and had no milk to nourish or mother to mentor.

Still — with the help of a wonderful nurse mare by the name of Geri, and a human mom by the name of Lori Hebel-Osborne — Diamond Solitaire survived.

And, then, after being turned over to Stephen to train as a late May foal and just a swig of a 2-year-old, the filly thrived.

In 2020, as a 2YO, Indiana-bred and sired filly, Diamond Solitaire won her first race, and was Stakes-placed.

In 2021, Diamond won and was Stakes-placed.

In 2022, Diamond won and was Stakes-placed.

In 2023, Diamond won and was Stakes-placed.

Going into this year, Diamond — who was bred by me and Deerfield Farm of Lori Hebel-Osborne and David Osborne and is owned in partnership with a fine group of people from Indy and beyond — has won 5 races and placed in an Indiana Stakes event on 7 occasions. She has won $314,568 in purses.

She has become my favorite horse of all time. All time.

And, she has easily become the winningest horse Stephen Lyster has ever trained. “She is my most favorite horse of all time,” the trainer said to me. And, the young man who is not prone to show emotion, meant it. Every single word. “I love that horse. I just love her.”

Over the past 14 years, the wins have not come as often nor as easily as either Stephen or I would have dreamed or preferred. But we have cherished each victory and triumph with kid-like giddiness and heartfelt respect for the difficulty of the game. We never took for granted.

And, if possible, my love and respect for my son’s best friend and one of the toughest kids I ever had the pleasure to coach has grown beyond the normal relationship between an owner and a trainer.

Over the past 14 years, I have come to love our calls — two or three times per week — where we would start out discussing our horses an end up talking about life and the things that truly matter.

Over the past 14 years, I have come to truly love my visits to his barn at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington. A safe haven where I found peace and solace with the people and the horses. A retreat where I would find Stephen and the two of us would spend hours just talking about things that aren’t really all that important but the hours spent were. A place where my grandchildren could climb aboard Stephen’s stable pony, Julio, and get a ride of a lifetime and I could get photos that will last a lifetime.

Over the past 14 years, Stephen Lytster never, ever, ever had one horse test positive after a race for a drug infraction. Not one time. Ever. And, I was proud as hell for the man and the trainer he had become. No matter what. No matter what.

About a month ago, I got a call from Stephen. Laughing, I said, “I hope this is a good call,” since every horse owner always expects the worst when getting an a.m. call.

Stephen said, “Yeah, it’s a good call. Well, I think it is. I hope you think it is.”

Dumfounded is not an unusual state of mind for me. But I was dumfounded to the x-degree. I said, “Huh?”

Over the next few minutes, I sat in silence as Stephen described what I didn’t ever want to hear or accept. He was closing his public stable of horses. He was retiring. He was quitting. He was going to go spend more time with his kids and family. He was going to spend more time taking care of his health, which I insisted on and he did not.

Although I told Stephen that I would not accept his news, I knew I would. Because I knew it was what was best for him and his beautiful family of wife Elizabeth and sons Jeb and Jack.

Although I told Stephen that I would never agree to it, I knew I would. Because it was the right thing to do.

On Friday, just 24 hours ago, I went to Lexington and to Stephen’s barn for the last time. The stalls were mostly empty, except for two 2-year-olds that I had recently purchased from Stephen’s dad for my new racing club.

On Friday, just 24 hours ago, I went to witness the closing of an era for both Stephen and I. The quiet in the barn seemed like a wake at a funeral.

On Friday, just 24 hours ago, Stephen jumped into my 4-Runner and we travelled over to the front side — like we had done 1000 times before. But instead of stopping to watch the horses gallop, jog, breeze or work, we went to the barn of Robbie Medina, who will be taking over the training for my horses starting this Sunday.

Robbie is a great young man with a helluva future. I like him. A lot. We will be friends, to be sure.

But this day was not set aside for glad tidings. It was a day meant for goodbyes. And, by now, you know how I feel about change.

We tried our best to delay the final hug and goodbye. Stephen asked that his shrinking crew to bring out the two young horses for my examination. One of the two stood on his back two legs more than he spent on all four. He tested all of Stephen’s best horse husbandry and horsemanship. He bucked. He squealed. He backed up on the run.

The horse did everything I wanted to do.

Until it was enough and Stephen asked the guys to put the horses away.

I loaded Diamond’s stall webbing and chain draw string into my car.

I hugged the grooms and assistant trainer, who was fighting the tears.

And, then I hugged Stephen.

I didn’t want to let go. I never want to let go.

I will miss the morning trips and the conversations.

I will miss the midweek calls and making the next race plans.

I will miss Stephen Lyster just like the times when my son, Brad, moved off to Columbus and my daughter, Alex, moved off to Nashville.

I will miss it all.

Stephen, instantly feeling the moment was afoot, said, “You know this is not over. We are going to have a horse again in the future. Maybe we get a Kentucky Derby winner. How about that?”

I laughed. I shrugged. The thought of winning the Kentucky Derby will never fade. Not for him. Not for me. Not for us.

But as I climbed into the truck to head out for the last time, with tears streaming down my face, I knew two things, to be sure.

I knew that I will never forget the memories.

And, I knew right then, why I own a racehorse.

It has been some of the best 14 years of my life.