(My 2-year-old colt by Caleb’s Posse / Photo by Gene McLean)
The late, great Herb Stevens used to have an old saying that he would readily share while having breakfast at the Keeneland kitchen. In-between bites of scrambled eggs, bacon and a few grits, the old, veteran, hard-boot trainer from Versailles would spit out knowledge and a little bit of food gravel easily, and without warning:
“You never see a guy committing suicide a with a good 2-year-old in the barn,” Herb would allow.
Then, like a delay of a 2-year-old leaving the starting gate for the very first time, he would grin, a bit.
Table guests, wiping off the flying food fire, would laugh, and nod their heads in agreement with the home spun logic.
But Herb knew what he was talking about alright.
After all, in 1979, Herb Stevens trained a little rocket ship named Rockhill Native. He was the 2-year-old champion that year, having won the Cowdin, the Futurity and the Sapling Stakes, in addition to the Jefferson Cup for owner Harry A. Oak.
In addition, he was also first in the Hopeful Stakes, but was disqualified from that and placed sixth for interference. You didn’t want to get into that discussion at breakfast. That was really fodder for the fire. Yet, we digress.
For all those of us that dream of having a Rockhill Native come along, Herb Stevens was correct — of course. Dreams run about as fast as the best Thoroughbreds.
Winner’s circle pictures. Stakes race glamour. Headlines and snapshots. And, a trip down the Triple Crown road all the way to glory on that riveting First Saturday in May.
Dreams created and caused by a 2-year-old colt. No matter the pedigree. No matter the size. No matter the chances — which rival a fat old man getting a date with Sandra Bullock. Dreams, none the less. And, as Herb would say, no chance of suicidal thoughts. No chance.
And, we are no different — of course.
(Although he was a June foal, the colt already stands a tad over 15 hands / Photo by Gene McLean)
Last Thursday, I travelled out to the gorgeous Buck Pond Farm in Versailles, the home of good friend Doug Arnold. In a plush field of green, that rivaled any Irish lawn, I caught the glimpse and picture of my 2-year-old colt by Caleb’s Posse — whom I own with good friends Tina Halpain and Jace Barbin. The colt is the first and only son from my mare, Diamond Seeker, whom I just lost from a bout of colic. So very sad.
Yet, undoubtedly, Diamond Seeker would be very proud of her first born.
Since the colt was a June foal, we took our time with his early development. My good friend and trainer, Buff Bradley, took him in at the beginning of this year to house and feed. Buff’s top assistant at the farm, Maria Kabel, took care of him like the colt was her own flesh and blood.
But about a month ago, Buff and Maria thought it was time to send him off to boarding school. Down the road to Buck Pond. Where he would be united with the personal, heady, and expert trainer Joe McSorely — a native of Ireland and a former assistant to the likes of Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham.
If you love Thoroughbreds and have never met Joe, you should take the time to make the introduction. He is an absolute delight. Friendly. Casual. Funny. Speaks with an accent, and poetry in motion that reminds one of an Irish limerick. And, he is as free with the advice and counsel as he is observant and demanding of his young pupils.
So, as I watched my young colt roll over the beautiful hills of green lush, Joe and I watched and chatted like proud parents and grand-parents.
He jogged 11/2 miles on the “wrong way” (clockwise) up and over, down and around. Then, Lindsey, the colt’s exercise rider and companion, turned him around and he galloped the “American” way over the same course. The horse looked beautiful and happy. The rider looked pleased.
Joe and I looked impressed. As he duo finished up their lessons, they headed back to us on a slow walk and then turned slowly, and quietly to stand and give the hillside course one final look.
“I like him. I really do,” said Joe. “He has not done one thing wrong since he has been here, and he has learned his lessons very well. I think he is ready to graduate. I think it is time for him to go to the next level.
“I was going to call Buff today, and tell him he is ready to go to the track,” Joe said. “He is ready.”
I was ready to jump out of my skin. “Really?” I asked. “You think he can go on with it?”
Joe looked at me like I was a kid at Christmas time. “Yep. It’s time to find out, right?”
It is time. Time to dream. Time to go to Churchill Downs in the mornings. Time to put in the miles. Time to get educated about the starting gate. Time to find out there are other horses — like lots of them — that will share the track with you. Time to find out if he can really run. Time to run.
The first of this week, a truck and van will roll into Buck Pond and pick up a new student. Time to move from the boarding school to the real deal. Time to take the next step.
Herb Stevens was right when he spoke of what a 2-year-old can do for a man’s soul, perspective, and mind-set. The last few days, I have walked a little taller and straighter. The last few days, I have a bounce to my spirit and my stride. The last few days, I find myself smiling for no apparent reason.
If you have a nice 2-year-old in the barn, you don’t think about suicide. You think about the future.
Future…here we come.