04/26/2011 9:59PM

Horse tales from Churchill Downs 4-26-11



The bay filly with the unusually large ears and bright eyes followed Ronald Clark like a puppy. She’d have done anything he asked right then, knowing that - nestled in his Green Bay Packers’ jacket – were peppermints. Peppermints, those silly little things that can reduce a horse to groveling…

Daisy Devine was happy to grovel and couldn’t wait for the reward. As Ronald slipped his hand into a pocket, she pushed her head into his chest.

“Eek! Peppermint! Please!” And, as the man worked the wrapper off, Daisy could barely contain herself. “Yes! Yes! Thank you, thank you…” Crunch, crunch.  Happy filly.

Ronald dipped his hand back into his pocket as he returned to walking her. She tagged along obediently, the shank relaxed, her focus fixed on his hand.

“She’d go ten miles for a peppermint,” Ronald smiled.

Ronald has seen his share of equine sweet tooths, and nice fillies, over the decades. He's been working with horses for fifty years.  A half-century.

“When I started off with Willard Proctor, I was just a dumb kid,” he said. “I rubbed Convenience, and Gallant Romeo, Gabby Abby…. I didn’t know what I was doing then.”

He must have done something right, as Willard, a renowned old-time trainer, made him foreman.

These days, Ronald helps Andrew McKeever with the best horse he’s ever trained, Daisy Devine. The peppermint-begging daughter of Kafwain has done them proud. Just five starts into her career, the blazed-faced lass has three wins and has earned nearly $360,000. She won the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) in her last outing – and she’s now aiming for the lilies in the Kentucky Oaks.

If she gets to the wire first, her owner, James Miller, will reap the winner’s share of the million-dollar purse. Andrew McKeever will substantially up the ante on his resume. Ronald Clark will earn bragging rights. And Daisy Devine? Something tells me she’ll be happy with a pocketful of peppermints.


WATCH ME GO - the new kid in town

Watch Me Go may have been tired on Tuesday, after a 16-hour van ride from Tampa Bay, but he wasn’t ready to go to sleep. He stared yearningly out his stall toward the yard where several horses were grazing.

Lucy Pompell, who accompanied the colt to Churchill for the Derby, led him outside.

“I couldn't leave him in his stall when everyone else was out there and he was watching them,” she explained. Watch Me Go looked none the worse for the ride but, then again, 16 hours…that’s nothing.

“It was 22 hours when he went to Chicago,” Lucy said. She stroked his neck and he glanced around with interest before diving back into the bountiful grass.

Watch Me Go’s record is solid – four wins in ten starts, including the G2 Tampa Bay Derby (43.70-1). His sire is the unheralded West Acre. His trainer is Kathleen O’Connell, his rider Luis Garcia and his owner/breeder is Gilbert Campbell.

None of them are quite household names yet…but it could take just two minutes or so, on the first Saturday in May, for that to change.


DECISIVE MOMENT - Red ribbon for the boy

What’s the story behind the bright red ribbons on Decisive Moment’s bridle and halter?  Were they placed there in someone’s memory, perhaps, or do they symbolize someone’s favorite charity, like Save the Baby Seals? 

The answer, trainer Juan Arias says, is much more straightforward. 

“Back home we have all lady horses, so we put a red ribbon (on his tack), so that way we know it's his,” Arias chuckles.  He trains about 15 horses at his home base, Calder.

According to superstition, red ribbons ward off the evil eye or bad vibes -  so perhaps that plays a small part, as well. But whatever the purpose, they are a lovely accessory to this beautiful horse's wardrobe. 

Decisive Moment is owned by his breeder/owner Ruben Sierra’s Just for Fun Stable.  He’s ridden by Kermit Clark and trained by Juan Arias, a charming man with a quick smile.  Decisive Moment’s biggest win was the Jean Laffitte at Delta Downs, and he has been second in both the Delta Jackpot (G3) and the Spiral Stakes (G3).

The son of With Distinction is registered dark bay or brown, but he looks black.  The Derby contender has no markings, a broad face, an unusually thick mane and tail, eyes filled with curiosity, an appealingly eager way of going…and red ribbons.

Above: Decisive Moment, Juan Arias up.  Below: Juan Arias.

Delrene More than 1 year ago
I'm coming in rather late to this post - must thank Zenyatta's website directing me to these pictures + the wonderful photos of Chris Antley. She is a beautiful filly and I love her name. I can't help but smile just looking at her. Thank you so much for these wonderful portraits of both Chris and Daisy.
Babette More than 1 year ago
Barbara, Your words are equal to your pictures. Thanks so very much for your point of view. Marvelous as always. How much fun is this!!
Anne More than 1 year ago
How could anyone not like a filly by the name of Daisy Devine? When I first heard her name, it made me smile. So many carried that name Devine years ago and she continues the legend with a class act to boot. Thanks for writing about her. She has such an intriguing face. Watch Me Go and Decisive Moment... fun reads and without you covering these beautiful boys,we would never know much about them. It brings the fans closer to knowing these Derby runners as we all know the Uncle Mo's and Dialed In's. Only these boys have the down home boy legend behind them. You don't need to be King when Barbara Livingston is around! She will find you and make you a household name as well as a star! Thanks Barbara! Think I will buy my boys some red ribbons. It might help their running style as well. :>)
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Hi B, The comments are almost (almost) as good as the pictures and words. So I'm glad I back-tracked, as I missed this blog (busy). Hope the weather breaks and we get a solid string of blue skies. As always, you are the best! :)
Paul Joyce More than 1 year ago
the late great sportswriter for the N Y Times Red Smith used to say, there are more great stories on the backside of a racetrack than anywhere else in sports. Thanks for bringing us some of them.
Brian Appleton More than 1 year ago
Wonderful story and pictures...I especially enjoyed the Daisy Devine parts!
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
If you haven't already, pick up a copy of The Women Who Wrote The War, by Nancy Sorel. Maybe that would be a nice way to spend a pre-Saratoga season day, in the Lyrical Ballad, looking for TWWWTW. I mention it because of the extensive coverage of Margaret Bourke-White; your work, tonight, reminded me of her. It's also superbly written (400 pages came and went in 22 1/5, it seemed). Thanks! Go Shackleford!
Celeste More than 1 year ago
Thank you for another beautiful blog with your wonderful pictures and the interesting stories behind them. I love being able to learn more about these wonderful athletes so I am grateful you share with us. Thanks!
blivingston More than 1 year ago
Thanks so much to everyone for the great comments. I love that people are already big fans of these horses, and let's hope everyone roots for them now (even if they have other rooting interests, too) :). I very much appreciate the interest in these horses and their people - thanks again. Barbara
stable girl More than 1 year ago
Barbara, I do believe that I miss working on the backside at Churchill now more than I have in a long time. Thank You for the nostalgia and the beautiful pictures.