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Doctor eyes classic case
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Dr. Greg Fox has filled many different roles in the racing industry since starting out as a neophyte veterinarian in central Virginia in 1989. Nearly two decades later, the 45-year-old Fox will do something he has never done in the business: saddle a horse for a Triple Crown event.
Fox is the trainer of Slew's Tizzy, a colt who on Saturday will run in the 139th Belmont Stakes off back-to-back victories in the Lexington Stakes and Lone Star Derby, races less glamorous than what several of his Belmont opponents have contested in recent weeks, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Fox conceded he felt temptation to try either or both preceding Triple Crown races, but the experience and wisdom he has gathered in his tenures as a veterinarian and trainer told him to resist.
"A lot of training is picking your spots," Fox said last week at his private farm, Fox Stables, which abuts the southwestern flank of the Thoroughbred Training Center, an 800-horse facility here. "Even this is a very aggressive placement. But this colt deserves a chance, and he's going in with a chance."
For Fox, reaching the Belmont Stakes culminates a career that so far has been highly accomplished, complex, and, in one instance, controversial. Unfortunately for him, probably the most publicity he ever attracted concerned the infamous Nani Rose incident in August 1999. Fox was suspended 60 days by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board for giving Nani Rose a shot of a nutritional supplement known as Cre-o-pan inside of the prerace limit of four hours on the morning that the filly was the program favorite for the Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga. Owned and trained by the high-profile connections of Stonerside Stable and Pat Byrne, Nani Rose was scratched from the race.
Somewhat deflated and disillusioned with how that legal process - and the attendant negative publicity - played out, Fox adapted to more diverse areas of equine veterinary medicine, abandoning day-to-day racetrack practice to serve primarily as a consultant to a handful of clients with large numbers of horses, including Joe LaCombe, Richard Kaster, Jerry Bailey, and Lance Robinson. Fox traveled extensively to horse sales and to various farms where racing prospects were being raised or boarded. His network of connections and growing reputation allowed his business to expand steadily, and now, with a 25-horse stable in addition to his continuing work as a consultant, he is busy virtually around the clock, leaving precious little time for his wife, former trainer Jamie Brown, and children, as well as for the long-distance running to which he has devoted himself since high school.
Fox grew up near Cambridge, Mass., where his father was the chairman of the biology department of the highly prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Fox initially attended Bard College, about 90 minutes north of New York City, where he ran competitively and one day happened to visit a nearby equine training center in Dutchess County.
"It fascinated me, and before long, I was hooked," he said. He soon transferred to Boston University, where he earned a degree in applied anatomy and physiology while also continuing to run, after which he spent a year in Denmark, where he organized a research project that studied the muscle metabolism of Standardbred racehorses. He published a lengthy paper on the project that ultimately helped him gain entry into veterinary school at Tufts University in suburban Boston. He graduated in 1989 and served an externship in the rich horse-farm country in and around Middleburg, Va., where he worked on Thoroughbreds owned by such major outfits as Rokeby Stable and Buckland Farm.
After a year, he went to Maryland, where he worked daily at Laurel and Pimlico. His closest working relationships were with trainer Vinnie Blengs, another native New Englander, and veterinarian Randy Brandon.
"I learned an incredible amount from both of them," he said.
In 1993, he moved his practice to Kentucky, where he would strike up a long-lasting business relationships with several clients, including LaCombe, the breeder and owner of Slew's Tizzy.
"Greg is a very unique person," said LaCombe, a native New Yorker who owned the 1997 Horse of the Year, Favorite Trick. "He's an excellent communicator, and being a vet, he has an ability that other trainers might not have. He lives with his horses, and he knows exactly what's going on with every horse every day. I couldn't be any happier with our association."
Globe-trotting with stallions
For several years in Kentucky, through about 1998, Fox also did a considerable amount of work for Coolmore as an attending vet for their shuttle stallions.
"When a horse would leave from Lexington for stud duty in Australia or Argentina, I'd fly with them," he said. "They would be under my care until 24 hours after we landed. Then I'd come back home." Among the Coolmore stallions under his care were Thunder Gulch, Honour and Glory, Spinning World, and Woodman.
Fox said that during one six-month period his work took him to Australia twice, Japan, Ireland twice, Turkey, Dubai, Argentina, "and a few spots across the U.S." Eventually, he and Jamie yearned to be more settled, and nearly three years ago, they bought the former Garden Glens, a 37-acre spread they renamed Fox Stables. Replete with all the amenities of a self-sufficient training and boarding center, they now are preparing to move into a new house they have had built on the property. They will soon move from temporary housing into the house with their sons, Tanner, 16, and Tyler, 2.
It was soon after the purchase of the new property that Fox switched from working as a vet to a trainer. Although he readily concedes that veterinary work is more lucrative financially, he said the allure and challenges of training a 25-horse stable was worth taking such a dramatic risk. An eternal optimist with an insatiable enthusiasm for racing and racehorses, Fox waved his arm shortly after dawn Monday at Fox Stables and said, "Who wouldn't want to look at this every day? This is like a dream. I feel like the luckiest person in the world."
He is hoping his luck hits a high point Saturday with Slew's Tizzy.
"I've got him as good as I can get him, and I think the mile and a half will be a strong, positive element," he said. "I'd love to win the Belmont. It would be one of the greatest days of my life, no doubt."