07/15/2015 1:18PM

Harness: A conversation with Clyde Francis

Email
Ken Weingartner/USTA Photo
Trainer Clyde Francis.

Clyde Francis has worked with George Teague Jr. for nearly two decades, but until this year was not much in the public eye. That has changed with Francis being the trainer of Teague’s 3-year-old male pacer Wiggle It Jiggleit, who is the favorite in Saturday’s $706,000 Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace at the Meadowlands.

The 58-year-old Francis is a native of Nassawadox, Va., not far from where Teague and his sister Brenda grew up on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Since joining the Teague Stable, Francis has been associated with a number of star horses, including 2004 Horse of the Year Rainbow Blue. Teague wanted Francis to get more recognition for his work, so he listed Francis as the trainer of Wiggle It Jiggleit.

[MEADOWLANDS: Watch the Meadowlands Pace & entire stakes-filled Saturday card--Live on DRF!]

Following Wiggle It Jiggleit’s Meadowlands Pace elimination win last Saturday night, Francis took time to speak with Ken Weingartner of the USTA’s Harness Racing Communications division.

KW: Hey, Clyde got time for a few questions?
CF: Sure, what do you want to know?

KW: Everything.
CF: I can’t tell you everything; I have to keep some secrets. (Laughs.)

KW: OK, that’s fair. But how did you get started in harness racing?
CF: As a kid, going to the fairs. I’ve always loved horses. I had a pony when I was a kid. I had to have a horse. There were two fairs, Weirwood and Tasley, and I’d go hang out at the fairs when I didn’t have school in the summer.

KW: How old were you?
CF: When I first started, I was like 7.

KW: And how old were you when you started getting serious?
CF: I would walk them then. I was small, but they would let me walk the horses after they raced. That’s what I would do every day. When I got out of high school, I worked for the Wests down in Birdsnest. They had a lot of horses. I worked for them for a couple years. And I had a couple of my own then. But I stopped with the horses fulltime and started doing masonry work. I did that for about 25 years until my back went bad. I had surgery on it and they told me what I was doing wasn’t a good thing. I used to come up to George’s all the time and be with the horses and he asked me to come to work for him. That’s what I did. The kids were about ready to get out of high school and my wife was probably glad to get rid of me. It’s been about 16 or 17 years now. It’s been so long, I’ve lost track of time.

KW: How did you meet George?
CF: We’re from the same area in Virginia. Where I lived was only about 13 miles from where they lived. I knew George and Brenda when they were kids. They would have a board across the front of the jog cart and they’d jog the horses. Their feet weren’t long enough to touch the stirrups. That’s how long I’ve known them. They couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9.

KW: What’s it been like working with George all these years?
CF: It’s been fun. We’ve had our highs and we’ve had our lows, but it’s been fun.

KW: What do you most enjoy about doing what you do?
CF: My wife always told me that if you’re happy doing what you’re doing, you don’t mind doing it. I don’t mind getting up in the morning. I’ve got a routine where I wake up in the morning at 3:30 or 4 o’clock -- that’s every day. I’ll go home tonight (after the Meadowlands Pace elimination) and won’t get home until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, but I’ll be at work by 6 o’clock anyway. I get up and go to the barn, and the first stall I go to is his (Wiggle It Jiggleit) and then see how everybody is doing. Then I start doing the other stuff I’ve got to do.

KW: Up until now what have been the highlights?
CF: Just getting started, you’d say Rainbow Blue. With her, you’d say you had the horse of a lifetime. And then this guy (Wiggle It Jiggleit) comes along. He’s just a great horse. I never had any idea he would turn into the horse that he has. I told George that I thought he would be a good horse, but nothing like he’s turned out to be.

KW: But you liked him all along, though. 
CF: Yeah. When they qualified him at (Harrah’s Philadelphia) he won in (1):54 1/5 with a quarter in :26 4/5 on the end of it. I hadn’t been going anywhere (with the horses) but I took him to Pocono for his first start and a guy saw me there and said “What are you doing up here? This has got to be something good for George to send you up here with him.” He went a big mile in (1):51 2/5 and just jogged. We were debating whether to send me out to Indiana with him for the Indiana Sire Stakes, but he wasn’t perfectly sound so we decided to shut him down for the year. We started him early (this year) to see what we really did have. He showed up in the winter and he had a few critics saying that he wouldn’t be around this time of year. But so far he’s proved all of them wrong.

KW: What’s it meant to you for George to put you down as trainer to get the accolades? 
CF: It’s been unreal. You’re not going to find many people that would do something like that for you. I’ve been around a lot of the horses, a lot of the good ones; Total Truth, Western Ace, (Southwind) Lynx, (Mr) Wiggles, Delmarvalous, (Badlands) Nitro, Fancy Filly, Isabella Blue Chip. Some good horses. Most of the time, we broke all of them by ourselves. We’d walk them out of the stall, put the harness on them, ‘click, click’ and away we’d go. George would holler that as long as the wheels were turning, we were alright. That’s the way it’s been.

KW: And how about Wiggle It Jiggleit’s nickname?
CF: He’s always getting into stuff. Always. There are things you think that he won’t do, and he’ll find a way to do it. We’ve got his whole stall padded. Kevin Switzer gave him the nickname “Bubble Wrap.” But he’s a nice horse to work around. He’s got an attitude, but he’s nice to work around.

KW: What did you think of Wiggle It Jiggleit’s elimination?
CF: He raced huge. People assume he’s uncontrollable because they’ve always seen him on the front, but he’s not. You can do what you want with him. He’s a smart horse. You can race him anyway you want to race him. I don’t think anybody was looking for him to come from off the pace tonight, I think they were looking for him to blast out of there and go to the front. But he’s not one-dimensional.

KW: Are you happy with post four in the final?
CF: Yeah. It’s not too far out. Wakizashi (Hanover) got the nine and In The Arsenal got the six. With the positions that everybody got, you don’t know what they’re going to do in the race. With this caliber of horses, I look for everybody to try to get near the front.

KW: How do you see the final?
CF: It should be a good race. In The Arsenal raced huge (in his elimination), and so did Wakizashi (Hanover). There are a lot of good horses in there. Hopefully we’ll show up and be the better on (Saturday) night.

-Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com