04/05/2014 11:54AM

Trainer Dickie Small dies at 68

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Tom Keyser
Trainer Dickie Small was instrumental in launching the career of jockey Rosie Napravnik.

Richard W. “Dickie” Small, who trained Broad Brush and Concern to major victories during a 40-year training career that earned him immense popularity and admiration from his peers in Maryland and beyond, died late Friday night from complications stemming from a lengthy struggle with cancer. He was 68.

Small was a former Green Beret in Vietnam who grew up around horses in Maryland hunt country as the son of trainer Doug Small and the nephew of the late Sidney Watters Jr., a 2005 Racing Hall of Fame inductee. His brother, Doug, is a retired steeplechase jockey and the lone survivor from Dickie Small’s immediate family.

Small trained for many years for one of the top owners in Maryland, Robert Meyerhoff, with Broad Brush and Concern their best horses.

Broad Brush won 12 stakes from 27 career starts and earned $2.65 million. As a 3-year-old in 1986, he won the Wood Memorial, finished third in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and was beaten a head by Wise Times in the Travers. As a 4-year-old, he won the Santa Anita Handicap and Suburban Handicap.

Concern, a son of Broad Brush, won the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs as a 3-year-old, capping a year in which he won the Arkansas Derby, ran third in the Preakness, and was second by a neck to Holy Bull in the Travers. He ended his career with seven wins from 30 starts and earnings of almost $3.1 million.

Early in his career, Small trained Caesar’s Wish, a filly who broke a stakes record held by Ruffian in winning the 1978 Mother Goose at Belmont Park. He told the Maryland Jockey Club she was the best horse he ever trained.

Small was still active until his death. His final starter, Sawitinyoureyes, ran seventh in a maiden race Friday at Pimlico. His last winner was Perilous Indian on Feb. 20 in a Laurel Park allowance.

Small’s career began in 1974, when he took over his father’s stable. According to Equibase, Small had 1,199 wins from 7,670 starters for stable earnings of $38.9 million. He won 182 stakes, 36 of them graded, and won at least one stakes race every year from 1974 to 2013, except for 2003.

“That is an amazing statistic,” said Coley Blind, a longtime Maryland racing official. “I remember the year he didn’t do it. He was so disappointed that the streak was broken.”

Despite being stricken with cancer several years ago, Small continued to come to work regularly at his Pimlico barn, furthering his reputation as a tough guy with a gentle soul.

“They say a horse that can run will keep anybody going, and they may be right,” he told Daily Racing Form in a March 2013 article. “I’ve had a great time in the game.”

Known for his bowtie and fedora and a friendly, engaging manner, Small was a tireless worker and a mentor and benefactor to innumerable Marylanders – particularly female exercise riders – who eventually became successful in racing and other endeavors, including M.C. Brock, Jerilyn Brown, Andrea Seefeldt Knight, Rosie Napravnik, and Forest Boyce.

“He touched so many lives,” said Seefeldt Knight, who retired in 1994 and is one of just three women to ride in both the Derby and Preakness.

Small was twice divorced and had no children, but “Dickie’s family were the people who worked for him and all the people he worried about and helped,” she said. “There had to be 200 of us, probably more. He helped kids through college and did many, many things people never saw. There are no words for someone like Dickie.”

On Twitter, Napravnik wrote: “RIP Boss. You’ve always made me smile.”

Small could be quirky and different, as Blind recalled about his lifelong friend.

“The best stories about Dickie involved Broad Brush, when he would take him for a ride in the van before races to get him to relax,” Blind said. “He just drove him around the [Baltimore] beltway and brought him back to the barn, and the horse performed.”

A memorial service was being planned Saturday.