Racing needs a triple, and more men like Clark

May 10, 1994|By Bill Tanton

Everyone in thoroughbred racing seems to agree that the sport needs another Triple Crown winner.

There have been only 11 of them in history, none since Affirmed in 1978.

When a horse wins the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, all within five weeks, the industry receives a huge shot in the arm.

Before the Derby last Saturday, racing people were beginning to talk about favored Holy Bull as a Triple Crown possibility.

But Holy Bull finished a disappointing 12th in a 14-horse field. Go For Gin won on a sloppy track. His trainer, the ebullient Nick Zito, admitted the slop had a lot to do with it.

"He's an off-track horse," said Zito. "The racetrack played a big part in it."

Will there be a Triple Crown winner this year?

Probably not. At least not unless the track is sloppy at Pimlico a week from Saturday and again at Belmont Park on June 11.

As Zito put it: "If The Man Upstairs makes it rain on Preakness Day, I'll thank Him."

Hall of Fame trainer Henry Clark is no different from everybody else. He pulls every year for a Triple Crown winner. The difference between him and the others is that he's been in the game longer.

Henry turned 90 in January. He has been working with horses since he was 10 years old.

His maternal grandfather, William Jennings Sr., owned and trained Preakness winner Dunboyne in 1887.

Early yesterday Henry Clark sat in his office at Pimlico's Barn A, talking about the Preakness and racing in general.

"You always hope for a Triple Crown winner," he said. "It's good for racing. Lord knows it needs something. This game has gone down so. It's pathetic. Everything's so different from the way things were."

Racing is like most sports. Everything's different. People are earning more money than they ever dreamed they would, but they're paying a price for it.

Clark came along at a time when sportsmen raced their horses at handsome racetracks. Today, as he points out, people often don't even see the horses. Simulcasting is the new wave.

"Aw, I don't want to get too specific," he said self-consciously. "All these fellows are friends of mine. But it's not like it used to be."

Henry has a photo at his farm in Glyndon of the winner's circle at the 1955 Travers at Saratoga. He trained the winner, Thinking Cap, for Christiana Stables.

"Right there on the picture," he said, "it says 'Purse -- $25,000.' "

"What's the Travers purse today?" he was asked.

"Million!" he snapped.

Clark doesn't rule out the possibility of a Triple Crown this year.

"I'm not going to tell you Go For Gin won't do it," he said. "I've been in this game too long to say a thing like that. I've seen too many surprising things happen. Go For Gin Looks like a speed horse. He'll probably do all right on a fast track."

Clark's foreman, Mark Pratt, came into the office, threading his way carefully past the cats that are omnipresent at racetrack barns. Pratt, who has been with Henry for 12 years, was asked about a Triple Crown this year.

"I don't think so," Pratt said. "The Derby winner is a mudder."

"I've had horses kind of move up in the mud," Henry Clark said, "but they could run all right on a fast track, too, if they had speed."

"I think Holy Bull might make amends in the Preakness," said Pratt.

"If he breaks good, he'll be tough," Henry said, "but I'm rooting for Cholly's horse. He ran second in the Derby."

Cholly is Charley Whittingham. He's the trainer of Strodes Creek.

If Hollywood needed a beloved old trainer for a racing movie, central casting would send Henry Clark. Walter Brennan could have played the part.

Twelve years ago, people around Pimlico were hoping Henry would get his first Preakness win with Linkage, who was the favorite. Hollywood would have written it that way -- the old Maryland trainer, winning Maryland's greatest race.

But Aloma's Ruler won the '82 Preakness. Linkage ran second.

"The boy blowed it," Henry said.

The "boy" was Bill Shoemaker, the greatest jockey of our time.


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