Trainer Rash gets straight with Hall of Fame advice

May 20, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

It seems more than a coincidence that Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham and his handsome bay, Numerous, are only a few stalls removed from Rodney Rash and long shot Powis Castle in the Preakness barn.

For 11 years, the old man from Sierra Madre, Calif., and the farm boy from Woodbine were linked in life like an entry -- the legendary horseman and his prodigal son.

"Rodney turned up at Santa Anita when he was 15, and talked my foreman into giving him a job as a hot walker," Whittingham said. "He told me he grew up on a farm, and you could tell he knew his way around horses. He eventually worked his way up to be my assistant.

"But drinking got him into all kinds of trouble. The way he was headed, he could have been in jail or dead at any early age. But I kicked his butt enough times, and he finally got his life in order."

Rash, speaking from his stable at Hollywood Park before catching a red-eye flight to Baltimore, credits Whittingham with saving his life.

"He was my father figure, my mentor and my savior," said Rash, who now wears a medallion as a reminder of overcoming his drinking problem in 1986.

"I was cocky when I first turned up on Charlie's doorstep," Rash said. "I showed up in bib overalls, holding a whip, with 75 bucks to my name.

"I'd left home because I was in a rut, and giving everyone fits. But I'd always felt comfortable around horses. I once dreamed of riding in hunt races, but found out you can't live on trophies and medals.

"I felt if I could just work my way into Charlie's barn, I could prove myself, and he was willing to give me the chance.

"He is one of those special people who molds and forms you. He's got this gruff, old demeanor, but he's just a wonderful, caring human being. The hardest thing I had to do in my life was to leave Charlie in 1991, and try to make it on my own."

From Whittingham, Rash learned about both life and training horses.

"He taught me that there are no big secrets," Rash said. "The two most important things in racing are patience and fundamentals, plus just a lot of hard work."

Those characteristics in Rash impressed Roger Campbell, who manages the racing stable for Motown Records founder Berry Gordy.

"I watched Rash work with Whittingham and was impressed," Campbell said. "At the time, we had Barry Knight working for us, but he left to become a jockey's agent. I told Mr. Gordy that this Rash kid has a lot of potential, and we hired him.."

Rash is taking his second crack at winning the Preakness. Three years ago, his mount, Honor Grades, finished last.

"That was the first horse I actually trained on my own," Rash said. "But Powis Castle is a much better horse. He's good, fast and strong."

Rash said he has seen a dramatic change in Powis Castle's temperament during the past year.

"When I first started with him, he was like a big, goofy kid," Rash said. "Reminded me of one of those motorcycle toughs with a tattoo on his arm and a cigarette dangling from his lips.

"But now Powis Castle is real serious about his business . . . a total professional."

B6 Rodney Rash could have been talking about himself.

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