Michael Anthony Clay, 39, longtime Pimlico employee

December 05, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Michael Anthony Clay, a longtime Pimlico racetrack employee who portrayed a jockey in a beer commercial and in a movie, died of heart failure Nov. 28 at Old Court Nursing Center in Randallstown. He was 39.

The Baltimore native and Randallstown resident grew up less than two blocks from Pimlico Race Course, where he began working when he was 15. He started as a hot walker and advanced to groom, exercise boy and jockey.

Mr. Clay, whose father was a horse trainer, arrived at the track well before sunrise each day and worked until about 8 a.m. then attended classes at Carver Vocational-Technical High School.

"He always wanted to work with horses," said his sister, Deborah Phipps of Randallstown. "He just fell in love with it. He was out there at 4 or 5 in the morning, working."

Mr. Clay became a jockey in the early 1980s -- his riding weight was 120 pounds or less -- and rode in more than 100 races.

In 1987, he played a jockey in a Budweiser commercial and in the movie "Tin Men" with Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito.

"I won three races in one day on the same horse," he said of his role in the movie.

In the commercial, Mr. Clay portrayed a jockey given a ride in an important race. The jockey has little experience but manages to win -- and is given a congratulatory beer for his efforts.

"When I finally saw the commercial, I couldn't believe it," Mr. Clay said. "It was about a guy who had no silver spoon, who makes his way from the bottom to the top. It was so real, so true to life -- to my life."

Dan Fretigo, a former Pimlico employee, said Mr. Clay did whatever was asked of him at the racetrack simply because he enjoyed being around horses.

"There wasn't a job at the track that he didn't do willingly and with gusto," Mr. Fretigo said. "His energy rubbed off on everybody."

Poor health forced Mr. Clay to retire in 1992. He then spent time helping youths stay out of trouble, often finding them jobs at Pimlico.

Services were held on Monday.

Other survivors include his parents, George W. Clay Jr. of Randallstown and Mary W. Clay of Essex; three brothers, George Clay of Baltimore, Darryl Clay of Lochearn and Kenneth Clay of Laurel; and two sisters, Kathern Clay of Essex and Cheryl Clay of Laurel.

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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