Robert D. Suggs, 48, horse trainer, agent for jockeys

August 28, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Robert D. Suggs, a former thoroughbred trainer who became an agent for jockeys, died Monday of cancer at his Columbia residence. He was 48.

Mr. Suggs, who had spent his life working with horses, had been an agent for jockeys since 1987 and continued working until a month before his death.

"He was diagnosed with gastric cancer in 1997 and was given three or four months to live," said his wife of 15 years, Linda Robinson, a groom whom he met when the couple worked at the racetrack in Santa Anita, Calif.

"Bob made no secret of his illness. He fought it publicly, and through his short remissions, he kept on going with a dignity and gracefulness that inspired a lot of people," Ms. Robinson said.

"He earned a lot of respect for the way he fought his illness. He was convinced he could beat it," said Larry Reynolds, a jockey and Mr. Suggs' client since 1994.

"If he heard someone had cancer, he'd go out and speak with them. People certainly respected him as a trainer and a jockey's agent but most of all these last few years as a human being."

Born and raised in Avondale, Ariz., the son of a horse trainer, Mr. Suggs spent his youth hanging around horse barns and racetracks in the West.

"Every summer, he'd go up to the track at Prescott, Ariz., with his father and watch the horses run," said Ms. Robinson.

After graduating from high school in Avondale, he earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture from California Polytechnic Institute.

After working as manager of the Equine Reproduction Center at the University of California in Davis, he went back to the track and began working as a $300-a-month hot walker, a person who walks horses after a race to cool them down.

He worked up to groom, foreman and then trainer.

When he came to Maryland in 1979, he was the youngest trainer hired by Alfred Gwynn Vanderbilt, owner of Sagamore Farm in Glyndon.

"Suggs runs a meticulous operation. He admits to being a perfectionist. He darts around the shedrow with the same nervous energy as the well-bred young horses that he oversees," said a 1980 profile in Maryland Horse.

"He really liked training horses, the track, and he took great pride in his work," said his wife.

A thin man of medium build who favored casual dress, Mr. Suggs was always at the track watching his horses and jockeys.

"He was well-liked, highly respected, extremely knowledgeable and very observant," said Mr. Reynolds. "He never gave you much advice but when he did, it was always delivered in a positive way."

Mr. Suggs enjoyed family vacations and playing golf.

His marriage to the former Marcia Long ended in divorce.

He was a member of Glenmar United Methodist Church in Ellicott City, where services were held yesterday.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Suggs is survived by two sons, Evan R. Suggs and Alex W. Suggs, both of Columbia; a sister, JoAnn Van Horn of Las Vegas; and a nephew, Steven Duncan of Covina, Calif.

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