Many years ago I established a successful Thoroughbred training farm in Southwest Georgia. It was truly a triumph of energy and enthusiasm over stupidity and bad judgment. When energy and enthusiasm began to wane, I sold Dogwood Farm.
Back in the early days of 1975, we were making some headway, presenting Dogwood, and its mild Georgia winter climate, as a fine place to break yearlings. But we badly needed more outside (non-Dogwood) clients for training. The big breakthrough came, but not without its price. Here's the story:
One of the leading trainers in North America was a man named Frank Merrill. He had a lot of horses, and he campaigned in Canada in the summer and went to Florida in the winter. He had been sending his client's yearlings to a farm in Ocala for breaking and early training, before he took them over for campaigning. I had targeted Frank as an ideal client for Dogwood—lots of horses controlled by only one man.
For some time I had been talking to Frank about giving us his business. I knew he liked the idea, but he was reluctant to leave his Ocala connection. I thought we were making headway, however, and it was a project that was heavy on my mind.
One day in July, I was due to fly to England to look at a couple of older horses that I was thinking of buying. I was at our Dogwood business office in Atlanta, had my bags with me, and was set to fly out on a late afternoon plane to London. I got a phone call that morning; it was Frank Merrill. He said he wanted to talk to me about the training arrangement, so I needed to fly up to Canada that day and have dinner and discuss the matter? The timing was not convenient, but I absolutely had to go.
I quickly rearranged my plans. My secretary booked me on a flight to Buffalo, leaving later that morning. Frank said I should fly to Buffalo because the current Canadian race meeting was at Ft. Erie, right across the border, and we would spend the night at his cottage near Ft. Erie. Fine. I made arrangements to fly to England the next day from up there.
It was a hot day when all this developed, but since I was going to England where the weather is usually cool, I had on a fairly heavy suit. And since I was going to be in England a week, I had packed a big bag and a garment bag and had my briefcase with me. I had no time to go to the bank. I had only twenty-one dollars on me, but I knew Frank would meet me and I could cash a check through him in Canada.
I arrived in Buffalo at 2:30 p.m., but I didn't see Frank or any emissary. My bag came up, but Frank did not. I thought I'd better call him. I got his wife, and she said she was sure he must be on the way.
"Be patient. You know Frank, he's always late (heh heh!)," she offered helpfully. At 3:30 I called again. Frank's wife told me to catch a cab to the cottage. She promised he'd either be there or would arrive shortly.
So I lugged my bags to the curbside, hailed a cab, and asked the driver how much to take me to 532 Dalton Road in Ft. Erie. Eighteen dollars. Close, but that was okay. Off we trekked to Frank's cottage. I gave the driver twenty bucks, since he helped haul the baggage up to the door (and it was hotter in Canada than it was in Atlanta). I had one dollar left...and was a long way from home.
I had no choice but to sit down on the steps in the hot sunshine and hope and pray that Frank showed. No cell phones then. I was sweltering and dejected at this point, and I'm sure I looked the part, sweating heavily in my cavalry twill suit.
In the yard next to his cottage, four small children were playing rather noisily. They noticed me, of course, and they observed that I seemed in a foul mood. After awhile it dawned on them that I might somehow fit into the afternoon's recreational activities.
Soon a rock came whistling over my way! With all four crouched behind bushes in the yard, a rock barrage then started in earnest. This was definitely too much!
Summoning up my sternest demeanor, I warned, "Now, see here, you children, this is going to have to stop. We're not going to have any rock throwing!" Like hell we're not. Now it was like the barrage at Omaha Beach.
At this juncture, one of them yelled out, "Hi there, old Poo Poo Man," a term which seemed to capture the fancy of all the assailants.
Picture this. Here I am on a sizzling hot day, burdened by some very heavy baggage, one dollar in my pocket, no transportation, no idea where my acquaintances are, in a strange land, with four tiny children throwing rocks and screaming "Poo Poo Man" at me.
This was not one of the great afternoons of my life.
I decided that I must seek a less hostile atmosphere. I picked up my bags and struggled up the street, to what destination I did not know. After about a block I was ringing wet. A pickup truck came by, and when I dropped my bags and began waving frantically, he stopped. I told him I was looking for a motel, and he said he was going by one about a mile away—the best news I had heard all day long. He took me there, I checked in with my credit card, and things began to look up, relatively speaking.
After numerous phone calls, I finally talked to Frank later that night. He seemed only vaguely aware that he had caused me some slight degree of inconvenience. Showing remarkable restraint, I pleasantly made arrangement to meet him at his barn the next morning. We talked then, and, perhaps in a fit of remorse (although I doubt it), he agreed to send me 20 horses to train.
He continued to send me horses for some years after that. But I did pay a price.