Many diverse theories, techniques, procedures, tools, skills, and outright voodoo-isms go into the acquisition of young Thoroughbred horses. But what the whole rigamarole boils down to was once explained to me in indelible fashion by one of the greatest race riders who ever lived.
The story starts with Dogwood's purchase in the mid-80s of an expensive yearling colt. At the Keeneland July sale, I bought for $230,000 a big, handsome son of Seattle Slew and the fine stakes-producing broodmare Miss Suzaki. What a superb prospect he was!
Back in Aiken, S.C., we developed the dark bay colt in the most patient, conservative manner. We really took more than a year to get him ready to run.
In the fall of 1984, this colt, Slewzuki, was sent to California to the fine trainer John Russell. The colt had trained quite nicely, and we had picked out a race for him Dec. 9 at Hollywood Park. Of course, we had secured the services of the finest rider in that or any other jockey colony: Bill Shoemaker. Shoe!
To say there was a great deal of pressure attending this colt's debut is a masterpiece of understatement. The other partners were excited; I was definitely excited, and, of course, I was going to California to see the colt run.
The day arrived. He was in the sixth race. I came in the night before and watched him have an easy gallop the next morning (just to take the edge off). This colt was as sharp as "jailhouse coffee!" After the fifth race, I rushed to the paddock. The colt came in looking an absolute picture. I could not have been prouder. John Russell put the tack on him, and he and the other 2-year-olds went out on the walking ring. The riders came out. Shoemaker, befittingly dazzling in a brand new set of Dogwood colors, walked over to John and me.
I would remind you here that Shoemaker was known to be rather laconic. They did not call him "Silent Shoe" for nothing. The trainer and I greeted Bill, shook hands with him, and he favored us with a barely audible murmur.
Now, I know better than this, but I did feel that it was necessary to import to Bill that this was not just any old race, but it was the debut of what should become one of the true legends on the Turf. This was important. So I said, "Well! Bill, this is a colt by Seattle Slew. I got him for $230,000 last summer at the Keeneland sale, and we have really taken our time with him."
Shoemaker looked up at me and softly replied, "Oh."
I pushed on, "Bill, he's out of a wonderful producing broodmare named Miss Suzaki. She's had two stakes winners. Never thrown a blank!"
"Hmm," Shoemaker observed.
Now I was becoming desperate. Somehow I felt I had not yet ignited the fire, so I became more aggressive in my approach.
"Just look at that colt, Bill! Doesn't he look like a hell of a horse?"
Shoemaker cocked his head over to the right, glanced at the colt, then looked back at me, grinned almost imperceptibly, and said: "Well, now, if this big son of a b***h can just RUN a little bit, we ought to be all right, shouldn't we?"
Unfortunately the son of a b***h couldn't.
Editor's Note: Slewzuki started 16 times and didn't break his maiden until he was 4. He did win two races and finished second four times.