Mistaken Identity

The Dogwood Stable of today came into existence in 1973 as Dogwood Farm, on 433 acres in West Central Georgia. The energy and enthusiasm that caused the farm to exist began to wane after 13 years, and the property was sold. Dogwood became just a stable, and it moved to Aiken, S.C., in 1986, and life became simpler.

A good example of the vexations of horse farm life are recalled in a memorable case of mistaken identity, or what might be known as "The Wiggolinski Affair."
It also finally caused the somewhat predictable undoing of a Dogwood farm manager, whom we will call "Barry."

Old Barry was a likeable, companionable son of a gun—so companionable, in fact, that he had imported two old friends from Canada—an exercise rider and a groom —who were seeking warm shelter for the winter season. These were a couple of amiable, rough-hewn types who did not bring much class to the Dogwood staff. But they were convivial drinking companions for Barry.

For a while, I had noticed in a few evening phone conversations that Barry had a tendency to slur his words, and a few times when I was on the farm he preferred to be where I was not.

Barry had brought a new bride with him to the farm, and he was now having some complicated marital travails. He would take a drink with little or no provocation, and given provocation, he would really get serious. His "better half" was furnishing ample provocation. He was a gifted liar and, when confronted, would have all sorts of plausible excuses for any indications of drinking on the job. I wanted to believe him, because it was more convenient to give him another chance.

In early spring we were beginning to ship freshly turned 2-year-olds to the races—our own and those of our clients. One load had four Dogwood horses going to two of our trainers, two to Frank Alexander at Belmont Park in New York, and two to Larry Jennings at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. Another bleakly endowed, 2-year-old filly belonged to a Maryland client named Morris Wiggolinski, and his horse (Mamma's Moolah) was to go to a trainer at Suffolk Downs in Boston.

Mr. Wiggolinski was a nervous type, harboring high hopes for his horse and had required considerable hand-holding during the winter.

Barry and his helpers got the five horses ready, and late one night the van pulled out for the East.

One of the horses going to Frank Alexander at Belmont Park was a racy, attractive bay filly named for my sister, Sally Waldron. The aforementioned Mamma's Moolah was also bay, but a dumpy, lazy little thing.

Several weeks later, in a conversation with Frank Alexander, I asked about Sally Waldron's progress.

"Well, she's okay, I guess. I breezed her, and she went pretty slow. She's kinda' deadheaded," Frank reported.

"Deadheaded? That filly's pretty flighty, wound up tight," I said.

"She's not too wound up here," Frank came back.

In a week or two, I got a call from Wiggolinski: "The horse identifier at Suffolk Downs came by my trainer's barn to lip tattoo Mamma's Moolah, and he said the Jockey Club papers don't match the horse. My trainer called your farm manager, and he said not to worry about it. Are you sure we've got the right horse?"

I briskly suggested the horse identifier try again.

Two more weeks went by with more calls from the agitated Wiggolinski, who still couldn't get his filly tattooed so she could race. Then I got a call from Frank Alexander, saying our filly had bucked her shins, though she really hadn't gone fast enough to do it. "I'm going to ship her back to you because she'll need pin-firing," Frank reported.

Several days later Sally Waldron was led off a horse van at Dogwood. But, it was NOT Sally Waldron. Instead we were welcoming good old Mamma's Moolah. Barry's face turned a deep shade of red.

I surmised—and found out from other sources—that Barry and the boys were in the midst of a rather festive party the night the horses were prepared for shipping, and the halters identifying Mamma's Moolah and Sally Waldron were switched.

We called Wiggolinski and gave him the great news that we had indeed shipped the wrong horse—as he had been insisting to deaf ears. And, on top of that, his beloved Mamma's Moolah had bucked her shins while in the care of the wrong trainer. This put him in a contentious frame of mind. Contentious enough that his attorney called, and we soon agreed to send him a check for five thousand dollars, rehab the filly, and then ship her back to his trainer at no cost.

At my strong suggestion, Barry sought employment elsewhere.

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