Holding Court - By Lenny Shulman

Robert Courtney Sr., who left us last week at 96, is celebrated not only for his long and distinguished career as a breeder and horseman, but as somebody who was always willing to help the next guy. Courtney had a way with words, every sentence holding pearls of wisdom. “Courtneyisms,” is what Alex Rankin, one of Courtney’s protegés, calls them, and we heard plenty of them during an interview for a feature story in The Blood-Horse 12 years ago:

“I have people who come up to me for advice because I’m old. I tell them my advice is free and most of the time it ain’t worth any more than that.”

“When I syndicated Mighty Story the contract was two pages. Now you got to get UPS to deliver the contract because the post office won’t deliver something that heavy.”

“All the good horsemen came from the Midwest, where horses were a part of life. Back then people had a chicken yard and a milk cow in the back. Today they got an automobile. Instead of taking care of animals they take care of the damn car.”

“The men who get into the horse business today sometimes come and talk to me and then they go hire someone to run their operation who knows less about the business than they do.”

“Old man (Bud) Greeley used to come down here after Churchill and turn all his horses out and go home and clean the gutters on his house. Around the first of February he’d take the horses back to the track. Now they got 12 months of racing and they wonder why they don’t last.”

On why he helped start Fasig-Tipton Kentucky: “There was an arrogance associated with the existing sale company. The higher a monkey climbs up a tree, the more of his ass he shows.”

“I was at a sale with Jaime Carrion and they knocked a mare down to me for $550,000 and he asked me who I bought her for and I said ‘You.’ He said, ‘You didn’t show her to me,’ and I said, ‘I couldn’t afford her, and I didn’t want you to think you couldn’t afford her, either.’ ”

“The only advantage to getting old is outliving all your enemies.”

“I had a client who approached Bull Hancock about taking his mares. Bull asked who had them now, and he said that I did. Bull said, ‘He takes as good care of a horse as I do; why the hell you want to bring ’em over here?’ ”

“I sold Flanders Field for $66,000 in 1965, the highest-priced broodmare bought at auction that year. Desi Arnaz bought her. He said, ‘I owe you a leetle money.’ I said, ‘Maybe to you it’s a leetle money, but to me it’s a hell of a lot of money.’ ”

“Soundness is a problem now because we train horses instead of racing them. Ben Jones would win the Derby Trial with a horse on Tuesday and come back Saturday and win the Kentucky Derby with him. He raced horses instead of training them.”

“I had a colt by Drone I sold at Keeneland for $485,000. I walked past Brereton Jones. He never picked his head up out of his catalog, but said, ‘Eighty-five times the stud fee.’ ”

“I came up under the theory that you took a young mare and bred her to a made horse to find out what she was capable of producing. I try to sell a solid racehorse, not what a lot of these folks today are trying to sell.”

“Used to be when the hammer fell, the horse was sold. Now, when the hammer falls, the negotiations begin.”

“Tough times make monkeys eat red pepper.”

“Integrity is something that can’t be bought or acquired by signing a piece of paper. It’s earned. They called me about joining that sales integrity thing. Why do I need to do that? I don’t pay people to buy a horse. I just don’t do it.”

“The American public seems to believe bigger is better, but I don’t think so. We’re just a family operation, and I’m very proud of that. I’ve made a nice living. I’m not a rich man, but I’ve made a nice living. This has been a great life, and I’ve loved every minute of it.” 

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