I want to be like John Williams. The retired former manager of Spendthrift Farm offered his insights about stallion conformation to the Godolphin Flying Start 2018-2020 trainees in January. John brought a load of items to the conference room at Jonabell Farm that day – posters with conformation terms he uses to describe horses, three halters, shoes worn by famous stallions and a book of Nashua photos. When I speak to people about horses and horse racing, I hope the same passion saturates my voice as that of John’s and my excitement about the sport can be similarly felt by those around me. I aspire to shine that positive glow in the industry. One of the first horses John mentioned in his presentation was multiple champion, 1955 Horse of the Year and National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame member Nashua. He raced 30 times and won 22 of those races, including the Gr.1 Preakness and Gr.1 Belmont Stakes. As John described him: “This was a horse who could withstand hard training and racing.” This is the horse John bears in mind as a near-perfect model when looking at other horses on farms or at sales. John described his three steps in selecting a horse for racing: pedigree, conformation and value, and explained osselets, thoroughpins and splints, flipping the pages of notes on the wooden easel as he went along. He recommended books, holding up a weathered copy of “Lameness in Horses” by Dr. O. R. Adams, and passed out printed articles about equine anatomy. John held up the three halters which had once crowned the heads of Nashua, Affirmed and Raise A Native. Then he passed them around. His eyes shining with enthusiasm – you could tell he was bursting with pride – he implored us to draw inspiration from these pieces of history.
When Nashua’s halter was passed into my hands, I set it down on the table in front of me and took a picture. I had recently finished reading the John Crittenden book “Hialeah Park: A Racing Legend.” The biography about the race course (known for its flamingos and the celebrities who walked the grounds during the glory days) has a chapter about “The Million Dollar Horse” – Nashua. It recounts Nashua’s journey by train to Hialeah for the 1956 Widener Handicap, one of the greatest days in Hialeah history, when 3,000 people surrounded the saddling paddock to see the bay, who was already an equine celebrity. There is a desire for change in the thoroughbred industry. As passionate, educated young people who were granted this opportunity, we are asked difficult questions and expected to give well-reasoned responses. We reached this point by expressing our devotion to becoming future industry leaders and part of that entails spearheading change. Leadership also requires rallying others. So what if, instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the thoroughbred industry, we shifted our perspective and zeroed in on what we
are doing well? What if we could channel the positive energy we feel when we see something awesome, like two horses neck and neck, looking each other in the eye as they race down the stretch, or a shaky foal, gathering its legs under itself and rising for the first time or an old-time horseman handing out halters of three icons who changed the game? Listening to John speak about the horses he has held at the end of a lead shank reels you in like a lure on a fishing line. What are racing’s greatest strengths? The electricity of crowds, addictive unpredictability of outcomes, diversity of its people, carefully crafted pedigrees for speed and stamina, storied history, and horses so incredible they defy description. It seems to me there’s plenty to be positive about. If I can channel the same energy as John Williams conveyed to our group to someone who has never experienced horse racing, then I’m headed in the right direction.
Annise Montplaisir 2018-2020 Trainee