by Barry Denton
View From the Backside
by Barry Denton
Some of my fondest memories of the race track are the cast of characters I met. Many of them had been in the race horse business all of their life and others were just passing through. You met people from all backgrounds and ethnicities. If I stop and think about it I guess my clientele was a miniature United Nations.
One day I started making a list of where many of them had come from and it was quite fascinating. There were the usual doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. Then if you add some Arabian sheiks, Russian oilmen, heads of state, politicians, a railroad magnate, a large retailer, Hollywood folks, and a few New York Jews you had a pretty interesting mix. Can you imagine having them all at the same party?
Thankfully you deal with the trainer most of the time, but many times the owners love to check out who they are sending checks to on a regular basis. Many of the owners I got to know very well over the years and I learned so much by talking with them. You have to be bright to be successful and these folks were special. I always appreciated my owners and went the extra mile for them.
As interesting as the owners were I was always even more fascinated by the everyday guy or gal that worked at the track. Many of the other farriers I worked with were very colorful .
I remember I went to Chicago to work on a horse and met a most interesting African American farrier. His name was Lightning and I never did know his real name. Maybe he didn’t have one, which wasn’t uncommon in those days.
Lightning was in his forties and probably six foot tall and about eighteen inches wide. He was truly the narrowest individual I have seen to this day. He was a little tall to be a farrier and probably weighed about 130 pounds. When I first saw him I thought he was malnourished or had a tape worm. Lightning was actually very healthy and had a large client base.
People liked him as he had a very easy going manner with horses and people alike. However, the most amazing thing about him was that when he walked somewhere he always had a horse rasp in his hand. As he walked along he would flip the rasp back over his shoulder and bounce it off his boot heel. The rasp would flip back over the shoulder and land in his hand every time. I have never seen anyone else do this.
Of course, all of us horseshoers would try it and incur a multitude of bruises. Lightning did this without thinking about it as he walked along. I didn’t go to Chicago often, but every time I was there I always marveled at Lightning and his antics.
Andre Delonpres was a Frenchman through and through. He spoke with a thick accent and had come to America as a boy of about eight years. He had thick curly hair that stuck out below his fedora. He wore thick soled Brogans and you could always hear him coming before you could see him. If you heard a series of “galumps” you knew it was Frenchy on his way. “Frenchy” as everyone called him had a special knack with horses.
All his regular horses that he shod just loved him and if you had a colt you couldn’t get shoes on you brought it to Frenchy. He was known far and wide for being the fractious horse panacea. Many people don’t realize that race horses are trained to “peak” at a certain time for a big race. Often times the training regimen leading up to a major race will put these horses in a nervous frame of mind. It’s quite the same as a human athlete getting ready for the big game. Nerves tend to get on edge. Because of this, Frenchy would get many horses to shoe just before the big race.
One day Frenchy was working on this big beautiful chestnut colt before his first stakes race. The horse had broken its maiden in high fashion and then won three races in a row. There was lots of promise in this youngster. However, this horse was being pretty tough to shoe.
Frenchy always remained calm, even if there were hind hooves narrowly missing his head. The horse’s groom was holding him and doing the best job he could, but that colt was having none of it. Most thoroughbred race horses can be shod with a lip chain when things get testy. This was not the case today.
Finally the groom opted to replace the lip chain with a long handled rope twitch. That was a good idea and Frenchy got one more foot completed. Pretty soon the colt started rearing with the twitch so it needed to come off. Keep in mind that Frenchy was shoeing this horse just a day before the race so tranquillizers were not an option. The next thing the groom did was grab a fistful of skin between the horse’s neck and shoulder.
This allowed Frenchy to get the last hoof trimmed and the shoe shaped. However, when he went to nail it on that rear hoof caught Frenchy in the back of the thigh and lifted him down the barn aisle about 15 feet. Frenchy never did say a thing, but went to the cab of his truck and got out a magazine. He opened up the magazine and threw it down in front of the horse. The horse never moved and let Frenchy finish his job.
Now that’s a horse whisperer!