07 March 2006

Piece of horse racing history - at Mountaineer

With all the talk of Baird horses in the recent comments, it seems like the right time to spend a few moments highlighting Dale Baird, the one-time "Wizard of Waterford" - and Mountaineer racetrack legend.

Trainer Dale Baird was nominated this year (and last year, for that matter) for the Racing Hall of Fame, but didn't make the final ballot. However, he did receive a Special Achievement Eclipse Award last year after notching more than 9,000 wins. He's garnered a lot of winner's photos, but not a lot of press, as his horses -- and they generally are his, since he owns most of them -- run mainly in claiming races at Mountaineer and Charles Town. With a career spanning four decades since his first winner in 1961, a quick search of the library should yield a bit more information about the man and his methods.

Well, no. One searches in vain. Sadly, there are no entries in the library catalogs (even those of West Virginia libraries!) for thoroughbred racing's winningest trainer. However, librarians seldom let things like that stop them. As Catherine Drinker Bowen noted,

I tried not to give librarians any trouble, which was where I made my primary mistake. Librarians like to be given trouble; they exist for it, they are geared to it. For the location of a mislaid volume, an uncatalogued item, your good librarian has a ferret's nose. Give her a scent and she jumps the leash, her eye bright with battle.
So bright-eyed, I prowled the stacks and located Racelines by Philip Von Borries. Published in 1999 by Masters Press, it's a collection of articles/stories by a true fan of racing and its history. Though most of the pieces were first published in Illinois Racing News, The Horseman's Journal, and Hoofbeats, (as well as a number of track programs), the enthusiasm and personal anecdotes throughout lend the book a feel of a blog. And like a blog, the writing can be spotty: moving in one entry, weak in the next.

Still, it's a book, and there on page 93, it talks about Dale Baird, in an article from 1996 entitled "Cruising Past 7,000 and Climbing: The Record Journey of Trainer Dale Baird." It includes 2 pages of text along with three photos from Mountaineer Photo Service (who knew there was one?) before it moves on to brief bios of the rest of the "top ten" in wins.

By the way, lists are something Von Borries seems to enjoy. One of the more fascinating is that of American win streaks; topping the list is Leviathan with 23 consecutive wins, counting match races, one of which was run for 5 miles carrying 180 pounds! His most unusual list was "Hoofprints on Film," a 1988 article that lists his favorite horse racing films. 1983's Champions starring John Hurt as steeplechase rider Robert Champion tops the list, while Ben Hur comes in at sixth for the chariot race scene.

Von Borries is an Eclipse winner (for local broadcasting in 1990), but he's written a fair amount about harness racing, including a three-part series on Niatross, the 1979 harness Horse of the Year, that appears in this volume.

The book also features seven articles about African-American jockeys and trainers in a section called "Ebony Pearls." Now there's a subject almost as hard to research as Dale Baird, and if you doubt me, ask your librarian - and watch her jump the leash.


excellerandferdinand said...

I agree on Baird. He has never sought the limelight, altho in recent years he has ventured often to the California sales, usually spending in excess of $100k. The great mystery is why he has never attempted to breed on any scale, given the bankroll he has. Now, maybe, just maybe, that MNR will be writing state-bred races, he may give it a whirl, though, I doubt it, given the long payback cycle just to get kids to the races. He'll most likely continue to buy at the sales, both babies and horses in-training. One of his buys, JONES TALE, just ran. Originally sold as a 2yo for $220k, Baird paid $22k for that one at Barretts in Jan06 sale. This follows his pattern, or M.O. He obviously researches the horses who have sold as babies, and will spend up to ten percent of that price, witness his $15k buy on TOO RADICAL, who was allegedly originally sold for $150k, per Nancy and Mark on the simulcast show. His Barretts June05 buy, LUCKY EXPRESS, won Mon nite; was plucked for $20k.
Funny librarian aside: Years ago, stationed in Texas, had occasion to visit the library in Fort Worth. Not seeing any signs to the contrary, I ventured into the back of a room that apparently contained old research volumes. I was browsing the shelves when a stern old librarian came up to me and told me that this was an out of bounds area, and that I should ask her before securing any books in her area! It was an honest mistake, but she was fit to be tied that a mere 'civilian' had invaded her private sanctum. Not funny to her, at the time, but humorous to me, upon reflection, some 40 years later.