Sean Clancy Author/Champion Rider
Thursday, February 15, 2007 at Noon (ET)
Sean Clancy, author of the upcoming Eclipse Press release Barbaro: The Horse Who Captured America's Heart, is a critically acclaimed writer and former champion jockey who's had a lifelong association with horses.
Sean's father, Joe Clancy Sr., trained flat and steeplechase horses and instilled in sons Sean and Joe Jr. a love of racing. Sean had quite a career as a jockey, riding steeplechase races professionally for 13 years, winning a total of 152 races and a national championship in 1998. He was the 10th highest winner of all time upon his retirement in 2000.
Clancy is the author of Saratoga Days and co-author of The Best of the Saratoga Special. He has also written for the Daily Racing Form, The Blood-Horse, Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred and Newsweek among others.
Clancy is editor/publisher of ST Publishing, based in Fair Hill, Maryland. ST Publishing produces The Saratoga Special, Steeplechase/Eventing Times, The Special at Keeneland, Thoroughbred Racing Calendar, and other projects.
Clancy’s connections to Barbaro are many. He grew up in Unionville, Pennsylvania, home of Barbaro’s owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson; Barbaro’s trainer Michael Matz; and Barbaro’s temporary home, University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center. Clancy lives in Landenberg, Pennsylvania, hometown of Barbaro’s primary veterinarian, Dr. Dean Richardson, and his office is in Fair Hill, Maryland, Barbaro’s training grounds.
How did you first come into contact with Barbaro's story? Had you ever covered such a roller-coaster ride of racing before?
I remember standing at the rail at Fair Hill Training Center, early fall of 2005, and seeing a big, bay colt come off the track. I asked Michael Matz who it was, the proverbial, “Who is that?” question when you see a horse who looks like he came from another world. He said, “A 2-year-old by Dynaformer.” Then he broke his maiden and won the Laurel Futurity, so I followed him from there. I've never covered such a roller-coaster ride, not even close; but when you've worked with horses on a day-to-day basis, you're pretty used to the constant ups and downs of horse racing. Well, you're never used to them, but, you're less surprised by them, I guess.
Council Bluffs, IA:
Did you cry writing the end of the book?
No, I never cried but just felt melancholic about the whole thing. Writing about Barbaro, for me, was daunting because of the clash between journalist and horseman and because we didn't know the ending of the story. As a journalist, I had to ask questions, on the verge of trespassing. As a horseman, I wanted to leave everybody alone and let them deal with the emotions and struggles of the situation.
Did you think about writing a book about Barbaro even before the Derby, possibly thinking ahead that he might be that good? There is so much detail in the excerpt about Derby Day that I wonder if you already had something in mind.
I was covering the Derby for a feature for Mid Atlantic Thoroughbred magazine, so I was covering it as a journalist from the outset -- which is why I could write it in such detail. The book idea came about after the Derby, obviously, taking a completely different direction than any of us wanted or expected after the Preakness.
Cedar Rapids, IA:
I am very much looking forward to the release of your new book. The cover of the book was especially touching with Edgar Prado petting Barbaro. Did you get a chance to talk to him for your book? There seemed to be a special connection there.
Edgar and I are pretty good friends, so I chatted with him throughout the year; but then we sat for about two hours at the Morning Line Kitchen at Belmont Park this fall, talking about the horse, Prado's career, the loss of his mother. Edgar rides a lot of horses, but Barbaro was different for him. It was like he was talking about a family member, and this was when the horse was doing well at New Bolton. It's in the racing survivor's handbook, don't fall for the horses, keep your distance, it's a job. Impossible.
Does your book detail the development of the strong friendship between Barbaro and Dr. Richardson? That is how I will remember Barbaro - with Dr. Richardson and the bond they developed over the 8 months. They seemed to keep each other going - so admirable.
I hope readers will feel that bond through reading the book. Dr. Richardson and Barbaro developed a special relationship. Richardson is an equine surgeon, but he's also a teacher and a horseman. He delivered a different perspective on things, which is part of the reason why everyone related to him so much through this eight-month odyssey. Obviously, his mission was to save Barbaro, but he also made sure the people received the proper message about the horse.
Mr. Clancy, I can't tell you how eagerly I am awaiting the release of your book about Barbaro and his heroic efforts to survive, along with the humans in his short life who were trying their best to help him. I am one of the pre-order customers, and I have to say this is the first time I have ever pre-ordered a book! I'd like to know, in researching your book, were you actually able to spend time with Barbaro? Could you tell us, if you know, how tall was Barbaro? Again, thank you for the upcoming book ... it's just too bad it couldn't have that "fairy tale" ending we were all hoping and praying for.
I followed the horse quite closely when he arrived at Keeneland before the Derby and got to know him a little there, and then I spent a fair amount of time (as much as possible) with him between the Derby and Preakness at Fair Hill. Somebody asked me what my favorite time was during the writing of the book, and I'd say it was a few days after the Derby when Michael Matz, Peter Brette, Barbaro, and I walked to and from the wood-chip track at Fair Hill, just talking horses, the four of us; that was a special morning. Barbaro was big, robust, but a perfect athlete. Somehow, he always seemed to swell up when he hit the track. In the stall, he looked like an average horse and then you'd see him in the light of day, outside, especially under tack, and it was like he grew a hand and put on 200 pounds. I've never seen another horse who seemed to do this. I know it sounds crazy, but he was a like a good actor. Back stage, he was just a horse. On stage, he was a God.
I'm looking forward to your book. What a story. Did you get any closer to any truth regarding the reason for Barbaro's injury?
The truth, as I could gather, was that it was a freak accident. I don't think anybody will ever know why it happened. Something could have happened when he broke through the gate, some strain or some tear, that wasn't detectable and then when he ran on it, everything came undone. Maybe? It could have been just a terrible misstep. I've been running a lot lately, believe me, I've taken more bad steps and stumbles. If I was 1,200 pounds, I would have shattered.
Bay City, MI:
I was wondering if you know where Barbaro's final resting place will be so I could go see him.
I don't think the Jacksons have decided yet, but I'm sure it will be somewhere appropriate. I think I'd choose a nice tree on the farm and let him rest in peace.
You've clearly met hundreds of horses in your professional and personal lifetime. Can you describe the look, the feel, and the experience of meeting Barbaro? What was it like to look him in the eye? What did he exude? What was it like being in the presence of such a force?
He was captivating, anybody who was around him could feel that. Peter Brette, Michael Matz, Edgar Prado, whomever. Look, horses are like humans; they come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of intelligence and attitude. The good ones possess enough of the necessary elements to succeed. Barbaro had it all. Looking Barbaro in the eye, he looked back at you. He exuded confidence, class, stoicism, constitution. The way he handled himself after the injury was the same way he handled himself his whole life - just had it under control.
Thanks for taking our questions, Sean. My question goes back prior to Barbaro's tragic injury and the plans the Jacksons had for him once the Triple Crown races were over. If I remember right, because he was so good on grass, there was talk of running him in the Arc in France in the fall. Was that a serious consideration and were there any other big international races that they were considering like the Melbourne Cup, Japan Cup, etc.? It's fun to dream of those possibilities, had he stayed sound.
Horse racing has a way of making us all dreamers and Barbaro's connections were certainly dreaming of big things. There is no question in my mind that he was an even better horse on the turf and no doubt we had never seen the best of him, so the Arc and those kinds of races were definitely within his grasp. Up hill, down hill, around bends, on deep ground, oh man, the possibilities. Yeah, it's fun to dream.
Ewa Beach, HI:
I always thought Barbaro's "defining" moment was the Florida Derby. What was your take on that gutsy race he ran? Should Gulfstream rename a significant race like the Fountain of Youth in his honor?
The Florida Derby was probably his coming-of-age race. He was defiant and had to dig a little deeper than he had in his previous races. It seems like there should be one appropriate race named after him, not sure where it should be, but a Grade I stakes that honors him.
How much influence do you feel the "public opinion" or press had in the decision to not put Barbaro down earlier?
Great question. I don't think the Jacksons or Matz or anybody at Pimlico was swayed by public opinion. They felt like he had a chance, so they gave it to him. And again, at New Bolton, if you know Dean Richardson, he's not being swayed by public opinion or outside influences. Obviously, Barbaro was given more chances to survive than the average horse. Sadly, most decisions come down to economics, and there is no way to try to save every horse who breaks a leg or gets hurt significantly. It would be a great world if we could, but it's not feasible; it would bankrupt the sport. Barbaro was given a chance.
I have read different opinions about the intelligence of the Thoroughbred. Can you give us yours?
Another great question. How much time do you have? Again, they're like humans in that they come in all molds. On one hand, they're simple, we ask them to run, they run. On the other hand, they're idiosyncratic and complicated. It's hard to describe their intelligence; they don't necessarily process information or rationalize stuff, but they're intelligent in a non-human type of way.
Salt Lake City, UT:
Since you have connections to Pennsylvania, any chance you'll be writing about my favorite horse story of all time -- Smarty Jones? I would think anyone who captures that one could get a Hollywood movie deal, too.
Ah yes, the great Smarty Jones. I would have liked to write a book when he was at the height of his popularity.
Rising Sun, MD:
I've enjoyed Steeplechase Times for years; your articles there and in The Blood-Horse are great. I miss your sister Sheila's columns in Steeplechase Times. How is she doing and when will she be back to update us on her chaotic life?
I'll tell her you were asking for her. She's doing OK, chaotic as ever and not writing enough for her brother's newspaper!
My first exposure to horse racing was through the books of Dick Frances. I became so enthralled that I read them all. The role of the jockey especially intrigues me. That is such a dangerous occupation. Other than height, what do you see as the difference in skills and requirements of the steeplechase jockey and the flat race jockey? Which do you consider the more dangerous occupation of the two?
Before the readers say it, the big difference is the jump jockeys have to be crazy! Nah, the skills and requirements aren't that dissimilar. Jump jockeys need to be able to judge pace, strategically manage a race, know their horses, have good hands, be able to communicate with horses as well as trainers and owners . . . all the stuff the flat jockeys need to do. Obviously, the jumping element is key to succeeding as a jump jockey, knowing how to present a horse to a fence, conserving energy at the fences. The jump jockeys tend to be more horsemen than the flat jockeys, mostly because of the time they spend in the barn and their backgrounds. No question, riding over jumps is more dangerous.
I am a fan of steeplechase racing and I've enjoyed my subscription to Steeplechase/Eventing Times. I was just curious about why it is not as popular of a racing sport here in the US. Do you think that more can be done to increase the general popularity of the sport and spread the sport farther westward into the States?
Again, how much time do you have? Steeplechasing in America just doesn't have the cultural base as it does abroad. In England and Ireland, jump racing is like baseball in America. People grow up with it and it never leaves them. Here, it's more like an intramural sport, so small on the grand scale of flat racing and other sports. I wish it would become more popular here, move westward and become more of a sister league to flat racing. Sadly, as flat racing becomes more and more geared to simulcasting and sheer numbers, steeplechasing gets further and further removed. Steeplechasing at the major tracks takes a lot of grief from a few members of the press and some individual horseman's groups. It's sad, the more people who appreciate steeplechasing, the more people who will appreciate flat racing. They go hand in hand and they should be grouped together rather than looked at as two different entities.
Apple Valley, CA:
I just love your style of writing, Sean, but I know you use to be a steeplechase jockey. Do you miss being a jockey, and do you still do a lot of riding?
No, I don't miss riding races. It's kind of like college; you miss it like it's a time of your life that has passed, you look back with fond memories -- but you move forward. The last race I ever rode, I looked up in the sky and said, “Thank you, God, I'll never ask you for another thing the rest of my life.” And it was over. I guess there are elements I miss...riding a good horse, winning a race, of course, the camaraderie of a jocks' room. But that's about all. I ride some for fun now, try to fox hunt a little, and enjoy riding a horse for the reason I liked it the first day.
Congrats, mate. When are you going to send me an abridged story (excerpts from the book) for Breeding & Racing? Cheers, Ric
Good to hear from you, Ric. Talk to The Blood-Horse. I'm sure we can get you an excerpt or whatever you want. I'm all for it.
Sean, who do you like in the Cheltenham Gold Cup this year?
I know who I don't like, Kauto Star. I know, it sounds crazy, but he just doesn't jump well enough for me to back him at a short price. Besides his last fence theatrics, he seems to make too many mistakes and never looks fluid enough at his fences. If they go a decent gallop and make jumping paramount, then I like War Of Attrition to repeat or Exotic Dancer, but it will further shake out in the next month. One thing's for sure, I'll be there.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book?
No question, the uncertainty of the whole situation made it very difficult to write. I never wrote a story before I knew the ending, but that's what I had to do with Barbaro. I knew what I wanted the ending to be, so I wrote it with that in mind -- a heroic story about a horse who beat the odds. Sadly, it didn't turn out that way.
Will any of the proceeds from your book be donated to Laminitis research or any other cause connected with horses?
I know The Blood-Horse has discussed some sort of donation, not sure of the specifics but I'm sure they'll do something. I'm going to donate a portion of my advance to the Barbaro Fund at New Bolton and to the Grayson Foundation.
Orland Park, IL:
We have read of your problem with writing this book in The Blood-Horse. Was there ever any discussion after Barbaro lost his battle to not publish the book or at least wait a little while before coming out with it? I followed all the updates and saved them to a file on my computer and really thought that Barbaro would be OK. Speaking for myself, I just don't think I can put myself through the whole ordeal again at this time. Do you think your book has an "uplifting feel" to it?
We discussed timing of the book but never whether we would do it or not. We felt like it was worth writing, either way. I'm with you, I thought he would be OK too. At Pimlico, I didn't think he had a chance and in the ensuing weeks, I was just waiting to hear the news. Then, at some point, I guess I started to believe he was going to make it. The book is a tribute to a horse, that's how I wrote it, trying to capture a moment in time and saluting a horse and his surrounding team so, yeah, I think it has an uplifting feel to it. How's that quote go, 'Do not cry for what is gone, but smile for what was once here.'
Appreciate several of your contributions to horse racing and especially the Saratoga experience. It was "Saratoga Days" that led to my first trip to the Parting Glass. How many US tracks have you had the chance to visit and what are your favorites (besides Saratoga)? Any chance you might do a tour this year to promote the book at racetracks around the country?
I've never kept a count but I've been to a lot of them, not as many as I'd like but there's still time. Assiniboia Downs in Canada, Great Barrington Fair, Fairmount Park, they're some of the real obscure ones. After Saratoga, my favorite would be Delaware Park in the old days; it's where I grew up, fond, fond memories. I'm going to start a blog on The Blood-Horse website next week, so let's rally them to do a tour around the country. We'll sell the book, meet the fans, and write another book about traveling around the country by racetrack. I'm ready.
Sean, I have enjoyed your writings for many years and even won money on your mounts when you were still riding. Are you planning on publishing the Special at Keeneland this Spring?
Wow, one of the few who made money betting on me! Yes, the Special at Keeneland returns for its second year this April. Looking forward to spending the month in Lexington. Last year was the first time I got to spend the entire month at Keeneland and loved it. Glad you're reading the Special.
Los Angeles, CA:
I generally don't follow steeplechase racing, but I saw Hirapour once and was mesmerized by him. Have you been around him, and is he as special as he seems?
I've spent a fair amount of time with Hirapour. When he arrived at Saratoga last summer, I went over to the stakes barn after the day's races and hung out with him, just stood around and watched him. He won the A.P. Smithwick the next day. And, yes, he's as special as he seems. My buddy Matt McCarron always rode him so it made the connection stronger. Hirapour retired last year, after finishing third in the Colonial Cup. He deserved the happy ending. But there's still McDynamo.
Old Field, NY:
While reading excerpts from your new release it becomes quickly evident that your well rounded passion and intellect as a horseman is perfectly suited to write about such an exceptional horse, trainer, and story. Would you be available to do a book signing at our historic equestrian parkland Old Field Farm located on the North Shore of Long Island?
First of all, thank you. And, yes, I'd be delighted to do a book signing at Old Field Farm, I've heard a lot about it and would be honored. Just let me know when and I'll be there.
How good were Barbaro's good days? Did he get to roll over in the grass in the sunshine? Everything happened so suddenly and people were shocked. To get closure people, need to know what exactly motivated the sudden decision to put down America's favorite horse after only one bad night, despite the possibility that he could survive and the likelihood that he *wanted* to survive -- everything that went into that decision.
Michael Matz talked to me in early January about Barbaro's good days. He would walk out of the barn, stop and stare off in the distance, graze when he felt like it. There were two cows in a neighboring field, some days he would march over to them and snort at them, like he wanted to play. Other days, he would be totally aloof and ignore them. I'm not sure he ever got to roll in the grass, but he enjoyed moments of grass and sunshine. Obviously, living in an intensive care unit of a hospital isn't very pleasant, but I think he had some decent days along the way. As sudden as the decision seemed to be to us, there was nothing sudden to the people involved. He developed deep bruising in his right hind hoof. His left hind hoof was still in the midst of the laminitis and then he got laminitis in his front feet, basically, he didn't have a good leg to stand on and his comfort level was waning so it was decided to euthanize him. It was much more than one bad night. I hope the world knows that nothing with this horse was done flippantly or without total deliberation and thought. As much as you and I agonized over this horse, nobody put more into it than the Jacksons, Michael Matz, Dean Richardson and New Bolton. They did everything in the best interests of the horse – while putting themselves to the world's scrutiny – and sadly it didn't work.
Last year after the Kentucky Derby, Barbaro's trainer mentioned in a TV interview something like, "You should see his (Barbaro's) two-year-old little brother; although calling him 'little' is the wrong word." Is there a full brother of racing age?
His full brother just turned 2. He's got enormous shoes to fill but, we're all dreamers, so we'll think big, right?
I don't think I have ever witnessed such an outpouring of love for a horse has there has been for Barbaro. What do you think is the reason for this?
I've never been surprised by the emotion around this horse. He was undefeated, won the Derby and had everybody hooked and then he broke. It's easy to root for a horse – they walk hallowed ground to mankind – so it's a natural thing to believe in them and hope for them. Barbaro couldn't let us down, no matter what he did, so he's the innocent hero who was playing for the love of the game. Humans have choices – Barry Bonds chose to do what he did, Floyd Landis chose to do what he did (OK, allegedly did) – Barbaro, win or lose, had no choice. He was the ultimate hero!
To what extent do you think Barbaro's sad end will impact racing's fan base, which has been long in decline? As was the case with Ruffian, there's always going to be a percentage of loyal fans who are crushed by such a devastating loss. The message boards are filled with comments from horse lovers who say they don't have it in them to watch another race. Can racing endure another horrific blow?
Whew, that's a tough one. The answer is so multi-faceted. Can racing endure another horrific blow? Well, yes, it will endure but it certainly took another hit that further erodes the peripheral fan base. Racing's long decline can be traced to many factors – from shunning early television to the proliferation of other forms of gambling to plain old customer service. Absolutely, the sport needs to take care of its horses better than it does now. Did Barbaro raise awareness to this? Yes. Will anything change? Probably not. At least there are some tangible things that have come about from his injury – mostly donations for more research and better veterinary care. As a lifelong horseman, you would like to get the message out that the majority of people in the sport truly care about the horses. Of course, there are many who are in it, strictly, as a business and that's ultimately dangerous to the horse. Back to the question, to what extent do I think Barbaro's sad end will impact racing's fan base? If you're a fan of Thoroughbred racing, you're steely in nature and you're probably going to come back and ask for more. Ultimately, you're either into racing or you're not. I'm sure, fringe fans will turn away but they probably didn't get it anyway. Unfortunately, the sport has never been able to attract the casual fan and it probably never will. Give me another 100 pages and I might be able to get to the root of the question.
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