Commentary: More than All Right

By - David Mullins

The word “legend” is used frequently these days to describe people. Some might say the term is overused. But when one calls Dale Baird a legend, the term is apt and fitting. He was legendary as a horse trainer and, more importantly, legendary as a person.

Everybody has heard of the Dale Baird who trained more than 9,400 winners and who won an Eclipse Award in 2004. Not everyone except family, friends, and those who did business with him knew Dale Baird the person. I feel glad to be in the latter group.

I first attempted to do business with Dale in the days when Mountaineer Park was known as Waterford Park. Waterford was the end of the road then for horses. Cheap racing when most of the horses would run for $1,500. I say attempted, as I called him to buy a mare whose 2-year-old half-brother had just run a hole in the wind at Saratoga first time out. Dale very straightforwardly told me he had just sold her. He said to keep calling back. I’m glad I persisted and bought and sold Dale a number of horses over the years.

When Dale was selling a horse, his word was his bond. If he told you the horse was “all right” you could go to the bank on it. One didn’t need to spend fortunes on vet work. You just took Dale at his word. “All right” meant “All right.”

One time I wanted to purchase a particularly well-bred filly, the kind of pedigree that seldom made its way to Mountaineer at the time. She was entered to run for maiden $5,000. Dale told me that she wasn’t perfect but that I would do “all right” with her. I arranged to buy her for $5,000 plus what she might earn for winning the race. Dale, with typical straightforward candor, said he didn’t think she’d win the race, so settled for a lesser amount. He immediately scratched her on my word that I’d buy her. On a horse deal Dale never required a bill of sale or a cashier’s check. He gave his word and all he wanted was your word. By the way, I sold her at Keeneland and did “all right.”

Another time Dale had in his stable and running for $5,000 a well-bred A.P. Indy gelding I thought might make a nice riding horse. I had never set eyes on him but figured that he must be a good looker, as some very good judges paid $1.5 million for him as a yearling. I inquired every so often as to how he was doing. He would say “I’ll call you.” Early one morning in June 2005 he did call me, saying that the horse was available.

Dale priced him to me at $1,500. I offered him $1,000. He declined and repeated that the price was $1,500. I figured that if he said he was “all right,” that was good enough for me.

To make a long story short, the horse wasn’t of the right frame of mind to be a riding horse. I called up Dale and asked him if he’d train him for me. He said that he only trained his own horses, but that his son Bart could take him and would do a good job with him. I sent my $1,500 riding horse to Bart, and in six months he proceeded to win three races and placed many times while earning about $40,000 for me.

Dale Baird was a great horseman and a great person. He must have been a great Dad, too. Unfortunately, my horse died of a heart attack one day. A few days later I received a package in the mail from Bart. Inside it was his halter, each of his win photos, and a hand-written letter.

When I heard of Dale’s passing, I read the letter again. It goes:

“Thank you for everything. We really enjoyed ‘the old horse.’ He was good for us all. And who would have thought he would turn out to be the horse he was. I’m very sorry things ended the way they did. For all of us. We kind of bonded with him like no other horse we had. It was heartbreaking to see him go.”

Read the words in Bart’s letter as if he was talking about his Dad and you would capture a lot of people’s thoughts right now about Dale Baird.

David L. Mullins is owner of Doninga.