Great Stories Told at Texas Thoroughbred Association Conference

With this being the 50-year anniversary celebration of the Texas Thoroughbred Association, it was appropriate Friday that a session of the conference featured storytelling by four pioneers in Texas racing.

Former jockey Wantha Davis, former trainer Tommy Oliphant, veterinarian, breeder, and Texas industry leader Dr. Charlie Graham, and former head of the breed association Barbara Clark entertained with stories about the "old" days in Texas.

Oliphant, who told several tales of racing in Texas before pari-mutuel was re-introduced, explained how he started jockey Bobby Ussery in racing. "I went to Colorado and met this kid named Bobby Baker," Oliphant said. "I rode him in Texas and, when we wanted to get him licensed, we had to have his birth certificate. When his mother sent it to us, it said his name was Bobby Ussery.

"We went to New Orleans, and I rode him on a filly owned by King Ranch in the Thanksgiving Day Handicap. I took a lot of grief from well-known trainers for riding this kid nobody knew of. He took her to the lead, and she won by a head. That was the beginning of Bobby Ussery."

Ussery went on to win more than 3,600 races and is a Hall of Fame member.

Graham, a storyteller of monumental proportions, discussed how he first met trainer D. Wayne Lukas in 1962. Lukas, now a Hall of Fame trainer, is the keynote speaker of the conference. He will address the group at the annual awards banquet to be held Saturday night at the Horseshoe Bay Resort about an hour's drive from Austin.

"He was just as flamboyant then (in 1962) as he is today," Graham said, telling how he was Lukas' guest at this year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) after years of prodding by the trainer for him to attend the race.

"I just bought another ranch, and I am going to name it after Wayne Lukas and Bob and Beverly Lewis," Graham said.

Davis was a jockey beginning in the 1930s and at age 88 could still recall with great detail a match race in 1949 at Agua Caliente. She was on Northeast, and Hall of Famer Johnny Longden was aboard Grey Spook.

"I was on the inside when Longdon decided he should be on the rail," she said. "So I ended up on the outside and won by a length and three quarters.

Asked by moderator Bill Mooney if Longden shook her hand after the race, Davis said, "No, he wasn't a very good sport. I don't even think he weighed out; just grabbed his saddle and took off."

Clark told how she shipped red beans to a Texas jockey riding in a big race in France. "I told him if there was anything you need when you get over there let me know, and he said, 'Send me five pounds of Texas red beans.'

"We watched that race, and it looked like this jockey was going to be passed but the other horse suddenly dropped back. The jockey later said, 'It's all the fault of those Texas beans,' Clark said to much laughter.

Oliphant said great sums of money changed hands at bush track racing in the 1940s and '50s. "I never bet, but I did bet a friend $50 once when I saw a horse that couldn't lose. I gave him the field in the (1953) Derby and I took Native Dancer. He made 23 starts and only lost once, but it was the day I bet on him."