Victor E. Zast

Victor E. Zast

© John Reilly Photography

No More Charlies

By Victor E. Zast

My trainer doesn't talk to me. His lips won't move. Instead, his brother serves as an intermediary. He's the Charlie McCarthy to Edgar Bergen.

Information comes to me like a joke that's whispered into another person's ear at a party. By the time it's passed along to me, there is no punch line.

"Your horse is doing good." That's what the brother answers me when I phone him. He fed me this line even after my horse missed two weeks of training with a muscle pull. I learned about the setback several weeks later when the horse was returned to the track.

"He'll run soon," the brother tempted.

"What's soon?" I asked.

"Soon," he said with an air of self-possession, as if the irrelevance of time could make his answer relevant.

It was another Charlie, the Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham, who said that owners should be treated like mushrooms. Keep them in the dark and feed them manure, he advised.

Today a remark like this would put a career to pasture. At the very least, it would relegate a reputation to the posterior of posterity.

For better or worse, my trainer's no Charlie Whittingham. Neither is his brother. I deserve a call.

My trainer's blatant disregard for me strikes me oddly on the eve of This Web site is the cornerstone of an Owner Recruitment Program which is being launched by Keeneland, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and others. Better to start by writing a trainer's tutorial for customer service. The leaders of the sport are reaching out to find new owners to invest in racing, and the people who are most directly involved in providing enjoyment to the owners are mute.

I employ another trainer who isn't a ventriloquist. It's a thrill for me to hear his voice, even though his information is vague.

But this trainer poses a different challenge. He's not very good with details. He listed my horse in the Daily Racing Form under some other owner's name. Someone I've never heard of, some guy I don't know, some guy who isn't paying the bills. It's the third time this has happened, and my trainer claims that it's not his fault.

No need for customer service? Think again.

When I complain, other owners encourage me to stop. All trainers are like this, they say, as if this explanation is supposed to placate me. Because the standard is low, does that mean that I must limbo to accept it? Horse owners accept this tawdry treatment too willingly. I don't understand why. For the most part, they're supposed to be accomplished businessmen, men who have built fortunes by calling their own shots. Not a mushroom in the barn.

But I suspect these same individuals are putty in the hands of a car mechanic or computer salesman. Confused by the information, or lack of it, given them. After all, independence is a reward of specialization. The upper hand is gained in the head, not at the end of the arm.

Logic has no place in sport. Horse racing is a game--a game like golf in which the pleasures are purely existential.

Only a few people get to make money. There are more heartaches than thrills. If something can go wrong, it does. Above all, don't expect your trainer to tell you what's going on.

When we log on to The, the authors of the Web page should impart the one salient truth which makes horse ownership worth pursuing, not just pie-in-the-sky promises.

What is true about horse racing, which cannot be said about any other sport, is that every race is a mystery.

Alas, contrary to what you'd think, there is no mystery without a hint of knowledge -- all which makes my trainer's secretive behavior more offensive. It is not that I must know all that he knows, but that I know enough of what he knows to feel the thrill of the mystery unfolding.

Without the information, I am on the sidelines, watching without passion, not a player but a bystander. I won't go on this way. No more Charlies. It is time for Edgar to move his lips and let the air in his lungs reverberate against his vocal chords.

For me, at least, it'll make the greatest game greater.