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Animal Magnetism

Feb. 21, 1994
Feb. 21, 1994

Table of Contents
Feb. 21, 1994

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Point After

Animal Magnetism

Skittish racehorses tend to calm down when given goats as pets

By Amy Lennard Goehner

Moreno's boys had intended to butcher Chivo. That was the plan. But that was before Chivo cozied up to La Cosa Nostra and took an interest in Social Welfare. He had eyes, too, for Lovely One—and all the other horses in Henry Moreno's stable at Santa Anita Park.

This is an article from the Feb. 21, 1994 issue Original Layout

So Moreno's stable hands had a change of heart, and goat was taken off the menu. "They all fell in love with him," says Moreno. "No one would even consider butchering him."

That was 15 years ago. Today, Chivo is alive and well and still making the rounds at the trainer's stable.

Chivo and La Cosa Nostra, Prince Hal and Falstaff, Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts: In the stables, as in literature and gossip columns, what appear to be unlikely pairings often make perfect horse sense. "Goats are excellent soul mates for horses," says John Veitch, who has trained several celebrated horses, including Alydar. "Horses live a very solitary life in the stall. These animals offer a great deal of comfort."

Like many trainers, Jack Van Berg often uses goats with stall walkers—horses who pace in their stalls. "You take a real nervous horse, and sometimes it walks the stall like a damn airplane buzzing around in there," says Van Berg, who trained Alysheba, the alltime money-winning horse. "You get them with a goat, it settles them right down."

Assistant trainer Toni Tortora, who used to keep a potbellied pig named Piggy Sue at her Calder Race Course stables in Miami, bought goats Whitney and Brittany for two of her horses, both stall walkers. Not only did both horses mellow, but one even began napping lying down. "When horses stay up all night walking around, they don't get much rest, and they don't have much energy," says Tortora, adding that "goats are a lot of fun. You laugh every day because of the things they do."

And the things they eat. Tom Kelly, a New York trainer, has had Danny for 10 years. "He eats soap powder, cotton, everything up and down the shed. He usually chews something up, and you figure, well, that's the end of Danny, but hell, the next morning he's standing there." Says Jackie Brittain, who trains at Calder and has owned a goat, Billy, for 11 years, "He used to eat cigarettes. He loved tobacco. It was a phase he went through. All of a sudden he just said, 'That's it.' "

Tom Skiffington's goat, Cupid, likewise on a health kick, used to wander into other trainers' stables at Belmont Park in search of her favorite nosh. "She ate everybody else's vitamins. Do you know how much a racehorse's vitamins cost?" says Skiffington. "Every day I was trying to cool out a bunch of trainers who were mad at me. She was eating 100 dollars' worth of vitamins a day."

A goat with expensive tastes is no laughing matter for Florida trainer Sonny Hine. "No goats! They're barred!" he says. "The last goat we had ate the track stickers off my car. That was enough for me. We're always having trouble with everyone's goats. They're always wandering into someone else's barn. You hear them paging trainers every now and then, 'Come get your goat.' "

Racing Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham says it's been years since he has used goats, or "big pests" as he calls them. "I had a stall walker and put the goat in the stall to stop the horse from walking," says Whittingham. "The horse got the goat stall walking."

Mack Miller, trainer of 1993's Kentucky Derby winner, Sea Hero, is another trainer who speaks of goats in the past tense. "The last goat I had I believe was in Aiken, South Carolina," says Miller. "I had some young dogwood trees, and this damn goat had horns. And this bugger took bark off four or five of my trees. I finally had to give him away."

But what really gets a trainer's goat is when someone gets a trainer's goat. The expression comes from an underhanded practice carried out at racetracks in England in the 1800s. The night before a race, a trainer would sneak into a rival's barn and steal his horse's goat. The idea was to unnerve the horse to the extent that it would be in no shape for the next day's race. While the ploy became obsolete, horses' temperaments have not changed—they still get riled up when parted from their stall mates, which are often referred to as mascots.

Dan Williams, an assistant trainer at Bay Meadows in San Mateo, Calif., recalls the night one of his horse's goats slipped out of the shedrow. "The horse started screaming his brains out, woke the groom up, and he had to go catch the goat," says Williams. Van Berg recalls a reverse, but equally noisy, situation. "We had one goat we put with a horse. When you'd take the horse over to race it, the goat would bellow the whole time it was gone." Not surprisingly, when a horse is sold, its goat often goes with it.

And as one might expect, a number of trainers prefer other stable mascots—such as potbellied pigs, dogs, burros or roosters—to goats. Hine enjoys the company of Antisocial, A.J. Foyt and the rest of the cats he keeps at his stable. "Some of the horses love the cats," says Hine. "But the cats are my pacifiers. I get more nervous than the horses."

Among the most celebrated horse and mascot teams were 1918 Kentucky Derby champion Exterminator and his three successive Shetland ponies, all of whom were named Peanuts. Exterminator and his pets were inseparable for a period of 21 years, until the last Peanuts' death in 1944, an event that was noted in newspaper sports pages everywhere. A feature on Exterminator in a 1945 issue of Blood Horse magazine noted, "When Peanuts [the last one] died, the mourning of Exterminator was unmistakable."

And then there was Hodge, a 1914 Kentucky Derby entrant, whose mascot was a real railbird. Racing historian Jim Bolus recalls that Hodge had a crow that was taught to sit on the backstretch rail during Hodge's races and yell, "Come on, Hodge! Come on, Hodge!"

But talk of stable pets always comes back to goats. Calder trainer Marty Wolfson and his wife, Karla, have a filly, Silent Greatness, who had her shins fired two years ago. After the procedure, in which a hot instrument is applied to damaged tissue, Silent Greatness was clearly in a lot of pain. "Her back started getting really sore. She couldn't relax," says Karla. "We gave her Precious, our goat, and she started lying down with the goat. She finally got to the point where her legs healed." Silent Greatness has since won eight races, including two stakes and three handicaps. On race days she is escorted to the track by Precious.

But Precious really earned her keep when the Wolfsons had her split her time between Silent Greatness and Sambacarioca, a black filly the couple acquired last March. "Sambacarioca was really a case to deal with," Karla says. "She got very washed out going to the track. The goat made all the difference in the world. She doesn't get wet going to the track anymore; she relaxes." Sambacarioca, who had never won a stake before, has since won five for the Wolfsons.

Last year was Marty's most successful in 22 years of training, and the Wolfsons were able to buy a farm of their own. "We call it Precious Acres," says Karla, "because of the way Precious has helped us. She's a very special animal."

PHOTOJAMIE TANAKAFifteen years ago Chivo had no future, but then the goat won La Cosa Nostra's heart.PHOTOBILL FRAKESPrecious, with Silent Greatness, helped buy a farm.

Amy Lennard Goehner is a senior editor at Sports Illustrated For Kids.