Ralph Nester: My First Race ~ A Winner!

Note: Previously published, but Ralph found some pictures of The Rock in the winner’s circle (he’s the tall guy, not listed as trainer although he was, they listed a previous trainer) and the “owners” that Ralph writes about. 

ralph slip slimey

The start of my training career didn’t develop like some Cinderella story for me, but I was too green to know it, think about it or worry about it.

As I was getting started, my brother Howard, who ran Sunview Training Center, spread the word that I had lots of horse knowledge on the farms and was getting into the training business.  I wanted to pick up owners and Sunview was not noted for the wealthiest or most elite people in the horse business; mostly gas station owners, mechanics, carpet layers, school bus drivers, railroad employees , a tug boat operator, Chrysler and General Motors  workers…all good people,  but not millionaires.

So, my first horse to saddle was a horse called The Rock, owned by two brothers that were nicknamed Slippery and Slimey by my brother.  They were shy car plant workers, hard workers, who made plenty of money for working class of people. And I’m not categorizing anyone.  I never did that.   All people are equal in my book.  But, they wanted to venture out, and like all horse people, had a dream of winning the Kentucky Derby.   If you don’t have that dream, you’ll never do any good in the horse business.

My brother told me The Rock was gonna be worked the next day and run on Friday.   I anxiously waited to meet the owners and their steed, who would be the first horse I’d ever saddle in a race.   The next day, down the lane at daylight came this trailer hooked to a truck.  It was from Ralph G. Smith Shipping Company in Pennsylvania. It was a huge horse van company with a big three-foot horse shoe on it.  That was in February or March and it was cold.  The truck was ok, but the trailer looked like it had been kept in a heavily wooded area for a few centuries. You could notice some faded paint where the rust wasn’t, a non-distinguishable color, maybe mold color.

I overlooked it as these were my first owners.  They pulled up to receiving barn and as the tailgate was being opened and as the screw latch opened, the rusty creaking sound rang in my ears.   My excitement started to wane a tad bit when they backed him out of the trailer.   I was expecting this shiny-coated thoroughbred to come bouncing off the trailer, rearing and ready to go.   No, he definitely wasn’t picture quality and wouldn’t have been any threat in looks to California Chrome, nor would Seattle Slew have to take a back seat to him.  He would have giving the Highland cattle of Scotland a run for their money, though.  His hair looked about two inches long, and the red clay dirt road was twice as shiny as his coat.

Well, they saddled him up and where the girth was, his hair was bulging on both sides, I thought, “I wonder if I can get them to clip him hunter style?”  But, decidedt that a full clip job would be better.   The jock came and he called himself Giddy up Go Whoooa’ and joked about it.   Giddy up Go meant he would send him out of the gate quickly, then he’d take a snug hold on him and Whoooa until race was over.  I would learn later for a small fee, he would not let a horse “run” in a race, just sort of cruise around the racetrack.   Well, his connections are cause for me to omit names, even after 46 years. 

The Rock worked a decent three-eights, and his owner loaded him back up and shipped him back to wherever he was stabled.  Probably some back yard in a suburban housing project.  I don’t recall them cooling him out.   I thought I heard them say he’d cool out on the trailer ride.  As I watched them driving down the lane with the pickup backfiring, the rocks kicking, the tail gate and trailer squeaking, hitting the deep pot holes in the lane, I was a little skeptical,  but I had my first steed to saddle.

Race day came and I met them at receiving barn at Dover Downs Racetrack (which had to be rescued financially by Buck Petrillo, the owner of Sunview Training Center), and we were in the daily double.

In the paddock walks Slippery and Slimey with their dark hair slicked back and suits and ties on and long beige trench coats. Well, they looked pretty sneaky, and they didn’t get their attire from any “New York Fashions for Men” or some men’s shop in Chicago.  Neither really looked up, sort of shy and staring at the ground…

To make a long story short,   I saddled my first winner of my career. He went to the lead and won easily.  His coat didn’t make a glare on the win picture, but he won and winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!   I was proud as a peacock!!

Oh, I passed my trainer’s license test with flying colors. One of the questions on the test was: If a horse comes up short, do you get a longer one?


My win picture burned up in my house fire.  It was an interesting one, me with bell bottoms on and long side burns, but I was neatly dressed and young enough to get by.

My first winner, The Rock, saddled by me…



ralph the rock winners circle

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