Ralph Nester: Racing in ’71/72

I remember shipping couple horses by a two-horse trailer to The Poconos and Charlestown and Shenandoah for night racing.   The days at the training center would begin at daylight,  but before that, we would all meet at Sherwood Diner to get coffee and breakfast and then we’d go get the horses out to the track.  When the training was done, around 11 am,  we’d go to lunch and then head home to clean up.

ralph pocono blue swan

If we had a horse running, we’d grab a short nap, about half-hour, so we could leave at about 4 or 5 to head  back to the training center to get the horse or horses ready to ship on racing days.  We’d load up and head to the Poconos; a two and a half hour drive from the training center.  We were very successful at winning races there, as the competition wasn’t as tough as other places.  Charlestown and Shenandoah were a different ballgame.  There were some tough horses there, but my win and on-board percentage there was very high.  Pocono Downs was a unique setting, as it was in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, with their host nightclubs (not that we got to do that much).   When we raced at night, we still had the long trek home to get the horses bedded down and if we were in a late race, it was wee hours of the morning.  Not too bad when we ran good, but on a losing night it was a very long journey home.  We didn’t talk much after a brief ‘going over the race’ and what we had to do to improve.

We usually had our jock with us as we had more faith in our own riders.   For example,  I remember my brother and I ran a four year old filly named Black Karrie in a $2500.00 claiming race.   We came from Delaware Park with her and we had worked her 5/8 out of the gate with this grey colt.  She had lots of knee problems,  but was very fast.  She was a four year old, never-started maiden, well we got her fit.    Two horses broke sharply  from the latch and we were surprised the colt was with her the first few jumps,  but she quickly opened up 10 lengths on him and steadily drew away to beat him by about 12 to 15 lengths.  We were ready.   We walked to watch her work and clocked her.  My brother Howard and I  were walking back, and down out of the stands comes Frank Whiteley, (Hall of Fame trainer, trained Ruffian among other famous horses) and he stiffly walked by us with his head in the air with his hat on, sort of a dress hat.   He was a fast walker and he blew by us in a hurry and never looked back.   He said, as he gave us a quick glance, and not a happy one, “Not bad for a cheap bitch.”   He was referring to our filly.   Someone behind him, I think Bobby Camac said,  “You just outworked Whiteley’s Ice Capade colt.”   We were very pleased!

We were set to cash a bet at Poconos and we rode a jockey there and took a chance and put this filly in a maiden claiming race for $2500.00; she was a four year old maiden that had never started and an Ohio bred.  No one knew her and so disregarded her.  We sent her out 5-1/2 or 6 furlongs, I don’t recall.

The jock, after she broke alertly and opened up 5 lengths, (she was 20-1) see-sawed on her and got her in second; she was ringing her head to go and dragging him to lead.  He was standing in the irons holding her back!  We were mad as hell, he took her off the lead five times in the race; it was so obvious.   He took her back with 70 yards to go and she jerked the reins out of his grip and came flying and got beat only a head.   We were ticked off pretty bad and when she came back to be unsaddled, breathing heavily, he said, “Ride me back on her she will win next start.”

I jerked him out of the saddle and helped him to the ground.  We ran her back 12 days later at an 8-5 favorite with our own rider and she won by six lengths.

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