Monsieur Gray Dog By Bernard Kroviak, CDC Gaming Reports October 5, 2019 at 12:00 pm I have written in the past about my first racehorse, Monsieur Leclercq, and the excitement I felt just owning a thoroughbred. I also shared the thrill I experienced watching our colt run his very first race. Earlier that year, Thunder Gulch had won the most prestigious race for three-year-olds in the country, the Kentucky Derby, whereas our three year old had not yet even run his first race, so you can surmise that our steed was not of that caliber. Our hopes nevertheless were that he would win a couple of races, make a few dollars, and give us at least a hint of the thrill that Thunder Gulch’s owners had likely had when their horse was successful that May at Churchill Downs. Monsieur Leclercq, nicknamed the Gray Dog by our trainer Andy, got his first start in July 1995. You may remember that he didn’t win that race. We were still excited, though, and looked forward to his second start. After finishing next to last in his first race, we were confident he would improve in his next shot – maybe not win, but at least improve. Well, he did, this time beating 2 horses after going off at 21-1. The Racing Form charts on the race, however, said the Gray Dog “was through early.” Not quite the improvement we would have liked. By his third race, our optimism had waned a little. We stayed hopeful, though – he had outrun two other horses the last time, after all, and he was such a pretty little gray horse. So, when the race began and he sprang to the front, our hearts were again a-flutter. And then he tired again, ultimately beating only one other mount. He’d gone off this time at 25-1, a sign the horseplayers had very little confidence in him. Andy was convinced it was his determination, not his conditioning, that was causing him to tire. I had no idea what he was talking about. “Leclercq’s a racehorse,” I thought. “I thought they all loved to run.” I soon found out that the truth is that a horse’s heart is at least as important as his ability. Andy said it looked like our boy’s mind was not on racing; despite displaying some talent during workouts, he lacked the enthusiasm to fight on race day. Andy then suggested it was time to get his “mind right.” I didn’t know what that meant for the gray dog. Then Andy said something about “gelding.” You might be able to tell where this is going. Male horses are called colts at 2 and 3, and horses for the rest of their lives after that – unless they have their testicles removed, in which case they’re called geldings. Although, in racing and breeding, there are other males called “ridgelings,” which have a single undescended testicle. Most expensive colts are not gelded, of course, because they lose their opportunity to breed. Colts that are gelded are generally are too wild, ornery, or uncooperative to be handled or trained. Our guy wasn’t in any of the above categories. He was obviously never going to be the type of stallion that people pay money to send their mares to, but he wasn’t at all nasty, nor was he the type of horse that anyone would fear being around. Monsieur Leclercq “So why geld him, then?” I asked. I found out that some horses can run intact, so to speak, with no issue. Others, though, sometimes become quite sore in that region as they exert themselves, dislike the discomfort, and quit trying. And as young male horses grow, I was told, like young human males, their minds naturally turn to the opposite sex. In horses this can interfere with his ability to concentrate, and sometimes manifests itself in a lack of determination to perform up to his potential. Suddenly, it all made sense to me. So, several weeks after his last poor performance, Monsieur Leclercq was gelded. My friends were so supportive, of both me and the horse. The Monsieur received many sympathy cards and get well wishes from them, which I thought was very nice on their part. I was told after the procedure – which can be painful to watch, albeit mercifully not to the tranquilized animal – that there would be no training of any kind until the area healed and the horse showed us that he was ready to get back to the track. His eating habits and general friskiness, I was told, would signal his wanting to get back to work. When he finally showed the signs, Andy put him back to his paces in the morning. A few weeks after he resumed training, he was put to a real test – a timed workout. Lo and behold, he ran the fastest 3-furlong time of any of the 18 horses that were timed that day. He was ready to start his career as a gelding, and boy, were we excited. Our guy was again entered at the highest level of maiden race, one in which horses could not be claimed. It was time for him to reflect the confidence we’d always had in him, we thought. Again this time, he broke hard from the gate and quickly neared the lead. This time, with his “missing equipment,” so to speak, we were sure he would continue to run hard. Alas, he did not, again beating only one other entrant. Our trainer concluded that the layoff may have attributed to his lack of finishing kick, or that the discomfort he had felt before being gelded was still in his head, and that, fearing that, he didn’t run hard the entire race. After some deliberation, we determined that one more race at this level would be his last chance to prove if he was going to be a good, quality racehorse or a common one, as Andy called them. After all, we figured, two of the horses he was beaten by had already gone on to win other races. One had even captured a Stake race. Andy also added blinkers to his race equipment, in another attempt to help our boy focus. These ideally would not allow him to be distracted by things going on around him and keep his eyes focused straight ahead. It was now September, and the cool fall air seemed to make most horses pretty frisky in their own rights. The Gray Dog was no exception. Maybe he knew his time to be a star was fading. Sent off in his next race at odds of 46-1, he did not disappoint, again beating only one horse, a tremendous long shot who’d gone off at 126-1. Many of our friends had come to these races, and I could see the looks on their faces each time Monsieur ran up the track. They were looks of sadness for me and the other owners, reflecting that everyone realized how special this whole game was to us. But it was time to drop the gray dog into a claiming race, one where he could be bought any trainer or owner for the listed price, we knew. Running now against other horses that could not cut it at top condition was part of the game, and doing so meant that everyone had a better shot at success, us included. The first claiming race we entered had a claiming price of $5,000, meaning that if anyone wanted the Monsieur, they had to drop a slip in the claim box in the racing office before the race. This procedure is the same in all claiming races, and no matter what happens during or after the race, the person who claimed the horse gets the horse. Of course, the owner who entered the horse does not know until after the contest if his or her horse has been claimed. The original owner receives all the purse money the horse earns in that race, plus the claiming price. These claiming races make up about 75% of all races in the U.S. and claiming prices can be as high as $150,000. This makes races more competitive, as horses have roughly equal value when they are entered, which prevents owners with better, more valuable horses that could crush the field from entering in low-level claiming races for fear of losing the horse to the claim box. We were not worried that anyone would claim the Gray Dog, especially in light of his record. Now, against horses not nearly as talented as those he had run against before, he again broke near the lead of the six-horse field. He’d soon dropped to third and was starting to look like the same old horse we were accustomed to, giving up as the race progress. Only this time, he continued to run, and with some newfound energy managed to finish third. He’d hit the board! In that small field, he’d gone off at 8-1, and that show finish earned him his first substantial check, a day we’d long been waiting for. It was now October and he was still a maiden, but now we had real reason to believe that he might, someday, actually win a race, especially now that we’d seemed to find the level at which he could compete. Entered in his next race for the claiming price of $5,000 again, he went off at odds of 3-1, second to the even-money favorite at 1-1, and for the first time it occurred to me that someone might actually claim our horse. Our boy broke on the lead and held it into the turn for home, but the favorite ultimately ran him down in the stretch and won by a little over a length. The Monsieur showed determination, though, and fought hard to finish second and provide us with an even bigger check than last time. After the race, I was relieved to learn that the favorite had been claimed, but not the Gray Dog. The racing season in Ohio was quickly coming to a close, so keeping him fit would require less training and some much-needed rest – although, as Andy said, “cheap horses don’t hold their conditioning as well and as long as the really expensive ones.” So we decided to take another shot with him. This time, based on his second-place finish in the last race, the bettors made him the favorite. Even money on a horse that a few months before had been going off at 46-1 signaled that he’d come a long way. This time when he went to the lead, another horse went right with him. They battled the entire way, but again the Monsieur was denied his first victory as the other horse beat him at the wire by a head. Yet another second-place finish. By now, the snow was beginning to fall, and the season was ending. The Gray Dog had run three tough races in a row, but Andy thought he might hold that conditioning one more time. Unfortunately, sent off as the second choice in his last race of the season, he went to lead, but quickly tired and finished 5th. His initial campaign was over, during which we’d swung from high expectations to disappointment to renewed optimism. Our little gray Monsieur may not have won a race, but he’d showed some talent and earned a couple of dollars. And no matter how many other, more successful horses I came to own, the Gray Dog will always have a special place in my heart and memory, along with all the family and friends who supported me in this dream.