By Francis LaBelle
It is not an exaggeration to say that Christine Clayton went head over heels for Quick Call. In fact, as his personal exercise rider, she kept count of just how many times.
“He was the love of my life,” said Clayton, a former jockey who is now an eighth-grade chemistry teacher at Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, Conn. “I galloped him from when he was a two-year-old (1986) until he left the barn. He was a pretty mellow horse, but he was all class, and he was the smartest horse I’ve ever been around. You couldn’t help but love him, but you had to watch him. If you turned your back on him, he would bite you and mean it.”
“I had just quit riding – I was tired of fighting weight – and I went to work for (Hall of Fame trainer) Sid Watters, specifically to gallop Quick Call. He was a very tough horse to gallop, and a lot of riders were afraid to gallop him. He was very strong, but he would also pull this move and get you off in a second. That’s why I would always have somebody walk back from the track with me every morning. You never knew when it was coming, and he was very fast. His move was to buck and then suck back with his head down so you would go flipping over him. I never had a horse do that before or since. He dropped me nine times over the years.”
In all, 24 different jockeys rode Quick Call during his 89-race career that ended with a distant runner-up finish at Monmouth Park (NJ) on June 7, 1992. None of these jockeys spent more time on Quick Call than Clayton. It stung that in his final race, he was entered for a $25,000 claiming tag. It was the lowest level at which Quick Call had ever competed.
“The public wasn’t happy about him being in that low claiming race; none of us were,” Clayton said. “But that’s what happens to old geldings. His owner (Lynda Stokes) wanted to race in Florida in the winter. Mr. Watters didn’t believe in winter racing or going to Florida. He raced his horses for Belmont Park in the spring and fall and Saratoga in August. Then, he would send them to Mike Smithwick’s farm in Maryland for the winter. When he would come back in the Spring, Quick Call would race often. By Saratoga, he was at his peak.”
Quick Call would win nine of his 16 Saratoga starts, including consecutive runnings of the seven-furlong Forego Handicap (’88-’89). Groovy (1986-’87) was the only other horse to win the Forego back-to-back.
As an 8-year-old, Quick Call made his debut for future Hall of Fame trainer Warren “Jimmy” Croll on January 11, 1992. He would make eight starts for his new barn, all but his last one in South Florida. The only time he finished first in that span, Quick Call was disqualified and placed third.
After his loss at Monmouth, the decision was made to retire Quick Call.
“Mr. Watters called me and asked me if I wanted Quick Call,” Clayton said. “I took him and sent him to Mike Smithwick’s where he used to spend the winter. He was happy there and he remained there for several years. Mikey said that, even when he was racing and would ship there in the late fall, Quick Call would walk right off the van and into the big field. A lot of racehorses couldn’t do that because they would go crazy running around. They needed smaller fields. But Quick Call would walk in there like an old riding horse and make himself at home.”
For a brief time, Clayton brought Quick Call to a 250-acre farm that her husband managed in Kinderhook, N.Y. Eventually, she sent Quick Call to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
The TRF was founded in 1983 at the Wallkill Correctional Facility near New Paltz, N.Y. Its purpose was to provide a home for former racehorses, who in turn could help teach student inmates horse care and stable maintenance as a vocation. Dubbed “Second Chances,” the program welcomed its first horse, Promised Land, in 1984 – the year Quick Call was foaled.
Quick Call joined the TRF herd on November 13, 2001, and was the face of the TRF’s Second Chances program for 18 years. He was euthanized at Wallkill at the age 35 on October 8, 2019. His long, happy life after racing not only helped establish the TRF as a sanctuary organization but provided impetus for the expansion of Second Chances to six other states.
“I loved him because he was who he was,” said Clayton, who now has three former New York-bred racehorses at her 10-acre home in Pine Plains, N.Y: 19-year-old Webejamminmon; eight-year-old Game of Stones and four-year-old Kerry It. “Quick Call would fool a lot of jockeys because he would be so still in the starting gate that you would think that he wouldn’t break. But he usually broke on top.”
“To me, his best distance was a mile on the grass. But Quick Call also loved the mud and the slop. He really loved ‘slick slop.’ The thing with him was that, if he didn’t think he could win a race, he would just stop. That’s why you see some bad beats on his record. But if he thought he could win, he gave you everything he had. He was a very cool horse – and he loved Saratoga.”