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Original Issue


Rex Ellsworth's chief trainer describes for SI's James Murray a new, businesslike approach to racing that has made their stable the most sucessful on the Pacific Coast

I never pay no attention to who wins. I never go to the race track unless I have something running or sometimes for a real good race." Meshach "Mish" Tenney, Swaps's trainer, was talking. "Never bet," he continued. "Never do care to see other horses run. What good will it do me if I do know how they run? I can't tell my horses about the other ones. The only thing you can do for a race horse is control him. Get him fit and get him out the gate fast. What the others do has nothing to do with how good your horse is going to do."

Tenney strapped on his leather blacksmith's apron. He stood under the shed row of barn No. 57 in the Hollywood Park stable area. A moment before the loudspeaker had crackled urgently with a description of the fourth race. Tenney ignored the interruption.

"We do lots of things different from other stables. We don't walk our horses after a gallop on the track. We ride 'em at a walk around the track and paddock. That schools them and also gives them a cooling-out process. Then when they get back to the barn we let them take a good drink of water. When a horse is not hot, you can let him drink all he wants.

"Some stables feed their horses three times a day. We do it twice—at 4 in the morning and then in the afternoon at 3. I don't see no advantage to feeding more'n twice a day. Fact is, I suppose you could feed only once a day.

"Everything is on the floor. I think it helps a horse to eat or do anything else with his head down. It improves his circulation."

Tenney braced the left forefoot of a colt named Terrang between his legs and began to pare the hoofnail.

"What we like to do when we train yearlings is go into their stall on our cow ponies. We put the pony head-side-by-head with the horse and crowd him against the stall. We put the reins on him and then we take him out in the lane and gallop him. All the time he's goin', our pony's right head-to-head with him. That way every move you make with him, you educate his mouth to the reins. If he stampedes, you can stampede with him—even if he takes a quarter of a mile to settle down. You're in a position to catch him up every time till he's educated.

"Then you can lean over him, slap him on the back, shoo flies off'n him, everything you can think of to gentle him. You get him so used to a man across his back that by the time a kid gets on him and goes to kicking him to make him go, it ain't much different.

"Anytime you hear anyone can't handle a horse, you just make the brag you can handle him. Then put a pony in front of him and he'll stand as gentle as you want him."

Tenney squinted over to stall No. 18 where Swaps stood munching his oats. "It ain't always horses are that easy to gentle. Swaps here. The day he won his 2-year-old stakes last year, we were pretty sure we weren't going to get him shod, he was so wild. Fact is, he was a little on the lazy side far as work went as a 2-year-old.

"We keep our horses content because we always give them a clear understandable signal of everything we want them to do. When there's nothing to do, we give them their head. See the way Glenn is holding this colt? Loose. Not like some of those other stable hands. They grab a horse right up around the mouth and jerk his head down. How'd you like to have somebody pulling your head down to your chest? We don't spoil 'em either and we don't confuse 'em. Not like those parade horses you see that have to play the fool. The rider asks them to go and then pulls on them. The horses try to go and can't and this is what makes them prance."

Tenney was asked about the Ellsworth ranch. " 'Course I'm not saying those big farms with lots of open pasture aren't good. I would like to raise horses on them. But I think horses can be raised anywhere the climate isn't too severe one way or the other. If you furnish the feed, exercise and care, you can raise a horse without green grass around. It would help you to have thousands of acres in Maryland maybe, but you don't have to have all that land. I know one thing: the horses don't know the difference.

"Matter of fact, we raised our horses just as well in Arizona where it's really dry. California gives a percentage of the purses to breeders whenever the winners are California-breds. So we used to breed our horses in California, then move 'em to Arizona. But that got to be too much trouble; so we moved to California."

The subject switched to how Owner Rex Ellsworth came to buy Khaled, Swaps's great sire. "Rex talked to me about it some," Tenney said. "He dug Khaled out of those books. He picked out Nasrullah first but he talked to me for days about Khaled. The last couple of weeks before he went to England he studied those books like you would study something that means your life. He showed me how he could pick out what he wanted from the stifles, the shape of the head, the length of the body, whether the hocks or ankles were good, whether the girth was too thick. Rex is the best conformation man I ever saw. He can look at a horse and predict whether he'll make a great runner or a good stud.

"Khaled turned out a good runner but after he'd won some races we decided to sell his services. His stud fee was high.

"Swaps was with the last crop of Khaled's foals we broke at the Ontario [Calif.] ranch. The way we looked at it, Swaps had no more, no less chance than the others. The thing is, if you know a horse has speed and his relations did well, you know he's a good horse.

"Swaps was fast all right, but he had courage too. That's something you find out as you go along. Swaps is game. He'll struggle when you ask him to."


"When we took him back to Kentucky, I thought he had a real good chance along with Nashua and Summer Tan. I thought it was going to be a real good race.

"We knew Swaps was ready after his last workout here. We put him in a¾-mile race and I told Shoe [Jockey Willie Shoemaker] that we wanted him run as slow as we could in the first half and as fast as we could at the end. We wanted him to restrain that horse till the stretch. Well sir, Shoe practically strangled that horse for the first half mile, but he still ran within one-fifth of the track record for three-quarters and ran out another eighth to equal the track record for seven-eighths.

"We were looking for distance and stamina, not speed. We wanted to give him the habit of keeping calm the first part of a race.

"Since the Derby everybody's been talking about a match race with Nashua. Well, we're going to Chicago and then down to Garden State. My feeling is when you get two horses like that in the same area, there's always a chance they'll meet. But we're not planning it or training toward it. I'm just going about my business of raising a stable of horses.

"People have been saying Swaps is a great horse. I suppose he is. On past performance you could call him that. But we'll have to wait till he's older and see. A horse has to go through his handicap period before you can call him great. Let's wait and see. I hope he is. He has a look about 'im."