Friday, May 10, 2013

Miner's Mark and his legacy to one stallion manager

In the days leading up to his historic win in the Kentucky Derby on May 4, trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey's thoughts were full of everything Orb. But early in the week, when it was revealed that Miner's Mark had passed away at age 23, McGaughey's thoughts no doubt momentarily drifted back to the summer and fall of 1993.

That year, Miner's Mark--by Mr. Prospector, and the first foal out of undefeated champion Personal Ensign--racked up wins in the Colin Stakes (Gr. III), Jim Dandy (Gr. II), and Jockey Club Gold Cup (Gr. I) for McGaughey and the Phipps family, with a second to Cherokee Run in the Dwyer (Gr. II) and a courageous third in the Travers (Gr. I). 

Miner's Mark in the 1993 Travers Stakes

Yes, Miner's Mark was a regally-bred graded stakes winner, but he was also a friend. My friend Tyler, who had the privilege of working with the stallion, shared this tribute:

I recently found out that Miner's Mark had been humanely put down; to many he was famous for his dam, the immortal Personal Ensign, or for his performance on the track, but to me, he was so much more.

When I first moved to Lexington, I'd worked at my first job—in the yearling barn for a large Thoroughbred farm—for maybe a week or two when the Lay-up Barn/Stallion Prospect manager quit abruptly. That afternoon I was told that I was now the manager of the Lay-up/Stallion Prospect barn (I’m still not exactly sure how that happened). I'd worked with horses for several years, but had never laid a hand on a stallion, and now I had a barn with seven of them under my care.

In the first stall on the right upon entering the barn was Miner's Mark; he had suffered an injury that while not life threatening, would prevent him from being able to live cover mares. I knew immediately who he was, royally bred and a Grade 1 winner, and I was over the moon to be able to touch him, much less take care of him. But he didn't come without warning; the previous manager had told me he could be aggressive and had absolutely no toleration for fools. I was even told (although I’m still not sure if it's true) that he had broken the shoulder of a noted Lexington vet when he tried to administer a shot. Miner, like myself, despised needles and shots and would usually make this known in a fairly violent manner, so it's possible the story is true.

Through a lot of trial and error, Miner helped teach me how to handle a stallion. As warned, he didn't tolerate anything he didn't think was necessary, and I paid for mistakes, generally with a nip or a swipe of a hoof, but he always stopped short of inflicting serious injury. His warnings were a quick, if painful, alert of "uh huh kid, that crap won't fly". Because of him I still have a love of stallions and their varied, complex personalities. He was an amazing animal—tough to handle, yes—but in the quiet moments in his stall or walking him down to his paddock at the end of the day, he was kind and loving, a true and dear friend I will never forget. You'll forever be in my heart, big man, and I'll see you again someday. I'll meet you at the gate with a peppermint like always.

You can view the 1993 Dwyer Stakes here. The video also includes the 1993 Hollywood Gold Cup at the soon-to-be-gone Hollywood Park, which Marquetry raced in. Marquetry also passed away recently and was a good friend to Tyler.

Read the Blood-Horse article about Miner's Mark here.

Tyler and his wife recently co-wrote their first book, The Promise. It may be purchased on Amazon as a paperback or in a Kindle Edition--click here.

I want to thank Tyler for sharing with me what Miner's Mark means to him. It's often the more difficult horses that have the most to teach us, if we are only willing to listen and learn.

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