Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Saturday, August 25, 2012

| Churchill Downs Communications | 08/25/2012 #

In Today's Notes: Trainer Neil Pessin: Ambassador for Racing at Arlington; Hall of Fame Jockey Pat Day Reached 7,000 Wins 15 Years Ago Today; Visitation for Margaret Sudberry on Sunday in Pekin, Illinois

One of the most endearing qualities of Arlington-based trainer Neil Pessin is his self-deprecating sense of humor. It's always acute, dependably dry, and spoken with the gentle voice of a physically large man who walks softly but could probably carry a big stick if needed.

However, as a "must-see barn stop" during Arlington's occasional backstretch tours, the 53-year-old native of Lexington, Kentucky, ideally fulfills his alternate role as one of Arlington's greatest ambassadors, keeping his audiences delightfully off-balance with one-liners that leave them laughing out loud.

"This horse here has never been beaten," he might say while grabbing the halter of an un-raced 2-year-old, and after pausing add on the punch-line: "Of course he hasn't run yet, either. Now this one over here," he'll say, stopping by another stall, "He ran yesterday. We're still looking for him."

It's just the right medicine needed to sooth the angst of the kind of people who will ultimately decide the future of racing at Arlington.

"Now this horse here," he'll begin, grabbing the head of a third horse sticking his head and whinnying to gain some attention, then cup his ear to the horse's head as if he's understanding what he horse is saying and answer, "Uh huh, uh huh," and then turn and readdress the crowd and add, "I was just about to get to that part.

"Yeah, thanks," Pessin said when congratulated on his first training double at Arlington recorded during the week after Arlington's International Festival of Racing. "I was Arlington's leading trainer...for the day."

And that Pessin was after posing in the winner's circle with Candy Wiseman's Tonzie on August 23 and then once again with John and Kim Glenney's Mi Luna Grande later in afternoon.

"I've had training doubles at Fair Grounds before but never up here at Arlington," Pessin said. "I've only got 10 horses right now and usually don't run more than one or two horses on the same day, so I'm usually not in a position to get two wins in one day. Statistics don't mean that much to me, anyway. My goal is to develop horses and do what's best for the horse and not worry about my win-percentage. Judge Angelucci was probably the best horse I ever trained. I broke his maiden but then I sent him to (the late Hall of Fame trainer) Charlie Whittingham out in California and he won a lot of stakes with him. Coaxing Matt was another good horse I trained. I won two or three stakes at Keeneland with him back in the '80s.

"I grew up in this game," said Pessin, son of the noted veterinarian Arnold G. Pessin who died last January. "I've been training for more 30 years and I don't know how to do anything else. I'm really not qualified to do anything else. My dad was the biggest influence on my career. He built the Kentucky Training Center and also built Dueling Grounds (now known as Kentucky Downs). I ran the race meet at Dueling Grounds the first three years after it opened, and any advice I ever needed I got from Dad."

However, no less than a trainer than Arlington's highly regarded Chris Block trusts Pessin with the horses that and Team Block send down to Fair Grounds each winter while he stays headquartered in Illinois.

"Neil and I have known each other a long time," said Block, "and I've got a lot of trust in Neil. I send our horses that fit the grass at Fair Grounds to him each winter, and also to Keeneland each spring and fall. We've got a great working relationship but he's also one of my dearest friends."

Pessin is equally complementary of Block and his family.

"I have an excellent working relationship with Chris and his whole family," Pessin said. "I can't say enough about how exceptional they are in our business relationship but also as my friends. The whole family is a class act. There's not a weak link among them."

Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, Arlington's runner-up all-time leading reins master and four-time Arlington champion, rode his 7,000th career winner 15 years ago today at Saratoga.

Arlington's 1996 jockey champion Robby Albarado recorded his first riding triple of the summer on Friday at Arlington.

A visitation for Margaret "Marge" Sudberry, who died Friday morning, will be held on Sunday in Pekin, Illinois, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Preston-Hanley Funeral Homes & Crematory.

Mrs. Sudberry was the mother of Howard Sudberry, Arlington's senior director of marketing and communications.