Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Saturday, July 14, 2012

| Churchill Downs Communications | 07/14/2012 #

In Today's Notes: Bill Thayer Reminisces About 'Glory Days' With Harvey Vanier; Vanier Saddled Two Winners of American Derby, Modesty 'Cap; Thayer Another Legendary Figure in Arlington History; Jockey Jeffrey Sanchez Rides 'Bookend' Double Friday


Fifteen years ago may seem like an insufferable amount of time to Arlington's younger fans, but more like yesterday to the more seasoned veterans of that same grouping.

Fifteen years ago, Arlington's legendary retired trainer Harvey Vanier was still active in that profession at 71 years of age – still often glimpsed with a pitchfork in his hand when the occasional hot walker didn't show.

And fifteen years ago, Vanier captured his fifth straight local training title and the seventh of a training career that began in 1942, ended in 2004 and left him solidly ensconced in fourth place among Arlington's all-time leading conditioners.

But before that, in 1940 and 1941, Vanier, born in Diller, Nebraska, in 1924, had a brief and somewhat indifferent career as a jockey – admittedly forgettable except for the day he saved a fellow jockey's life at Nebraska's Lincoln racecourse.

On that day, Bill Thayer, Arlington's 88-year-old senior vice president of racing, was walking hots at Lincoln while a student at Creigton University and witnessed the entire incident.

"Harvey was on a horse named Leap Year Lady," Thayer said. "Harvey's horse had the rail and the other jock was outside him. I think the other kid's right leg must have got caught in his iron and his left leg was up in the air and he was about to fall off. The rest of the field was behind them and if the other kid had fallen off all of those horses behind them would have trampled him. There was no way they could have avoided him.

"Anyway, Harvey reached over, put his hand under the other kid's armpit and put him back on his horse," Thayer said. "Harvey went on to win the race and the other kid finished a bad second behind him. The next morning, the other kid caught up to Harvey in the room and was trying to thank him when I walked by and told the other kid that what he should have done was file an objection against Harvey for interfering with his momentum.

"The funny thing was that the local paper covered the whole incident in about three lines of copy," Thayer said, "but the best part of the story is that years later, (jockey) Kenny Church did the same thing that Harvey did in a turf race at Washington Park and got a whole page with a photo spread and big headlines.

"I was teasing Harvey about that the other day," Thayer said. "He got a kick out of it, too. It's always fun to remember things like that. Everybody had a lot of fun in those days. It seems like everybody on the racetrack was a lot closer then."

The American Derby is easily the oldest stakes race currently being contested at Arlington and is observing its 98th running on Million Preview Day.

Harvey Vanier won two of those renewals, capturing the classic in 1983 with Play Fellow, a colt his wife Nancy owned in partnership, and again with Joseph Pinkley's Fortunate Moment in 1987.

Vanier also saddled two winners of Million Preview Day's Modesty Handicap, winning the 1985 renewal with Tom Gentry's Kapalua Butterfly and returning to the winner's circle in the summer of 2000 with Nancy Vanier's Wade For Me.

Bill Thayer, during his tenure as senior vice president of racing at Arlington, has been responsible for bringing such legendary horses as Secretariat, Dr. Fager, Spectacular Bid and John Henry to Chicago's premier Thoroughbred oval.

In 1971 he was named the Chicago HBPA "Man of the Year" and in 2001 he was the inaugural recipient of the Arlington Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jockey Jeffrey Sanchez, competing at Arlington for the first time this season, bookended the Friday program, taking the opener aboard Wendell Yates and Tim Leary's Ghetto Cat for trainer Wayne Catalano and the finale astride Ellen Bennett's Telma for conditioner Suzanne Vander Salm.

Also riding two winners Friday was jockey Seth Martinez, who won the third race with Northwind Thoroughbreds' Beach Club for trainer Joel Berndt and the seventh with Midwest Thoroughbreds' Gutierez Girl for conditioner Roger Brueggemann.

Defending jockey champion James Graham also had a Friday riding double, winning the second race on Charles Patton's Inside Deal for Tom Proctor and taking the fifth on Edmund and Sharon Hudon's Zarissa for Eddie Kenneally.