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Richard Watters “Dickie” Small December 2, 1945 - April 4, 2014


by Patrick Smithwick Dickie. Tall.


caring groom, a rider that wouldn’t fool with them too much, a rider that would let them run. No clipping of coats. No blankets in the winter. No hay nets. Virtually no drugs. Only one vet, who was a close friend, was ever seen on the shedrow, and that was for conversational purposes. Dickie kept his horses happy, not forcing them to do anything unnatural or unnecessary, and allowing them to release their natural inclination to run, to sprint, to fl y. Dickie emulated his Uncle Sidney Watters, a natural horseman, brought up in northern Baltimore County on the farm, Dunmore– with time off to be a tail gunner in the Pacifi c T eater of World War II. Dickie ran his stable the same way [as Uncle Sidney]. T e most organized,


neat, Broad-shouldered. T at


unforgettable face, more expressive with time. A fedora slapped down on his head, the brim cocked upwards. Stomach more pronounced than when he leaped out of planes into North Vietnam. T at energy. T e love of life, of horses. Of the quiet early morning. T at love of the racetrack. Richard Watters Small loved life. Every


moment, a celebration of astonishment or laughter. Sending an email with a chuckle from his kitchen table at 3:15 a.m. Leaning on the outside rail just up from the


winner’s circle, stopwatch in hand, punching in the fractions, timing–timing hopefully–the fi rst three-eighths breeze of a new set of two- year-olds. By the starting gate, joking with his gate crew buddies, stepping into the arena, locking hands with a 25-year-old. Not breaking the line of conversation. Eff ortlessly lifting the rump of a two-year-old colt, so that the colt found himself neatly stuff ed into a stall. You never felt more secure on a horse in or near the gate than when Dickie was there.


Relentless Energy By 5:15 a.m., he’d fi nish transposing the


chart of sets from his legal pad on to the white board by the tack room. T e riders would study it while he’d walk up and down the shedrow, talking, checking with the grooms, asking the young girl rider eyeing the chart, “What do you think? Does it look all right?” T is, in his mid-60s, acting as fresh and excited as if he had gotten his trainer’s license the day before. Like his Hall of Fame Uncle Sidney, Dickie insisted on allowing his horses to lead as natural a life as possible–oats, hay, a skilled and


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effi ciently run stable in the country. (His house would have to be the same? Wrong. His house looked just like the crash pad of a couple of fraternity boys who had gotten their fi rst jobs on the track and were fi nishing up a long summer.)


Mumbling Dick Small As printed in the Centennial history of


Gilman School: “Mumbling” Dick Small. T at mumbling didn’t change much over the years. And neither did Dickie’s teenage, country-boy fondness for profanity. Just get Dickie talking. Doesn’t matter about


what. Standard martingales, spurs (“I’ll pull them right off a rider”). Anything that inhibits a horse’s free movement. “Gyps,”(backstretch lingo for penny-pinching horsemen who treat their horses poorly) or the New York Times–all laced with a stunning string of profanities. T e next minute, when a well-dressed, leggy female steps into the shedrow, there Dickie would be, speaking clearly. No profanities. And not just about horses. He would hold forth on whatever his latest passion might be. But Dickie loved his old, countrifi ed


expressions and witticisms (few of which can be printed in this publication). One morning, I breezed an older horse half a mile in 48 and change, which is crawling in Dickie’s world. Jogging back afterwards, I eyed him on the rail, checking in with him. “Snow fences,” he mumbled.


“What,” I asked, huffi ng and puffi ng, pulling up to a walk. “He’s headed for the snow fences.” Got it.


T e horse is headed for the point-to-points. T is was Dickie’s slightly disparaging way of referring to the world of steeplechasing. Dickie knew and enjoyed the point-to-points.


He might run a horse in a stakes race at Pimlico on the fi rst weekend of April, but no matter what, he’d be in his truck by late afternoon, speeding north to the Elkridge-Harford Point- to-Point, where blood-red wire-and-stave snow fences lined the fi nish, to present the trophy to the winner of the Jane Watters Small Memorial for amateur riders, the race named in honor of his mother.


Horses of a Lifetime clean,


Dickie’s leather satchel lies on the top of the picnic table, condition books spewing out of it. T ese pamphlets list the races at diff erent tracks across the country. He doesn’t mind shipping far–Arkansas, Ohio, Illinois. Back in the Broad Brush days, he and Charles


Turner would load Broad Brush up around midnight and they’d drive through the night, arrive at a track three states away in the morning and blow away the competition that afternoon. From 1985 to 1987 Broad Brush went to the post 27 times at 15 diff erent tracks. He won 15 of those, twelve of them stakes, earning two Maryland-bred horse of the year titles and over $2,500,000. He was third in both the Derby and the Preakness. Broad Brush’s son Concern won the Breeders Cup Classic. Before them both, Caesar’s Wish won the Black-Eyed Susan at home at Pimlico, then shipped to Belmont where she won the Mother Goose, broke Ruffi an’s record, and became Dickie’s favorite. For 39 straight years, Dickie won a Maryland stakes race every single year, except one. Dickie always had a purpose, a goal, something higher than his own career. Whether he was winning Grade I stakes and being written up as the wonder boy in his 30s and would arrive at the barn, muck out fi ve stalls alongside his help, toss each mucksack onto his back as if it were a Gilman bookbag, and at the end of the morning, when the track closed, unload a tractor-trailer of hay, or whether in his 60s, when he was weakened by cancer and undergoing simultaneous treatment of megadoses of chemotherapy and ultra-strong radiation–no matter, he was at the barn living the life he loved, plotting his training strategies, cracking jokes, worrying about and planning what would happen to his loyal platoon of horsemen and horsewomen–grooms, hot walkers, riders–some of whom had worked with him for decades.


Agent Orange


Late afternoon recently, I knocked on his open kitchen door. No answer. I walked in. “Anyone continued...


MAY 2014 | THE EQUIERY | 45


Maryland Jockey Club


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