Welcome to “Voices,” our public forum where horsemen and horsewomen are able to share their thoughts and concerns about the important issues facing the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry. All opinions are welcome, and we value yours!
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Vickie Aument (2010 Don Engel California Freshman Sire Contest Third-Place Winner), Dana Point, CA:
What a great way to promote the industry! The prizes were a bonus to “bragging” rights! I received my Rachel Alexandra signed print — it is fabulous and the $50 will go into my track funds!
Thank you for the contest and for your website!
February 11, 2011 |
Larry Stevens, Kennewick, WA:
I’d like to congratulate all the winners in the Don Engel Freshman Sire Contest. I have been dethroned. Actually, I wasn’t even in the hunt on this year’s crop.
Anyway, the prizes are great and I would have been overjoyed with 2nd and the Fred Stone picture of the great champion and Horse of the Year Zenyatta.
Also a special thanks to those that helped sponsor the contest.
January 31, 2011 |
M. Anne Sweet, WTBOA, Auburn, WA:
It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Don Engel, and then to learn later in the day that he and Jean left together was doubly shocking. I knew Don professionally, via email and phone conversations only. Many years ago he was the first to launch our website, by way of hosting it on www.thoroughbredinfo.com, before we were prepared to host it ourselves. He led us into the world of the World Wide Web at a time when it was still relatively new and unknown territory.
I enjoyed many delightful conversations and/or email exchanges with Don. As has been said below, one of the things I enjoyed, and will remember, the most about him was his dry wit and wry sense of humor. It always came unexpectedly, subtly but sharply, without pretense and always hit the mark precisely.
We almost had the chance to meet face-to-face a couple of years ago, after he had retired. He and Jean planned a trip up the coast, with the end destination being Grand Coulee Dam. He had contacted me ahead of time and we had planned to meet somewhere in Seattle for lunch and a visit. As they began to tire from their travels, he called to say that they had decided to bypass Seattle and go straight to Grand Coulee. The side trip to Seattle would have added more time and they were wanting to visit Grand Coulee and then head home.
I regret that I did not have the opportunity to meet this wonderful gentleman, who I felt I had developed a friendship and rapport with, albeit long distance, and it would have been a great pleasure to meet Jean as well. My heart goes with them. While I feel great sadness over their loss, I applaud that they lived life on their terms and then left on their terms. May peace go with them.
December 21, 2010 |
Martha Crawford Cantarini, British Columbia, Canada:
I think those of us who are devastated by the death of Don and Jean enjoy sharing a happy moment as described by Barry Irwin. Perhaps we should all share the happy memories instead of just our heartbreak.
I remember when the major horse carriers were in a little hot water using drivers that literally did not know how to spell horse. Don knew this. He told me he had taken a course at Berkeley in Propaganda. He said when I advertised to say: “We do not hire drivers!” Then he said, “When you expand, you can say, ‘We do not hire drivers, but if we did, you can be assured, etc., etc., etc.’ ”
His dry sense of humor is hard to forget.
December 20, 2010 |
Barry Irwin, Versailles, KY:
Don Engel was a true mensch. His wife Jean was a saint. They were two of the most wonderful people I have met, inside or outside of the Thoroughbred industry.
I first met Don when I worked at the “Thoroughbred of California” magazine in 1970.
To say that Don was an unforgettable character is to understate the case. He was unique, he worked hard at being unique and it served him well, because he was able to deal with the world on his own terms.
Many people like to think they “tell it like it is,” but Don actually did, and he delighted with the reactions he achieved.
I have to say that I enjoyed my relationship with Don when I didn’t have to work with him!
During a brief stint when I was both the editor and advertising manager of the magazine, I had to deal with Don on his print ads for the magazine. As truthful as Don tried to be in real life, he worked hard to be deceptive when it came to his advertisements!
Without dwelling too much on the subject, one situation that sort of summed up his attitude toward advertising came when he wanted to promote a horse that had run second in a race in which the winner broke the track record. Don wanted to advertise that the runner-up had broken the track record. But he didn’t want to reveal that the horse finished second, that the horse had been beaten and he may have broken the former track record, but he never broke the record, because the horse that won the race broke the record and set a new one. I tried to reason with Don that it was deliberately deceptive advertising. We went round and round and he never relented. In the end, I simply refused to run the ad as submitted. Don, of course, realized that he was shading the truth, but he liked the notion he had come up with and wanted to stick with it.
Also, he liked to use photos of stallions that were airbrushed by a photographer named Stackhouse. His ads, many of which were done in black and white to save costs to his clients, were deceptive. They would have been more at home in a dog magazine than a horse breeding publication.
One of the wildest things Don came up with when stallion awards were first instituted was to buy up interests in dead stallions that had award money due to them! Brilliant, yet pretty strange if you ask me.
Don, however, as an individual, was a super star. He, along with former CHRB commissioner Harvey Furgatch, were the only two people I’ve ever met in the horse business in California that shared my own political and social views. I always felt that I was at home when speaking with Don and Jean.
I had sent an email to Don just a month or so ago, alerting him to the fact that I had met a fellow on a flight to Ireland in October that lived in his community and I recommended that this guy get in touch with Don upon his return. I don’t know if anything ever became of this.
When I learned that they had decided to depart the planet on their own terms, I was shocked but not surprised, because that is how both of them lived their lives.
People like Don and Jean don’t come along often enough in this world, and rarely, if ever, in our business.
I will miss them.
December 19, 2010 |
Norm Towne, Sacramento, CA:
Thanks for the memories, you live on in all of us who had the good fortune to know you, goodbye old friend.
Don and Jean will be missed dearly. They were wonderful people. Don was at times the conscience of the industry. His insightful work and his unfailing honesty was refreshing and constructive. He called me once a week for the better part of 20 years to talk about the state of horse racing and to share a laugh or two.
December 18, 2010 |
Don Sandri, Hayward, CA:
I met Don and Jean at the Kentucky Derby Museum in 1989. Don was all that others have shared and more. Thanks for all your advice and friendship over the last 21 years. RIP my friend.
December 17, 2010 |
L.P. “Bud” Thibodaux, Lafayette, LA:
I met Don in the mid-seventies in California and we became instant friends. He was the nicest guy I ever met, period.
December 17, 2010 |
Martha Crawford Cantarini, British Columbia, Canada:
This is very difficult for me to write.
Don and Jean were two of my most favorite people I have ever known. I, just a few minutes ago, learned of their deaths.
We had been emailing back and forth until just recently about a book I had written of my stunt career in films. For once he was asking all the questions and that tickled me, as I had always asked so many of him.
I was just about to write another email to them when I happened to check “The Blood-Horse” and saw the electrifying news.
I truly am at a loss for words. My love to Lisa, whom I have not seen since she was a young girl. I would love to hear from her.
I was flattered to do most all of Don’s hauling in and out of the sales.
I will continue to look for you both and hope that we meet again.
You will never be out of my memories.
December 16, 2010 |
Patrick J. Hurley, Medford, OR:
With great sadness, the passing of Don Engel caught me by surprise. This year, we talked about once a month and exchanged many emails and discussed the breeding industry in California for the past year and into the next. He fully supported me in continued breeding to California stallions.
I first met Don at Hollywood Park in the summer of 1981 at the yearling sale and at mixed sales. I discussed with him the need for an individual that knew taxes to have a specialized business preparing tax returns for individuals and businesses in the horse industry and he encouraged me to follow my dream. I left the IRS in August of 1981 and began my business and he was my guiding light.
I will miss him.
December 16, 2010 |
Jeff True, Los Angeles, CA:
In June 1986, a young, Texas horseman was winding down from his first commercial breeding season in Purcell, Oklahoma. He was fortuitously advised by his college professor that a certain California bloodstock agent was looking for sales management help and would be driving through Texas and Oklahoma visiting clients. After a cordial meeting in a local diner the Texan was invited to California to “check it out.” That cowboy’s first trip to the Golden State was one of the best moves I ever made.
Intoxicated by the magic of LA’s South Bay, I gladly accepted Don and Jean’s invitation to join them selling Thoroughbreds from a base in SoCal. They had no farm any more but they had a business and I wanted an adventure. They opened their home to me and I lived with them for a full month while I searched for a place.
I had never experienced the lifestyle that they enjoyed: plenty of work, but with ample tennis afternoons, wines in the evening, lots of travel, an office on Silver Spur Drive in Rolling Hills, California, out on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It all sounded exotic to a kid from the black dirt farmlands and cross-timbers plains of north Texas.
I started learning the horse business from a different viewpoint. Don took me to Del Mar, Santa Anita, and Hollywood, where I saw Shoe, Laffit, Charlie Whittingham and a whole slew of guys that I read about in the papers. We went to lots of farms in the valley, up the coast, and across the country. We met clients and characters from the Golden Age of California racing. We looked at thousands of horses together and bought or sold a few hundred.
During my first trip to Kentucky, with Don, we went to Claiborne Farm. We looked at Danzig, and Don took my picture with Secretariat. I cherish that photo with every passing year. Wonderful trips to farms and horse sales all over the country were punctuated by days in the office preparing sale materials, writing the newsletter, researching the mammoth year-end compendium; all pre-internet. I learned from Don how to read the Form, the Chart Books, the American Racing Manual, stallion statistics, the catalog page. And not just to know what those things said, but what they meant in the aggregate. Don’s pragmatic approach to things was unique.
Don was a smart guy and so was Jean. The two of them made quite a pair and were so patient in breaking me in. I was all horse and they were all horse business, so when I had to learn how to be in an office for the first time they constantly, but gently, offered suggestions and reminders on everything from WordPerfect to expense reports. Don made me draft things for the TIA newsletters, for ad copy, and for customers when he knew I was not much writer. Those trials and efforts have helped me every day since.
Don and Jean were good people that taught me lessons about life that mean more now than they did 20+ years ago. Their intolerance for unfairness, aptitude for accuracy, and deep-hearted honesty made them special to me. They loved each other and they loved the business. I cannot forget the sight of them walking the shedrow at a sale, checking over details and discussing strategy. I’m grateful to them both for giving me a couple years of their trust and volumes of lessons.
Don will not show up on any Hall of Fame ballot, nor will a bronze bust of his likeness show up at Santa Anita, but he had a wonderful, productive contribution to California racing and kept many people on the straight and narrow with his keen wit and dry charm.
My regards to Don and Jean’s families.
December 16, 2010 |
Priscilla Clark, Tranquility Farm, Tehachapi, CA:
I was deeply saddened today to learn of the death of Don and his wife, Jean.
Don was a unique friend of the horse and horse people, and he never lost sight of why we do what we do, the love of the horse. I remember working with him on the piece he wrote on Thoroughbred retirement for “The TIA Newsletter” several years ago, and he poured his passion for horses and his heart into that article. A fitting memorial to Don would be to go the extra mile to be sure that Thoroughbreds get the care they deserve after racing. He would approve.
December 16, 2010 |
Michael Power, Bend Or Thoroughbreds, U.S.A., Lexington, KY:
I am deeply shocked and saddened to learn of Don and Jean Engel’s passing. I’ve known Don since 1962, and Jean since 1968, and state without equivocation that a nicer couple in the horse business does not exist.
Don was “Mr. Engel” to me for the longest time. He and his first wife owned Honey Lake Thoroughbred Farm near Standish, where they collected a fine bevy of Kentucky-bred mares. A school teacher by profession, Don and Shirley also raised a pack of children at their manicured 20-acre farm.
Don was perhaps the first person anywhere to introduce running videos of his sales yearlings, an innovation which soon caught fire throughout the industry. In addition to his homebred yearlings — sired by California’s most fashionable sires like Fleet Nasrullah, Nashville, *Indian Hemp, Imbros, Determine, etc. — his consignments always included youngsters by high-class out-of-state stallions.
At the 1965 Caldwell-Heerman yearling sale at Hollywood Park, for example, he offered the first *Ribot ever sold in California. His lovely Hill Prince mare Madam Pele produced a Carry Back filly which he sold the same year. He also sold pinhooked yearlings which he had picked up at the previous years’ Keeneland November sales. Sires such as *Petare, Summer Tan, *My Babu and Blue Prince were among the high profile stallions whose weanlings Don purchased, then resold at the Caldwell-Heerman sales.
There aren’t many folks left who remember Don’s ingenuity in marketing horses. He would publish a small annual catalog of his consignments — including broodmares — which were filled with his pithy descriptions (“As fertile as the Nile Delta,” he once wrote of a mare which, coincidentally, my parents once sold to him). His clever advertisements in the Thoroughbred of California stood out in every issue.
There were copy writers, and then there was Don Engel.
Don’s very public breakup with his first wife occurred during the 1966 Caldwell-Heerman July sale, yet he persevered with a smile. Every time I hear the “oldie” song “Guantanamera” from that era I harken back to the moment when I first heard of his misfortune.
With the end of his marriage came the closure of Honey Lake Thoroughbred Farm. Unfortunately for him, the bloodstock market in 1968 wasn’t too dissimilar from the one we are in today, but Don persevered and dispersed his prized broodmare band at firesale prices that year under his new banner, ‘Thoroughbred Information Agency.’
Don met and married his lovely Jean at about the same time. Interracial marriages were not common yet, especially in the Thoroughbred business, but the two of them handled the pressure with class and aplomb. I was only 14 years old at the time but was so impressed with Jean’s dignity and humor that she and I always felt a kindred spirit for each other. She was Don’s rock and his true soul mate.
Through the years Mr. Engel and I conducted some business together, but only after he invited me to just call him Don! I liked his agenting style — simple, straight forward and 100% honest. At the time there were several other bloodstock agents in California who marketed themselves (and secondarily, their consignments) by strutting around in Bozo outfits. Not Don — he was a simple guy who worked fastidiously to show horses to as many buyers as he could draw. No gimmicks. Pure class.
I still can’t believe they are gone. Don and I just exchanged emails last week, as we have been doing for some years. Since his retirement he regularly reported on how glad he was to be out of the horse business, but he belied those statements by often asking me for the name of some horse or person from years past that he couldn’t recall. I know he was pleased when I updated him on stakes winning descendants of some of his original broodmares. So, I know he was still thinking about horses. Like most of us, once the fever is in our blood it’s impossible just to walk away from it.
I will miss Don’s wit and humor. He never gave counsel to me because that’s the way he was. He knew where he was and I guess he figured that the rest of us should, too. But I will nevertheless miss the opportunity to ask for it, just to hear him sum it all up in one sentence. Straight talk.
Don once joked that I would probably have to write his obituary because very few people from his earliest days in the business still exhale. While my literary skills pale in comparison to his professional abilities, I am happy I can remind your readers of what a powerhouse Don Engel was. Truly, he was a one-of-a-kinder.
God bless you, Don and Jean. I hope you’re playing a lot of tennis.
December 15, 2010 |
Roger Downes, Murrieta, CA:
The loss of Don and his bride leaves a hole in me that I could not imagine. The hole in the Thoroughbred industry that Don filled with wisdom, wit and words is larger still.
Always willing to listen and analyze with me — and after distilling so many raw notions, was willing to let me “pontificate” on his website often under strange fictitious names whenever he thought it was best to do so. All the good thoughts in those postings were always the result of Don clearing out my cobwebs.
Churchill said, “Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but usually manages to pick himself up, walk over or around it, and carry on.” Don couldn’t do that. The truth was delightfully and regularly exposed with a sharp clarity that our industry has sadly lost.
He was a very good writer but a far, far better observer and analyst.
I’ll catch you on the other side, Don. I have just a few more ideas I need for you to “scrub” with me.
December 15, 2010 |
Janet Griffin, Bangtail Farm, Mad River, CA:
I first met Don and Jean around 1970, maybe before that. My late husband, Bill, and I bought two 2-year-old fillies at a sale at the old, then new, pavilion at Hollywood Park. One a grey filly, for the life of me I can’t remember her name and she won several races for us. The other I remember quite clearly: Satin Wings by Wing Out, a chestnut.
Don had her in his sales barn, so we went back after signing the tickets and talked with him. He was standing arms crossed by the walking ring; Jean was by his side. We introduced ourselves and told him we had just bought Satin Wings. I think we had paid the amazing amount of $10K for her. Right off the bat, he told us she hadn’t shown much in training and we might be better off just sending her to the breeding shed. Now we were pretty sure we knew what we were doing in the Thoroughbred business. Meaning we probably were still green as grass. But Don had that way about him that just told you he was giving you the real goods.
Off Satin Wings went in the van to a breeding farm that afternoon. She produced several foals for us, and after my husband’s death, I sold her to a breeder in Oregon and she continued her broodmare career for him.
In recent years, I’ve enjoyed an email correspondence with Don. We’ll miss Don and Jean.
December 14, 2010 |
Larry Stevens, Kennewick, WA:
It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of my good friend, Don Engel, and his wife, Jean. As I have mentioned many times, Don was one of the bright spots of my times associated with the Thoroughbred industry in California.
It was always to his barn at the sales that I would wander first. Not necessarily to look at his consignment, but to shake hands and visit for a moment. You had to wait your turn, as there were many that wanted to gather around and take in his knowledge and advice as an agent. His reputation of honesty and integrity will never be surpassed in this industry that he loved so much. Jean would be right there with him, helping in any way that she could, whether it was as an agent or in the advertising business.
Don was a great writer. He had such a way with words. You didn’t have to wonder where Don stood on matters concerning the industry, whether it was California racing, sales or the breeding farms. Not everyone agreed with his opinions, but he laid it out there as he saw it and for the most part we did agree. I know that I did. I’ll miss his wisdom, his humor and all he stood for.
So long ole buddy, till we meet again.
December 13, 2010 |
Don Sandri, Hayward, CA:
Just to let you know, you and Don can ramble forever. I really enjoy your stories, so please continue. Don had a line the other day that had me laughing for five minutes, and I quote: “Did you ever notice that, unlike businesses where people boast of their victories, almost all horse stories are about something that went wrong?” So true…
On a sad note, I just discovered Applebite Farms is closing the end of January 2011. Hopefully their closing is the absolute bottom for our Northern California racing game.
December 1, 2010 |
Larry Stevens, Kennewick, WA:
Sometimes we go weeks and even months without hearing from anyone on “Voices.” This leads me to think that no one has much to say. So, I see no harm in letting me and Don ramble a little. It’s sure not a contest because Don was in the business long before me, and I am sure I would lose. Knowing Don is one of the bright spots in my journey through the horse industry and especially with the California industry.
I found it interesting that Don mentioned three sons of Nashville. Azure Te became a very successful sire of running Quarter Horses. Matter of fact, one of the top four Thoroughbreds used on Quarter Horse mares. He was also a good broodmare sire. I never handled Azure Te but I did many of his daughters. Basically, they were nice horses with a lot of speed. If one wanted to point fingers at Azure Te, it would have been in the soundness department.
Nasharco was the son that I did handle and probably because Don got ERM to stand the horse. He wasn’t as heavy muscled as Nashville, but he certainly had his temperament. You had to watch him every minute. Being out of a Khaled mare you ended up with the dreadful cross of *Nasrullah and =Hyperion.
Although all our stallion paddocks were fenced with a lane between them, we kept a hot wire around the inside for Nasharco’s. He decided to kick the fence anyway and got his leg in the hot wire and suffered a cut on the left hock. I called Dr. Richard Waters, who was on the other side of the farm, and he came over to look at it. The decision was made to attempt to suture it.
Dr. Waters had a vet graduate from Japan helping him at the time by the name of Dr. Masanori. Upon further examination, Masanori found a little cut on the left front cannon bone and told Dr. Waters. OK, said Waters, what do you want to do? Masanori said, “You suture back leg, I suture front leg.”
This was agreed upon, and I was holding Nasharco with a lip chain and a muzzle in place. He was so mad by then that his eyes were bloodshot red. We were in a straw-bedded stall, and when Masanori hit him with the needle to deaden it, that horse went clear to the roof and threw straw everywhere.
I still had a hold of him, but Masanori flew out the stall door and turned around and said, “WHAT HAPPEN?” Waters, in all his humor, asked, “Well, what do you think?” Without hesitation, Masanori said, “I think pressure bandage on front leg!”
Don also mentioned Chiclero, another son. I had to look up some things, but found what I was looking for. Do any of you remember when Johnny Longden announced his retirement in 1966?
It happened on March 12, 1966. The night before, they threw a big party for Johnny. The next day, he was to ride George Royal in the San Juan Capistrano. George Royal was one for 12 that year and considered washed up, and no one gave them any shot at the win. Enter the fourth race on the card. Johnny Longden on the speedball Chiclero and Bill Hartack on Valiant Man. Longden sent Chiclero to the front to an early lead and he stayed there until down the stretch where Hartack went by with ease on Valiant Man. Then it looked as though Hartack took a hold on Valiant Man and Longden and Chiclero win by a long nose. Many thought Hartack gave Longden the race because he didn’t think there was a chance for him to win on George Royal.
Well, history tells us that somehow Johnny got George Royal up for the win in the San Juan on his last ride. Johnny had put away the whip and Bobby Ussery was all over Plaque for second.
Later you might remember, as a trainer, Johnny Longden used Bill Hartack in many big races, including the Triple Crown. Did he pull up his horse in the fourth? We’ll never know.
November 19, 2010 |
Don Engel, Rohnert Park, CA:
Here we are, Larry and I, two old guys sitting around trading stories about the old days, sitting on the old front porch with our computers in our laps. What a picture! (And I can’t even remember the guy named Skip that he asked about.)
I’m sure that Larry has many more stories than I, and I sure don’t want to get into a good-old-days contest (those days may not have seemed so good then, but they sure do in retrospect).
Nashville was a pretty good sire who scored the rare Hat Trick when his sons Azure Te, Chiclero and Nasharco ran 1-2-3 in a Hollywood Park stake. But he was a mean one.
The manager of Desi Arnaz’s farm, whose name I am almost able to remember, told me about one incident when a farmhand was in Nashville’s paddock picking up manure and the horse went after him. The guy managed to squirm under his overturned wheelbarrow and cowered there as the horse pounded on it with both front feet. He escaped, eventually, when the horse lost interest.
Nashville was a true son of his ill-tempered sire, *Nasrullah.
Latecomers to the business may never have heard of *Nasrullah. He was the greatest sire of his time and stood at Claiborne Farm alongside another outstanding sire, *Princequillo.
Breeders at the time were in awe of the *Nasrullah/*Princequillo nick, which was one of the foundations of Claiborne’s success. I always thought that it wasn’t a magic nick; it was just a case of putting two great sires together in a situation where the offspring get great upbringing and racetrack training.
As far as I know, *Princequillo was a sweet horse, which probably helped cool the *Nasrullah genes.
To my great delight, I once owned a young *Princequillo mare who indirectly brought me a moment of panic. When I trailered mares from my Lassen County farm to Southern California for breeding, I overnighted at the fairgrounds in Fresno. There was always someone there to help me load up again the next morning.
But one morning Isle Royale, my prized *Princequillo mare, was reluctant to load, and everybody was trying to help. Finally, I looked up and some absolute fool was on her back trying to ride her into my two-horse trailer. I screamed at him, and he dismounted. I was worried about the mare, but if she’d suddenly bolted into the trainer, he could have been decapitated.
Well…there I go.
Did you ever notice that, unlike businesses where people boast of their victories, almost all horse stories are about something that went wrong? I’m sure that’s because so little is under our control that hardly anybody is foolish enough to claim credit for achievements. Something bad is bound to happen next.
It’s for good reason that “You just do the best you can” is considered an acceptable apology for failure in the horse business.
November 11, 2010 |
Larry Stevens, Kennewick, WA:
I already knew the answer, but she insisted, so I threw it out there.
Don, do you remember the man that helped me in the breeding shed at ERM by the name of Skip? Not sure I ever heard his last name. He worked for Desi Arnaz when he had Nashville and came to ERM at the time that Desi sent Nashville over there. Actually, Desi wouldn’t send Nashville over to ERM unless Skip could go and take care of him. Of course you knew that Nashville had a temper as well, and also Nasharco.
Anyway, Skip showed me a picture that Desi gave him and it was his pride and joy. It was of Nashville outrunning Bold Ruler.
The rule was to never cross *Nasrullah and =Hyperion mares. Ah, nice to reminisce, huh?
I had also heard that story about *Nasrullah’s groom.
November 8, 2010 |
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