The sport of thoroughbred horse racing is star-driven and the search for the next transformative talent never-ending.
Headlines and quotes are ascribed to owners, trainers and jockeys affiliated with our superstars, but the groom who tirelessly spends hours a day behind the scenes, tending to the horse’s every need should be the documented hero.
These men and women provide the physical tools, authoritarian position, sentimental appreciation and cultural support that a mother or father would impart to their children.
Whether racing at an idyllic setting for grandiose sums of money or in a lowly $4,000 claiming event, that horse is the material possession of its groom and in a perfect world afforded dignity.
Some trainers prefer the gentle coaxing of a female handler while others opt for the time-honored tradition of their male counterpart.
For the purposes of my story, I am going “old school.”
You see, in my era, a groom literally monitored every aspect of the horses in his care.
Fifty-two-year-old Quincy Jackson has spent three-fourths of his life cleaning stalls, preparing feed, refilling water buckets, grooming, bathing and working on fragile legs.
He has performed these tasks under extreme weather conditions, on weekends and holidays.
He doesn’t need professional certification. Quincy has 35 years of on-the-job instruction.
Born and raised in Charles Town, young Quincy became curious about horses while observing his father work.
Says Quincy: “My dad was a groom and my brother and I would accompany him to the racetrack every chance we got. I was approximately 12 or 13 and knew this was something I wanted to pursue.”
This wouldn’t be the first time that a child raised with a rub rag in one pocket and a hoof pick in the other found their calling on the backstretch.
Quincy attended Jefferson High School, where a racing form often took precedence over his textbooks.
After graduation he went to work for trainer Ferris Allen.
“Dad worked for Mr. Allen and I copied his every move,” Quincy remembers. “When he caught wind of possible employment at Sonny Hine’s stable, preparing to ship to Gulfstream Park in Florida, our bags were packed in a flash.”
The allure to groom top-flight horses, particularly during the winter months, was high on his list of priorities and too good to pass up.
Back in that era many stables used racing circuits to fulfill the desire of year-round competition.
Sonny Hine’s travel itinerary was Pimlico in Maryland, Monmouth Park & Meadowlands in New Jersey and Gulfstream Park in Florida.
“I worked for Mr. Hine from 1984 until 1992, then alternated employment between Jersey conditioners Frank Generazio and Ned Allard,” he explains. “Around 2002, I became homesick, jumped aboard a horse van and shipped back to Charles Town.”
For Quincy, it was time to reflect and rekindle old relationships.
He left the track for a brief stint, but upon hearing conversations concerning the increasing purses at his home base returned to his principal vocation.
“The next eight years I worked for John McKee and Ronney Brown, eventually settling under the shadow of my high school buddy, Stacy Viands.”
It sounds like Quincy was a rolling stone, but in the racing industry grooms often shift jobs in the quest for higher wages, better horses or to be closer to family and friends.
Quincy now works for perennial leading trainer Jeff Runco.
“Jeff has some the finest horses on the grounds,” he said. “I like it here and hope to build on the five years I’ve already put in. Mr Runco has entrusted me with many of his best horses including Lewisfield.”
The multiple stakes-winning son of Great Notion is fresh off a third-place performance in the $150,000 Maryland Sprint, where Lewisfield earned the distinguished honor of being chosen as “Best Turned Out.” Those of you new to horse racing may not know the best turned out award is synonymous with the foremost groomed individual in the paddock.
Quincy took home a check for $300 and an assortment of items related to his profession.
His dulcet speech delivery has a Zen-like quality, a certain peacefulness attained from having stared into the eyes of a 1,200-pound beast and realized he’s given you his respect and trust.
I posed this question to Quincy: If you could turn back time, would you change anything about your career path?
He leaned back in his chair and smiled.
“I think I was destined to work with horses. Sure, I’ve had to make sacrifices, but who hasn’t in this world?”
Quincy’s all-time favorite horse is Sorry About That. Ironic, considering after 35 years around horses, his regrets seem too few for him to recall.
Is this the magnum opus of Quincy Jackson’s life?
I think he secretly knows, there will come a time when physical limitations prohibit him from doing his job to the utmost of his ability.
For now, horses and horse racing are concentric circles of his life, with him standing squarely in the middle.
Tomorrow morning, at the crack of dawn, he will be at Barn 13, softly greeting his horses and humbly accepting the day ahead.