Mack Miller, trainer of 1993's Kentucky Derby winner, Sea Hero, is another trainer who speaks of goats in the past tense. "The last goat I had I believe was in Aiken, South Carolina," says Miller. "I had some young dogwood trees, and this damn goat had horns. And this bugger took bark off four or five of my trees. I finally had to give him away."
But what really gets a trainer's goat is when someone gets a trainer's goat. The expression comes from an underhanded practice carried out at racetracks in England in the 1800s. The night before a race, a trainer would sneak into a rival's barn and steal his horse's goat. The idea was to unnerve the horse to the extent that it would be in no shape for the next day's race. While the ploy became obsolete, horses' temperaments have not changed—they still get riled up when parted from their stall mates, which are often referred to as mascots.
Dan Williams, an assistant trainer at Bay Meadows in San Mateo, Calif., recalls the night one of his horse's goats slipped out of the shedrow. "The horse started screaming his brains out, woke the groom up, and he had to go catch the goat," says Williams. Van Berg recalls a reverse, but equally noisy, situation. "We had one goat we put with a horse. When you'd take the horse over to race it, the goat would bellow the whole time it was gone." Not surprisingly, when a horse is sold, its goat often goes with it.
And as one might expect, a number of trainers prefer other stable mascots—such as potbellied pigs, dogs, burros or roosters—to goats. Hine enjoys the company of Antisocial, A.J. Foyt and the rest of the cats he keeps at his stable. "Some of the horses love the cats," says Hine. "But the cats are my pacifiers. I get more nervous than the horses."
Among the most celebrated horse and mascot teams were 1918 Kentucky Derby champion Exterminator and his three successive Shetland ponies, all of whom were named Peanuts. Exterminator and his pets were inseparable for a period of 21 years, until the last Peanuts' death in 1944, an event that was noted in newspaper sports pages everywhere. A feature on Exterminator in a 1945 issue of Blood Horse magazine noted, "When Peanuts [the last one] died, the mourning of Exterminator was unmistakable."
And then there was Hodge, a 1914 Kentucky Derby entrant, whose mascot was a real railbird. Racing historian Jim Bolus recalls that Hodge had a crow that was taught to sit on the backstretch rail during Hodge's races and yell, "Come on, Hodge! Come on, Hodge!"
But talk of stable pets always comes back to goats. Calder trainer Marty Wolfson and his wife, Karla, have a filly, Silent Greatness, who had her shins fired two years ago. After the procedure, in which a hot instrument is applied to damaged tissue, Silent Greatness was clearly in a lot of pain. "Her back started getting really sore. She couldn't relax," says Karla. "We gave her Precious, our goat, and she started lying down with the goat. She finally got to the point where her legs healed." Silent Greatness has since won eight races, including two stakes and three handicaps. On race days she is escorted to the track by Precious.
But Precious really earned her keep when the Wolfsons had her split her time between Silent Greatness and Sambacarioca, a black filly the couple acquired last March. "Sambacarioca was really a case to deal with," Karla says. "She got very washed out going to the track. The goat made all the difference in the world. She doesn't get wet going to the track anymore; she relaxes." Sambacarioca, who had never won a stake before, has since won five for the Wolfsons.
Last year was Marty's most successful in 22 years of training, and the Wolfsons were able to buy a farm of their own. "We call it Precious Acres," says Karla, "because of the way Precious has helped us. She's a very special animal."