Shepherd, who's been retired since 1979, has owned thoroughbreds off and on for the past 10 years. "It helps me pass the time to have a racehorse to watch," he said. "I've seen Port win a lot of races. You can't help knowing him, he's been around so long." Shepherd does own one other horse, but he's turned out, so at least for now, the Old Man is the only horse the old man will be watching.
Port's first outing under his new-old trainer was in a 1[1/16]th-mile starter handicap on Jan. 8 at Bowie. The competition included horses that had recently won races worth as much as $12,500; the Old Man was sent off at 11-1 in the field of 11. He finished 11th. "Outrun" read the Daily Racing Form. Seventeen days later Port brought in a $660 paycheck for Shepherd by finishing third in a six-furlong race. The Old Man just might be working his way up to a 51st win.
Because there's no age limit for racing in Maryland, it's possible that Port will keep going to the post for years to come. His tattered foal certificate—it has been passed around to so many racetracks that it's held together with Scotch tape—indicates that he is, or was, a gray colt, foaled on March 10, 1969, by Bold Commander (sire of the 1970 Kentucky Derby winner Dust Commander) out of an unraced mare named Grey Taffety. Next to "marks" the certificate reads, "Large star and connected irregular stripe, ending in center of face." You can't see the star and stripe anymore. As Port aged he turned increasingly whiter, and the marks have faded. Now there's a large bump, a benign subcutaneous tumor, where the star used to be. The folks who work around Port suspect he may turn into a unicorn someday. Indeed, his reputation for consistency and durability has already reached near-mythic proportions.
Port does not know he is old. When exercise rider Mike Torre takes him out for a mile and a quarter gallop, the gelding comes bounding back like a 2-year-old. "The first week or so, I had trouble getting along with him during his works, until I figured out how he wants to gallop," says Torre. "He likes to go along at his own pace. He's too smart to do anything to hurt himself." Which probably explains why he's lasted so long.
Meanwhile, Kuhn has gotten an offer equal to the original price paid for Port back in 1970 from a man who owns a big farm on Maryland's eastern shore. The man wants to use Port as a hunter. "He'd be a good hunter," says Kuhn. "Hell, he'd only have to go out maybe once a week."
Although Kuhn is seriously considering the offer, his immediate plans are to enter Port in a three-quarter-mile $6,500 claiming race on Valentine's Day at Bowie. His 231st start. But Kuhn will have to watch out for Port's old trainer. "I won't say that I will take this horse back," Leatherbury said after Kuhn claimed Port from him. "That would be tipping my hand. But I might."
The white-haired Old Man probably doesn't care who owns him. Just as long as whoever it is doesn't try to turn him out in some beautiful pasture. That would drive him crazy.