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  John Edwin Roberts ----

  I was having a conversion with an old trainer the other day and he related a few interesting stories about his life on the backside. One was about an old class horse he'd trained. The horse had been a stakes winner as a young horse, but it was late in his career when he got him and time had taken his toll. He gave him a long rest, and then nursed him back to as close to soundness as he'd ever get. He was just biding his time, not pushing him too hard but getting him fit enough so he could win a race and cash a ticket at good odds. He had him up in New England, Rockingham or Narragansett, can't recall which, and the jockey he used was getting on him in the mornings and knew the horse. He was also in on the plan, which, of course, was to win when the price got right. Well he gets the horse fit enough and figures that one more start will have the odds just right, so he instructs the jock to break alertly and take him along with the pack till the head of the lane and coast from there to the wire, that, "We'll turn him loose next out." Well the jock gets him out of the gate just fine, and keeps him up there with the pace pretty close as instructed. Then, as they go into the turn, the trainer can't believe his eyes, the jockey is riding him hard. He rolls into the lane with a full head of steam and he's hitting him every step of the way and crosses the wire 3 & 1/2 lengths to the good for a $68 win payoff on a $2 bet. The trainer makes a beeline to the Winner's Circle and confronts the jockey. "What in the Hell do you think you were you doing?” he screams. "I got mine," the jockey replies, "now you get yours." Well he snatched that double-crossing little weasel off the horse and commenced to beat Hell out of him right there in the Winner's Circle and in front of the whole grandstand. They pulled him off and the Stewards gave him a three-week suspension, and by the time he got another horse to the Winner's Circle for his next payday, he was down to living on oats, just like his stock.  

Another story concerned a famous West Coast jockey and his brother. Seems the brother was riding back East where this trainer was based at the time. That was back in the time before drug testing was a standard practice, and lots of racetrackers were snorting white powder up their noses, including many jockeys and trainers. Brother jock was stumbling around one morning virtually incoherent with snot running out of his nose and puke all over the front of his shirt. The trainer got on the phone and called the brother on the West Coast. "Get him cleaned up and put him on a plane out here," he's told, "and I'll take care of all the expense." Well the trainer does as requested, gets a pot o' black coffee into the guy, then into a cold shower and a set of clean clothes and drives him to the airport and hands him a ticket to the coast. He let the famous West Coast jockey know his brother was on the way and what the damage was, and has never heard a word from him since.

  Trainer got his hands on another good horse at one time in his life, a well bred colt that had come out of a Kentucky sale for a big price. The colt was big and strong, but unfortunately as well, high strung and unmanageable. Now a horseman's solution to a problem like this is to geld, but an owner of a well bred colt often has the sugar plums of million-dollar stallion syndications dancing through his head, and refuses the request. The final straw was when the colt pitched a fit at the starting gate and had to be scratched. He had given the gate crew so much grief in this and previous starts that the Starter ruled him off for life. My trainer friend picked him up for a song and took him back to his farm, while the gate crew heaved a sigh of relief, thinking they'd never see that rogue again. Well the first thing the trainer did when he got there was call the veterinarian to come and geld the colt, Indian Love Call was replaced by Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off To Work We Go in his songbook. After that he just turned the horse out to pasture for several months to let him relax and forget about his previous bad experiences. After the horse had settled down the tack was put back on him. At first it was walking under tack, then, with the trainer up, he progressed to jog and gallop. The next step in his training was to condition him to loud noise and lots of action going on around him. This was accomplished by first jogging him next to a Kelly-Ferguson tractor disking and harrowing the fields, then between two of them pulling along parallel. Since this farm was a large working operation, growing corn and soybeans as well as raising several hundred head of cattle, there was ample opportunity for the horse to get used to lots of goings on. The final exercise before graduation was to stand him next to the crop duster starting and warming up, then taking off. When the pilot released the brake with the engine at full throttle, the horse and airplane broke off together racing down the strip to take off. After several repetitions of this exercise the trainer said, "You could have ridden him in the Battle of Gettysburg!” There remained one more hurdle, however, in getting him back to the races, he had to be okayed from the gate by the Starter. The trainer shipped him back to the track without telling anyone what he had in mind. After reintroducing him to the life and the routine at the track, he took him back to the gate one morning for schooling. The Starter saw him coming and immediately recognized the horse. "That horse is ruled off," he said, "what in Hell are you doing bringing him here?"  Well the trainer knew the Starter for a long time and they respected each other as horsemen, so after a long palaver, it was agreed the horse could break from the gate one time, but, "If he acts up one bit he's off and you can never bring him back." To make a long story short, the horse went into the gate like he'd been doing it all his life and stood there perfectly calm and collected. When the bell rang and the gate flew open he broke alertly, going right away with the horse alongside him. The starter, somewhat amazed, wasn’t finished with him yet, "Okay," he says, "he did that just fine. Now take him to the spit box." The trainer said that was the only time in his life he'd had a horse drug tested other than after winning a race, but that test was passed with flying colors. The horse raced successfully after that for several years, and though he never became the champion the original owner had envisioned when he'd bought him, he won several races and showed a nice profit for the trainer when he was claimed later on and went to a new home.  

Final story concerns a famous jockey, now retired. He was riding an old, broke down class horse that still gave it his all. The horse had a bad ankle that needed to be protected. He was running at a bull ring track, and the rail suited him fine. Long as he stayed right there close and leaning into the turns the bad ankle would hold. Well the strategy here was the same as in the first story, get him fit enough to win a race when the odds got right. Well the odds are finally well in their favor, and he instructs the jockey, "Okay, we're gonna' try and win today but keep him on the rail the whole way round. If you can't get through don't worry about it, we'll bet our money again next time, just keep him on the rail no matter what!" Well the jock rides him to instruction, and sure enough, he's on the rail and can't get through. He waits, and he waits, and he still can't get through, he’s trapped. In the blink of an eye, and to the trainer's dismay, the horse is snatched up from behind the horses that had him blocked and pulled sharply to the right to go out and around the leaders. To the trainer's horror, the bad ankle gives way under this sudden strain and breaks completely into. The horse is pulled up in mid-stretch, limping pathetically on his three remaining legs. The jockey immediately dismounts and holds the horse, waiting on the veterinarian and the horse ambulance to arrive. The trainer in the meantime has jumped the rail and run to his stricken mount. As soon as the veterinarian took a look at the broken ankle he knew there was no hope for the horse, and he put him out of his misery right there on the track in front of the grandstand. Only an instant after the horse is put down the trainer turns and attacks the jockey, not so much for failing to follow instructions, jockey's do that all the time, but for causing the loss of a good horse. The result is the same as in the first tale, several weeks’ suspension for the trainer and lean times. The jockey goes on to win classic races, numerous championships, and worldwide acclaim, but when Judgment Day comes around, and in spite of all the good he's done in the years since, he still has to answer for that poor animal's life.



by John Edwin Roberts  


In General MacArthur's famous farewell address he quoted from a barracks ballad of years gone by, "..old soldiers never die, they just fade away." As with old soldiers, old rockers meet a similar fate. They may depart this earth, but the music they leave behind guarantees their memory will live forever. Ike Turner, a man who left humble beginnings in rural Mississippi to embark upon a musical career that took him from the honkey tonks and dives of East St. Louis to the pinnacle of fame is no more. He departed this life on Wednesday at his home near San Diego at the age of seventy-six. A monumental musical talent is stilled forever.

There was never a decade of such sweeping change in popular music as compares to the 50's of the previous century. The music of our parents generation and the popular music of that day was unceremoniously thrown out the window by Young America in favor of a new and previously unknown creation. For awhile, no one even knew quite what to call it, till Alan Freed came up with the term, Rock 'n Roll. Many of the older generation despised it, and attempted to both suppress and destroy this Frankenstein of music, but they were doomed to failure. The new music swept the country like a fire storm, and yes, Rock 'n Roll was indeed here to stay.

Rock 'n Roll was a totally American creation, but it's roots ran deep into the past. It had evolved out of the musical traditions of the Old South, Gospel, Chants, Blues, Jazz, Rhythm 'n Blues, Country, Western and Hillbilly, often totally different styles of music that had evolved from the more primitive origins of music itself. Of the many stars that burst onto the scene in that era, and there were many, none had more raw talent and energy than the young Ike Turner. He is, in fact, credited with the very first Rock 'n Roll record of all time, Rocket 88, a catchy, driving number inspired by the Oldsmobile Rocket 88, one of the hottest automobiles of that day. Once the incomparable Tina Turner, who later became his wife, joined his Kings of Rhythm, he had a voice to match his music. Together they rode to the very peak of the charts with such hits as Shake A Tail Feather, A Fool in Love, Proud Mary, It's Gonna Work Out Fine, and the incomparable River Deep Mountain High . When he took his show live, the gorgeous Ikettes joined Tina onstage in an erotic dancing frenzy the likes of which had never been seen in other than the tribal dances of Africa. Words, in fact, are inadequate to describe this show, it had to be seen, felt, experienced, there was no other way.

Drugs, the curse of the music business, eventually ensnared Ike and he plummeted like a stone. Tina left him to forge a successful career of her own, virtually from scratch, while Ike did hard time. Eventually he pulled himself together and returned to his roots, his music, and went back to his life onstage. He achieved redemption in recent years, performing regularly and recording to well earned acclaim.

With the demise of Ike Turner the Rock 'n Roll pioneers of the 50's are nearly gone. A few remain, but mostly retired, and they are sadly missed. Ike, however, went out while still actively performing, he left the stage with his rockin' shoes on. Here's to you Ike, you brought a lot of magic moments into our lives, as you will for generations yet to come.
Thanks for the memories!


  John Edwin Roberts writes these and other works while on location in Nigeria, Western Africa.  

John Edwin Roberts
Feature Writer
email: Editorialist@sdbeachlife.com


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