Prominent Maryland trainer Richard "Dickie" Small, who conditioned 1994 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Concern, died late Friday night after a battle with cancer. He was 68.
Born in Baltimore on December 2, 1945, Small attended Gilman, played lacrosse at the University of Delaware and served two tours of duty during the Vietnam War as a Green Beret before launching his training career in 1974.
He finished his career with 1,199 wins with earnings of $38.9 million, according to Equibase.
“Dickie was the consummate horseman,” said Maryland Jockey Club stakes coordinator Coley Blind, a friend of Small's for more than 40 years. “Horses came first. He put everything into the horses. He knew everything about his horse, right down to the pimples. He was a good man and very easy to deal with from the racing office perspective.”
Small won 36 graded stakes during his career, including Grade I scores by Caesar’s Wish, Broad Brush and Concern.
Small considered Caesar’s Wish the best horse he ever trained. The Maryland-bred won five stakes as a 2-year-old and had four added money victories at 3 years old, including the Black-Eyed Susan (Grade II) and Mother Goose (Grade I), where she broke Ruffian’s record.
Broad Brush, who retired at age 4 in 1987 as Maryland’s all-time money winner, was Small’s next star. The son of Ack Ack finished in the money in 24 of 27 career starts and earned nearly $2.7 million for owner-breeder Robert Meyerhoff. As a 3-year-old, Broad Brush won the Wood Memorial (Grade I) and finished third in both the Kentucky Derby (Grade I) and Preakness (Grade I). He came back the next year with two Grade I victories: the Santa Anita and Suburban handicaps.
“The best stories about Dickie involved Broad Brush when he would take him for a ride in the van before races to get him to relax,” added Blind. “He just drove him around the Beltway and brought him back to the barn, and the horse performed.”
Broad Brush’s son Concern won the 1994 Arkansas Derby (Grade II) and finished third in the Preakness. But he peaked later that season, capturing the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) at Churchill Downs, beating Tabasco Cat by a neck at the wire at odds of 7-1. He finished in the money in all 14 starts that year with earnings exceeding $2.5 million.
Small, who also conditioned multiple graded winners Tactile and Valley Crossing, won a stakes race in Maryland every year but one from 1974 to 2013.
“That is an amazing statistic,” Blind said. “I remember the year he didn’t do it . He was so disappointed that the streak was broken.”
Small was known for helping launch the careers of female riders such as Andrea Seefeldt, Jerilyn Brown, Rosie Napravnik and Forest Boyce.
"I had a conversation with Dickie last week via text and he spoke of looking forward to us catching up in the spring," Napravnik said in a statement. "He stayed so positive all the way to the end, and I admire him for that and in so many other ways. Last night when his assistant, Dylan [Smith], was with him, she told him that she and I had spoken and he asked her if I had any big races coming up this weekend. Hearing that brought tears to my eyes but a smile to my lips. Dickie was a great horseman, a great teacher and a great man. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had him in my life. His legacy and his horsemanship will be carried on through those of us lucky enough to have been under his wing at one time."
Added Blind: “As far as I’m concerned, the Dickie Small School of Racing is one of the best in the country. For as gruff as Dickie could be, especially when he was younger, he had a knack of working well with female riders. Dickie knew what to look for in horses and people. He was a great teacher.”
Small's father, Doug, and uncle, Sid Watters, were both well-known Maryland trainers.
Services for Small are still pending as of Saturday morning, according to Smith.