Skeedattle Associates, owned by a trio of long-time friends from Atholton High School who live on the same road near Clarksville, bred the colt from sire Broken Vow and dam Dixie Talking, who traces back to 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Northern Dancer (whose damsire was Native Dancer of Sagamore Farm). Willie White and Lou Rehak went into business together more than 30 years ago, selling overhead doors. Together with Bob Orndorff, they've been in horse racing for 20 years. Smith was their first trainer, after they bought "two halves of two horses" he worked with.
They've employed other trainers throughout the years, and are heavily involved with their horses. They go to the barn on most mornings, and many are spent watching Smith.
"He's a true horseman," White said. "There's a lot of trainers out here, but he knows horses."
- Hamilton Smith
- Kentucky Derby: Hamilton Smith still going unnoticed
- Napravnik becomes first female jockey to win Kentucky Oaks
- 2013 Preakness Stakes [Pictures]
- Preakness infield party scene [Pictures]
- Views of the 2013 Preakness infield [Pictures]
See more photos »
Churchill Downs, 700 Central Ave, Louisville, KY 40208, USA
Said Rehak: "For years and years he's gotten here at 3 or 4 in the morning. And then he trains every horse, looks at every horse. But he's back in the afternoon, at feed time, and he's setting the feed out himself. He deserves this."
Finally, a chance
At Churchill Downs, Smith and his small team have remained close-knit and barely noticed. The Daily Racing Form described him as a trainer "99 percent of the Churchill backstretch would not know from a van driver." Russell, a promising jockey who rode in last year's Preakness, could be found most mornings lingering near the horse.
Exercise rider James "Bo-Bo" Brigman, who galloped Done Talking this week and said the colt felt steady and strong, is also Russell's valet. He came to Maryland via Franklin Smith. Growing up in South Carolina, Brigman's school bus would pass Franklin's farm. He showed up at age 13 or 14, asking for a job and eventually worked his way up to galloping horses.
"It is like a big team effort," Russell said. "Everyone is connected."
No one is at the end of Hamilton Smith's prodding more than Brigman, a tall, slim black man who dotes on Done Talking despite the horse's insistence on trying to bite him.
"With Hammy, he just doesn't want to be messed with in the morning," Brigman said. "He wakes up, and he knows what his horses need, and he will not rest or be OK until that's done. After, you can ask him anything and he's wise and kind."
On the Friday before the Derby, Smith was more ornery than usual. He arrived at the track only to find that the training period had been cut short and would end at 8. Most of his family — his son, Jason, stayed behind to run the barn at Laurel — was driving to town, and he hadn't had a free minute to visit the frontside at Churchill, let alone so much as watch a race.
But he can't get his mind off of his business. Such is the lot of a man hoping to understand a horse. He can coax in the best way he knows how. He can never know if it was the best way possible.
"I try to be with them the whole time," Smith said, "from the first minutes to the gallop out to when they get washed. I just need to be there. Sometimes you notice something different – it might be little – but you try to take care of it."
His hope for this horse is palpable. There's a feeling that he's underrated; his one poor showing, at the Grade II Gotham at Aqueduct, came after he had missed a month of training because of a case of colitis that nearly killed him.
If Done Talking has any chance, it will be because the sprinters in the field stretch the race and force the talented horses stalking the lead group to exert too much energy. That would give Done Talking a chance to close, as he did in winning the Illinois Derby.
After that race — Done Talking had needed a first-place finish to earn enough graded stakes earnings to get in the Kentucky Derby — Smith came charging out of his box and uncharacteristically smothered the owners with hugs. He knew then he had a chance.Mine That Birdwon the Kentucky Derby as a 50-1 choice, and he did it by coming from the back on a wet track (there's rain in the forecast for Saturday.)
Russell, upon arriving at Churchill Downs, went to the museum and watched a replay of that race and saw some similarities. Like the jockey who rode Mine That Bird, Calvin Borel, he is Louisiana-born (though raised mostly in England).
"The boy," Smith said of his jockey, "he can do it. He's got it. He's good enough."
The horse racing world at large now knows that Smith is, too.
"I'd watch all these big races, see those horses, see them run," Brigman said, "and I just always knew that Hammy could do better. We just needed the horse. We needed the horse, and there he is. There he is. Finally."