Henry S. Clark, the nation's oldest trainer of thoroughbreds and a gentle presence around Maryland racetracks for 80 years, died yesterday in his sleep. He was 95.
Clark began walking horses for his uncle while in his mid-teens in Baltimore, and he never strayed from the life of early mornings, horseflesh and thundering hoofs. In 1982, at age 77, he graciously accepted his sport's highest honor: induction into horse racing's Hall of Fame.
"He was just the most courtly southern gentleman you ever saw," said Snowden Carter, retired editor of Maryland Horse magazine. "Warmth just emanated from him."
In a 1995 column, Joe Hirsch, the eminent turf writer for the Daily Racing Form, wrote: "No one training horses in the United States today is held in higher esteem than Clark."
Said Lenny Hale, vice president of racing for the Maryland Jockey Club: "He is the epito me of class. I dare you to find anybody to say anything bad about him."
Officials at Laurel Park, where Clark oversaw the saddling of a horse for the last time in December, lowered the track flag to half staff in his honor. Dave Rodman, the track announcer, broadcast news of Clark's death to fans.
Clark had recently spent a week at St. Joseph's Hospital with pneumonia. But he overcame that and was regaining his strength at the Westminster Nursing and Convalescent Center when he died.
His son, Tim, said he had seemed to be doing well. He said he had expected his father to return home to his farm in Glyndon in a week or two.
"I guess his body just gave out," Tim said. "He was just an amazing person. It's hard to believe that somebody who'd been around nigh on a century is no longer here."
A man who shunned publicity, Clark received a career's worth in 1982 over his handling of the 3-year-old colt Linkage. After Linkage won the Blue Grass Stakes in near record time, Clark announced that Linkage would bypass the Kentucky Derby and wait for the Preakness.
In a long splashy article featuring a large photo of Clark, the New York Times reported that Clark was subsequently called "incompetent, disrespectful and, worse, a Kentucky Derby-hater."
Clark's polite response: "I'd have been delighted to go to the Derby this year, but the horse has to take you, not the other way around."
Gato Del Sol, who finished 5 1/2 lengths behind Linkage in the Blue Grass, won the Kentucky Derby. And Linkage, after his 23-day rest, lost the Preakness by a half length to Aloma's Ruler.
Clark particularly wanted to win the Preakness. His grandfather, William Jennings Sr., bred, owned and trained Dunboyne, winner of the 15th Preakness Stakes in 1887.
Like all of Clark's best horses since World War II, Linkage was owned by Christiana Stables of Wilmington, Del. Harry and Jane duPont Lunger hired Clark in 1947 to train their Christiana horses.
Clark won the Travers in 1955 with Thinking Cap. He trained Tempted, the 1959 champion older female. He twice won back-to-back Delaware Handicaps, in 1958 and 1959 with Endine, and 1969 and 1970 with Obeah. Obeah later gave birth to the champion Go For Wand.
But Christiana's, and Clark's, best horse might have been Cyane, who won the Belmont Futurity in 1961, suffered a career-ending injury and then sired most of Christiana's broodmares, including Obeah and the mother of Linkage.
Although Clark traveled from track to track, as all horsemen did before year-round racing in Maryland, he was based in Barn A at Pimlico. He worked for a while as a mutuel clerk in the pioneer days of pari-mutuel wagering as a way of subsidizing his horse operation.
Clark threatened numerous times to retire, but never did. Until recently he and his son drove from Glyndon to Pimlico five or six mornings a week, arriving by 6 or 6: 30 to tend to their two remaining horses in Barn A. They kept several more on the farm.
Even at the Westminster convalescent center, Clark kept up with his horses. On Thursday, his son found him perusing the Laurel Park condition book, which lists the upcoming races. Clark had found a race Feb. 13 for one of his horses.
"He wasn't reading newspapers or anything," said Tim, laughing quietly. "But he sure knew that condition book."
Clark is survived by his son, his brother Parker Clark and his sister Marion Ryan, both of Towson, and nieces and nephews. Clark's wife of 51 years, Mary, died in 1990.
A visitation will be held 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at Eckhardt Funeral Chapel, 11605 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills. A mass will be conducted at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Glyndon. Burial will follow at the St. Joseph's Church cemetery in Cockeysville.
Tim Clark requested that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., 12866. Therein hangs the plaque honoring his father, the venerable Henry S. Clark.
Pub Date: 2/07/99