Gary Murray will be on the farm in Maryland, trying to get something done about a horse, a piece of equipment, a fencepost, anything and he’ll see Tom Voss.
“I see him every day at home on the farm, in a tractor shed grumbling about something, trying to fix something that’s broken 15 times,” said Murray, Voss’ son-in-law, on a Tuesday morning at Saratoga. “I might try to do the same things he did, but I don’t have the same skills as Tom.”
Murray’s wife, Voss’ daughter Elizabeth, will be aboard The Looper (a flat horse turned steeplechaser turned lead pony) and headed out with a set and she’ll feel her father.
The barn at Saratoga’s Oklahoma Annex looked the same this summer with its yellow webbings, buckets, tubs and trunks, its containers of mints, its scrappy terrier by the tackroom, its row of well-cared-for horses. The shedrow was still dirty without being sloppy, neat without being fastidious, workmanlike but first class. There’s a coffee machine Tom Voss would love, and hate, but otherwise it’s his barn.
“I feel like he’s everywhere here,” Elizabeth said early in the Saratoga meet. “We thought about not coming up here, but I thought it would be harder not to. Being up here is really nice. It’s a beautiful place, it’s my favorite track and he loved the place.”
Trainer and lifelong Marylander Tom Voss died in January at 63, abruptly leaving a farm and a business and a racing stable to carry on, or not. Elizabeth and Gary took up the reins. The horses–flat and steeplechase–run in her name. They got started tepidly, winning two jump races in the spring. Imperial Way just missed in the Maryland Hunt Cup, a race run in Tom’s memory this year. Elizabeth helped present the trophy.
Early on at Saratoga, something of a second home to the Vosses, Kingdom lost by a nose in the Jonathan Kiser Memorial novice stakes, a race named after Tom’s best jockey who died in 2000. A week later, you could almost feel Tom helping Makari (GB) put his nose down at the right time and win the $100,000 A.P. Smithwick-NSA1 Aug. 31. There were tears, hugs, smiles, some thunder in the sky.
Tom Voss called Hall of Fame jump jockey Paddy Smithwick something of a second father, Voss loved to win the Saratoga stakes–and did so in 1980, 1987, 1997 and 2003. The man’s daughter won it on her first try.
The moment tells you something about horse people, about the effort and heart and care they put into this crazy game. Elizabeth didn’t want to be a trainer, but here she is.
“I never saw myself doing this, but I love it,” she said. “I love being on the farm and being with the horses. I’m very happy to be out there every day with the horses, but it’s not something I wanted to do.”
She and her husband carry on, making the farm go with the help of a loyal crew, restocking the stalls, cultivating potential owners and following in big footprints.
“If I’m ever stumped with something at the farm I ask myself ‘What would Tom do?’ I try to take a minute and think about it and it usually comes to me,” Gary said. “He wouldn’t call the vet here, he would wait; or this horse, he’d train him an easy day or two and see how he is. I spent two years with him, two wonderful years. You learn more in two years with him than 20 years on your own. He kept it so simple really, it was all common sense.”