W. Burling Cocks, considered the dean of American steeplechase trainers, died at 82.
The five-time National Steeplechase Association champion, with residences in Unionville, Pa., and Camden, S.C., sent out 47 stakes winners, conditioned three-time Eclipse Award winner Zaccio, and retired in 1993 as the sport’s second-leading trainer in terms of money won with more than $4 million. In 1985, he was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame. The “consummate horseman,” Cocks turned out successful trainers with as much regularity as he did horses: his former pupils were Hall of Fame trainers Mikey Smithwick and Jonathan Sheppard, Hall of Fame steeplechase jockey Paddy Smithwick and Triple Crown-winning trainer Billy Turner.
At 82, Carl Hanford, who retired from training in 1969, could still be found around the Delaware Park barn area, “just helping out” his daughter Gail. He sat down to recall his days with Allaire duPont’s five-time Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Kelso. When asked what it was like conditioning a superstar under a microscope, he replied “nerve-wracking”.Hanford took over duPont’s Woodstock Farm string in early 1960 and was immediately handed the 3-year-old gelding Kelso, who had a habit of dumping his exercise riders.
Kelso raced through age 9 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame one year later, in 1967. Hanford was inducted in 2006 and said “I’m here because of one horse and one horse only.”
After more than 25 years in the business, Hamilton Smith ranked among Maryland’s top trainers, winning at 32 percent and saddling more winners than anyone but Dale Capuano, who had started 50 more horses. In Smith’s stable was 5-year-old Big Rut, winner of his second stakes of the year, the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Handicap, and Double Stake, also 5, a recent third in the Maryland Racing Writers’ Association Handicap. Both were bred in South Carolina by Othneil H. Wienges, and offspring of Wienges’ stallion Kokand. “Had a good summer at Monmouth in the ’80s,” said Smith. “But this is the best. Yes, it sort of makes the hard times seem worthwhile.”
Maryland-bred and -sired runners finished one-two in Laurel Park’s General George Handicap-G2. Royal Haven (by Hail Emperor), champion Maryland-bred older horse of 1997 making his first start outside of New York in more than two years, notched his third graded stakes victory in a row while defeating Purple Passion (by Northern Raja), who saw a five-race win streak snapped.
- Hal Handel left his posts as vice president of racing at the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park to become chief executive officer of Philadelphia Park. Jim Gagliano, general manager of administration and operations at Meadowlands, also left that post and followed Handel to become the Bucks County track’s new vice-president of operations.