No matter how hard he tries, Pat Fischer doesn't look like a groom as he goes about the morning chores with his 14-horse stable in Barn Six of the Charles Town backstretch.
Then again, for 10 of these 16 seasons, Pat Fischer hasn't looked like a cornerback in the National Football League, either.
The man is obviously too small to play professional football and too intelligent to own thoroughbred. But last September, while the Washington Redskins were struggling and Fisher was suffering from a painful back injury, his horses were tearing up the local racing strip. Nearly Sisters, Helen's Promise, Five Wounds, Zema and Antiquarian won seven straight before Go For Pat finally ended the streak.
Fischer's stabel obviously is off to an excellent start. But his days as a performer may be over. He is 38 and still recuperating from surgery and has not been offered a new contract.
"I'll know June 1," Fisher said as he looked in on Zema, the 4-year-old Czar Alexander colt that won two races last year. "I'm felling better, much better. It's only in the last few weeks I've felt like getting involved. The injury related to my injury in '72 when I had a disc removed. This time, they took cartilage and bone out, way down, in order to give that nerve more room, so that it wouldn't be pinched by the shifting of the vertebrae."
Only recently have the periods of pain subsided to the point where Fischer can consider a comeback.
"I was in Florida this winter with Billy (Kilmer) and Dr. (William O.) Reed, at Hialeah," he said. "We would look at horses, stop occasionally to talk, and I still couldn't stand for 15, 20 minutes talking like this until I'd be aching, I'm not fully recovered yet but I expect to be by June when I take the Redskin's physical.
"My wife asked me recently if I really wanted to play. To me, playing football is a lot of fun. I can do it and it's not hard work. If it was, I would have quit a long time ago. It's not like fighting. Like Ali. If you have your quickness (at cornerback), you can still put yourself in the right angle. If I can maintain my quickness, I'll be all right. I honestly think I'll come back if I can get past the physical."
Until then, Fischer plans to mix his morning work and the training of horses at Barn Six with occasional visits to Redskin park to further his own training program.
"Horses are athletes. They are like football players or anybody who goes to war," Fischer observed. "I'm intrigued by the dynamics of running, by how a horse changes leads. And the problems are so similar. The knees, the ankles, the conditioning. It interests me to solve some of these problems. I plan to train, eventually. Right now, I'm studying and learing.
"For instance, what is the proper role of the groom. How much can a groom handle, four or five horses I don't think he can go over five, and that's only if he has everything programmed into what he does, if he's not making a special trip to get a bucket or a brush."
Fischer arrives at the stable from his Leesburg (Va.) home by 7:30 a.m. and often does not climb back into his pickup truck until noon for the return trip. Even then, considering West Virginia's wintry weather, getting horses onto the track for training is difficult, often impossible.
Near Pete is Fischer's best horse. He earned more than $25,000 last season as a 3-year-old although Antiquarian nearly earned $60,000 in one effort, in the Tri-State Futurity here.
"That's the Hagley colt, right over there," Fischer said, pointing. "Joe Theismann and Brad Dusek were going to buy him with me. Then they didn't. When Antiquarian was beaten by less than a length in the Tri-State that night, I was in the hospital after the surgery."
The Redskins' locker room sounds like a horseman's delight. Kilmer and Fischer each own an interest in the Virginia Stallion Station. Bill Brundige also owned a share of that breeding establishment for a time. Kilmer was raised across the street from Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. Fisher lived in Omaha, right next to Ak-Sar-Ben race track.
"Ken Houston nearly bought Polynesian Count." Fischer said. "Ed Brown was up to visit just the other day. Chris Hanburger has helped name several of the horses. He named Five Wounds after the documentary on Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce indians.
"An this colt right here, Exacerbate, traces to Rusty Tillman. Rusty and I would sit in the team meetings and George (Allen) would have seen a little problem with something and he'd bring in a special guest speaker. Rusty and I would punch each other, kidding that the speaker would only 'exacerbate' the situation."
Not that Fischer failed to listen to the speaker, or to anything Allen suggested.
"George was special," he said. "His leaving surprised me. He led everyone on the team on a private basis and publicly to believe he was going to stay. I'm sure it was just a matter of personality problems upstairs.
Fischer currently is on the Redkins' injured-reserve list. A few of his horses are on Fischer's injured-reserve list, including one or two that he has on acreage leased on a farm near Leesburg, where he has his breeding stock.
It is still much too early in the year to know how Fischer will fare in 1978 on either of his favorite fronts - in RFK Stadium and Charles Town race track. But the word here in the Charles Town backstretch is that much of his stock is superior to the local talent.
"Don't bet against him," a rival trainer said.