The trouble with horses, Pat Fischer figures, is that they can't play hurt. The trouble with Pat Fischer is that he cares more about how his horses feel than how they perform.
Fischer, a 1968-77 Redskin cornerback, runs a racing stable with 11 horses at Charles Town and has about 20 more on a rented farm in Leesburg, Va. He also is one of eight partners in Virginia Stallion Station, a breeding operation in Middleburg.
At times he seems more sympathetic to his animals' physical problems than to those of his former football colleagues.
"Humans can play with pain, but not with injury. And everything that is pain to a horse is an injury," he says.
Most trainers are preoccupied with making money, and are only pleased with their animals when they win. Fischer applauds his horses when they try.
He recently stood in the Charles Town crowd and cheered for Naked Head, a 4-year-old gelding who finished third.
"I was pleased for him. I was excited for his ability to come back and run that well," Fischer said, explaining that the horse had a bone chip removed from his knee last year.
He did not seem concerned that third money in an allowance race at the little track "in the scenic Shenandoah Valley near Harper's Ferry" will barely keep a horse in counterirritants for a week.
Fischer, in his fifth year as a professional horseman, admits he is not making money.
"We haven't made enough to remain viable. We never get ahead, never get to relax. This would be fun if it weren't for the debts from the original horses I bought on credit," he says.
How much fun? "Having a horse in a $2,500 race at Charles Town is as exciting as being in the Super Bowl. Yes, it is, and I'm more enthusiastic than I was in the beginning," Fischer says.
"Your body chemistry has a capacity for excitement--your adrenaline, or whatever it is. I don't know what makes people jump out of airplanes, but I know how it feels to win a race now and then. I am intrigued by the athletes these horses are."
Fischer trains only horses owned by himself and his wife Carol. He got her interested in racing by making her owner of Pressing, a 4-year-old filly who "trails the field and comes a-runnin' " and has won twice this year.
Fischer's only links to football are the names of horses he has bought and bred. He has a 5-year-old named Last Injury, a 3-year-old called Last Cut and another 3-year-old named Standard Contract. Fischer has resolved not to add to his stable through claiming races. However, he has lost horses in these races.
Near Pete, the only moneymaker among Fischer's early purchases, was not good enough to win in allowance company in Maryland. So Fischer found a $25,000 claiming race for him at Keystone, outside Philadelphia, and Near Pete won. "But we got greedy," Fischer says, "and ran him back for $25,000 and lost him." That was two years ago, and Near Pete, 7, won races until Sept. 9, when he broke down coming out of the gate at Atlantic City.
Recently, Songs Of Pain, a 3-year-old maiden Fischer bred and raised, finished third at Charles Town. Fischer was especially proud of the horse because Songs Of Pain was battling a respiratory problem and lost by only three lengths, despite bumping the gate at the start.
Fischer didn't stay to watch the featured ninth race, won by a 6-year-old named Antiquarian. One of Fischer's first winners, Antiquarian was a loser in nine starts last year, and the trainer sold him in January. The horse's victory that day was his third in a row.
Racing offers many ways for a person to lose. When Fischer bought John's W.D., an older half-sister to Near Pete, she was an unraced 7-year-old, so he was determined to breed her. When that was unsuccessful, he trained her to race and she won first time out. But when she developed respiratory problems, he traded her for a mare in foal. And the mare died.
Despite the problems, Fischer enjoys the work. His day begins at 6:30 a.m. and frequently doesn't end until midnight.
Walking in the barn he rents on Raspberry Plain, the estate of Ross Lipscomb, Fischer extols the virtues of his once and future athletes. There's 6-year-old Sweep The Heights, a nice mare with numerous problems. The chestnut weanling, a May foal, has a lot of personality; the bay filly is tough. And Standard Contract, a bowed tendon having been twice blistered, could probably race tomorrow.
So why doesn't Fischer take him to the track? "The reason people have trouble bringing a horse back from a bow is that they don't give him enough slow gallops; they're not patient," Fischer said. "I can say I bowed this horse. Yes, I did it. I worked him even though I knew the problem. I wanted to get another race in. I wasn't patient.
"Somebody could have him pretty cheap," he said. "There's no question his career is shortened. But I'm inclined to train him rather than sell him."