When it was over, Henry Clark made his way through the crowd virtually unnoticed, a 77-year-old man in a Panama hat whose dream came up a half-length short. Occasionally, someone called to him as he headed for the detention barn, where horses are tested after a race. Clark shrugged his shoulders and said, "We tried. You can't win 'em all." Mostly, he was alone with his thoughts, his might-have-beens.
Clark watched the colt he trains, Linkage, finish second in the 107th running of the Preakness from a clubhouse box not far from the sign where his grandfather's horse, Dunboyne, is proclaimed the winner of the 1887 race, though the name has been misspelled.
So much had been said about how Clark wanted to win the race his grandfather won, the race that ran in his family. How much did it mean to him? "A lot," said Henry S. Clark III, as he followed his father back to Barn A.
Outside the barn, Clark's wife, Mary, was sitting in a folding chair. "I salvaged one thing," she said, taking a Polaroid picture of her and her hero, Johnny Unitas, out of her pocketbook. "It almost makes up for it. . . He autographed my program and that makes up for a lot."
Her husband had no such consolation. "Well, naturally, I'm disappointed," he said. "But no sir, I can't take anything away from that winner. He ran a good race."
Clark was asked repeatedly how the absence of the speedy filly, Cupecoy's Joy, had changed the race. "I was hoping something would go with that horse (Aloma's Ruler), soften him up," he said. Then he added, "If the filly had been in there, it might have been a different story. That's horse racing. I'm not alibiing. More power to those people."
He shrugged: "The horse came out all right. That's the main thing."
Clark interrupted just long enough to take his horses some sugar. Linkage was out of detention. When Clark returned, he was asked what he said to his jockey, Bill Shoemaker, about strategy before the race. "I talked to him," he said. "I more or less left it up to Bill. He knows what he's doing. I talked to him after. He said, 'He tried. He came again.' We just couldn't get to that horse (Aloma's Ruler)."
Jane duPont Lunger, Linkage's owner, came by. "As for the Belmont," she said, "Mr. Clark makes all the decisions."
Clark said he would make that decision in three or four days.
Lunger left, and soon, so did the reporters who had surrounded Clark for weeks, some of whom had second-guessed his decision not to enter Linkage in the Kentucky Derby. "I'm very glad it's over," he said. "I think we can relax awhile now."
It had been a long day.
At 5:40 a.m., Joan Jett was blaring out of Barn B: "I love rock 'n' roll, put another dime in the juke box, baby." Across the way, in Barn A, stall 27, the hindquarters of a thoroughbred greeted a visitor and the dawn. Linkage had been up for hours, since the nightwatchman had arrived with two quarts of oats.
Paul Douglas, a security guard (and part-time groom), who had been standing watch outside the barn all night (and checking the horse every hour or so), reported that the favorite had slept well. "When he seen the guy coming with the feed tub, he started nickering away, throwing his head up and down," Douglas said. "That's a good sign."
Pockets the Groom, legally known as Archie Keney, was getting Linkage ready for his morning gallop. Outside the barn, where Clark has stabled horses for 35 years, a chalkboard offered the following intelligence: "Latest Linkage Lingo--Saturday, Linkage gallops at 6 a.m., Mr. Clark will be available for one question at 9 a.m."
Clearly, Mr. Clark was not in a talkative mood, which was understandable on the dawn of perhaps the biggest day of his career. As Linkage, Shoemaker, Pockets and William Ham, the exercise rider, made their way to the track, Mr. Clark broke his promise. He answered three questions at 6 a.m. Did his horse know what he was in for today? "At this point, no," Clark said. "Later on when we take away his hay, he'll realize."
The sun was rising and the moon was visible over the infield as Linkage made his way onto the track. Horses galloped by. He was just out for a stroll, a slow gallop, to loosen up. "Linkage, what's he doing galloping?" a rider called out as he whisked by on the rail.
"Mr. Clark, he always does that,(although) not so much with the fillies. Give them that easy morning gallop so they can blow off a little steam," said Greg Smith, the young jockey who rode Linkage until Shoemaker took over.
Linkage did a turn around the track and came back the other way, blowing off a little steam and chafing at the bit, ready to go. "What they've done is help him to relax," said jockey Charles Cooke. "At the same time, mentally, he wasn't able to do what he can. So when it comes time to race, he'll be ready to run. They've got him thinking about it."
Back at the barn, Linkage was cooling out, walking 'round and 'round. It was almost 7. A youth in a souped-up Chevy gunned his engine and roared past the barn. Horses reared and bristled. Linkage ignored it all. If ever a horse seemed self-possessed, he did. "Nothing bugs him," Pockets said.
"He's a calm horse unless you get him excited," Ham said. "He's all business. He knows what to do when you say do it. . . He's a pretty sensible horse."
Ham is almost 50 and has worked for Clark for almost 30 of those years. He guesses Linkage is as good a horse as he has ever ridden, and he figures he's ridden 10,000 of them. "This horse, he's just about as good as he can be and we've done everything we could to keep him that way," he said. "There's no more you can do."
By 8 a.m., Linkage was back in his stall, contentedly munching on a rack of hay hanging outside, just enough "to keep him quiet," Pockets said. That would be taken away a few hours before the race.
Clark headed inside. A hotwalker called out to him, "This is the last day of it."
"Oh my God, yeah," Clark replied.
A bit later, he emerged from the barn with a sponge and headed for the chalkboard. It read: "Mr. Clark will hold his final press conference at 6 p.m. Saturday and then he will be off on vacation." He changed the 6 to 7 and left the rest.
Nearly 11 hours later, around 7 p.m., Clark's final press conference broke up. He has talked about the possibility of retiring. Would he be back next year? "We hope so," he said, and paused. "I'll be here tomorrow."
What about the vacation, someone said, pointing to the blackboard? Clark, who had arrived, as usual, at 5:45 a.m., just before the sun, glanced over and shrugged. "That begins at 8 a.m." he said.