Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Secretariat And Sweat Taught Reid Everything She Knows - Horse Racing News

If only she knew then what she knows now. That may be Virginia Reid’s only lament as she reflects on her 49 years at the racetrack.

Reid, the wife of veteran Parx-based trainer Robert “Butch” Reid, is widely known as “Ginny.” She was only 19 when friends persuaded her to leave a job as a waitress in upstate New York to seek employment at Belmont Park. She never anticipated the great adventure that awaited in 1972.

Lucien Laurin hired her as a hotwalker, and she soon became acquainted with an exciting 2-year-old named Secretariat. She accompanied the blossoming superstar and his legendary groom, Eddie Sweat, on a memorable van ride from New York to Maryland for the Laurel Futurity. Predictably, Secretariat rewarded their time and toil with an eight-length romp, ensuring a happy, if bumpy, ride home.

Reid quickly came to admire Sweat.

“He was an amazing groom,” she said. “He loved his horses. He always had some kind of treat for his horses.”

She soaked up as much knowledge as she could.

“He taught me so many things about how to groom properly and roll bandages,” Reid said. “He was an amazing guy. They don’t make them like him anymore.”

In Secretariat, she observed class and professionalism at a tender age. He would let the world know on the countless days he was feeling good, but his former hotwalker cannot recall seeing him rear or waste energy.

“I don’t think I ever saw him do anything that was unnecessary,” Reid said.

Various chores kept her in the Belmont barn when Secretariat and jockey Ron Turcotte completed their assault on the Triple Crown in 1973. Her jaw dropped as she watched on a small television in the tack room.

“I was amazed by how far in front he was. I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “No horse had ever won that easily and he wasn’t hitting him or anything. He just drew away.”

Reid and Hello Lover on a gallop

Reid was so young at the time, so inexperienced, that she could admits she could not comprehend the magnitude of ”Big Red’s” 31-length romp in 2:24 while Turcotte searched in vain for competition. Her appreciation for one of the most magnificent individual performances, human or equine, has grown exponentially with time.

“I didn’t have any idea how special it was when he won the Triple Crown. I was sort of green about it,” she said. “I didn’t understand how important and special he was.”

She was so young she did not know what she did not know, especially when it came to assessing others. She married a jockey before she was 20. It was the worst mistake of her life.

“He was very abusive. I’ve still got scars,” she said, pointing to the jagged reminders of the blows to her forehead that she endured.

Nothing could sour her on racing, though. Her desire to form a greater bond with those she cared for led her to become an exercise rider in 1974.

“It’s a communication with a horse that you can’t explain,” she said.

She went on to work for such prominent trainers as David Whiteley and Jimmy Croll before her meanderings took her to Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., in 1983. She would gallop horses in the morning and work as a waitress in the luxury suites in the afternoon to keep afloat financially.

That is where she met her future husband. After two weeks of riding for him, he invited her to lunch. They have been together ever since. They are immensely proud of their lone child, Whitney, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Reid and Vequist after the 2020 Breeders’ Cup

They treat the approximately 25 horses in their barn, including 2-year-old champion Vequist, as if they are extended family. In taking a cue from Sweat, Reid never allows a day to end without distributing at least one cookie to each horse.

“My cookie bill is bigger than my feed bill, just about,” her husband joked. “No, it’s worth every penny and the horses really appreciate the attention they get.”

 Reid no longer rides. She required a knee replacement. Worse still, she broke her back in two places in an accident at Parx in 2006, fracturing her eighth and eleventh vertebrae and barely avoiding a catastrophic injury.

“They said I was so fortunate that it broke outward,” she said. “Had it broken inward, I would have been paralyzed.”

Only Butch’s protestations have kept her from resuming riding. Beyond that, she is invaluable on the ground. She is incredibly helpful with Vequist, who resented a male groom’s handling early in her career.

“She was a high-wire act a little bit, especially as a 2-year-old. She wasn’t the easiest horse to get along with. The guy  wanted to get a little rough with her and Vequist didn’t like that too much,” Butch said.

Ginny took over with her gentle, soft-spoken, endearing manner. She and Vequist got along famously after a week.

“Through tender loving care and some cookies, they ended up making a good pair,” Butch said.

He gives much of the credit to his wife for Vequist’s victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She oversaw the critical final preparations at Keeneland.

“We’ve been together almost 40 years. We pretty much know each other’s thinking,” Butch said. “She certainly knows what I want to get done and we converse many times during the day to make sure that’s all being carried out.”

While Vequist gears up for the Aug. 24 Cathryn Sophia at Parx, Ginny also rubs Mainstay, a 2-year-old half-sister to the Eclipse Award winner. They share the same dam, Vero Amore. Mainstay, in a four-and-a-half furlong debut on June 4 at Monmouth, broke her maiden by 7 ¾ lengths.

Mainstay is being pointed toward the Schuylerville (G3) on July 15, Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course. Reid will again provide the advance team, drawing on lessons learned from Sweat so many years ago.

Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America’s Best Racing and other publications.

If you wish to suggest a backstretch worker as a potential subject for In Their Care, please send an email to [email protected] that includes the person’s name and contact information in addition to a brief description of the employee’s background.

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