by Sarah L. Greenbaigh
(first printed in the March 2012 Equiery)
It was hard not to fall in love with the 17.1 hand gray at first sight.
Buck Jakes held his head up high, whether he as posing for photos in the paddock or galloping toward some monstrous timber fence. He had a presence.
Along with his confident look, Buck Jakes had this long, impeccably white bushy tail which he held out like a flag, almost daring his competitors to chase him across the fair hunting country that was his domain, Maryland timber.
Even at the end, Buck Jakes lived a good, well-loved life, “retired” at his trainer’s home.
Unfortunately, the big timber specialist had to be euthanized on January 4, after an intense bout with colic. The 24-year-old gray son of Turkoman (a son of Alydar) was a legend in the world of timber racing.
Owned by the racing syndicate of Skip Cochran, Ike Iglehart and Andre Brewster of Arcadia Stables, during his reign, Buck Jakes won two Maryland Hunt Cups (1995, 1997), three Maryland Grand Nationals (1994, 1997, 1998), two International Gold Cups (1994, 1995) and two Pennsylvania Hunt Cups (1995, 1996).
“There are not many horses out there that have won all these races in their lifetime and as many times as he did,” said trainer Charlie Fenwick, Jr. “It was a unique relationship. He spent 20 years with me and out of all the horses I had, he had the longest career and I was lucky enough to have him in my life for so long.”
And Fenwick knows a great horse; he trained two-time Maryland Hunt Cup and English Grand National winner Ben Nevis II and champion timber horse Dosdi (20 wins).
But the pairing almost never happened.
“I went to look at him and was unimpressed,” Fenwick said. “They had him pop over a chicken coop a few times and his legs were going every which way, but there was something, so I decided to get on him. I was dressed in pinstripe suit at the time, not exactly the right outfit for trying out a horse. Anyway, I jumped him and the rest is history.”
Buck Jakes entered into his timber career at the same time as another legend, Saluter.
The two both started at a now defunct meet called Sugarberry in New York. Buck Jakes was in the Maiden Timber and Saluter in the Novice Timber. Their paths would cross again several times in their careers, but Buck Jakes was destined for the bigger timber races while Saluter was a speed and distance specialist over slightly smaller timber.
Many a great jockey held the reins of Buck Jakes, including his trainer Fenwick, Victoria Schlesinger, H. Brooks Durkee, J.W. Delozier and Jonathan Kiser. But it was the Pennsylvania amateur rider Anne Moran who would get the majority of the wins and the special connection.
Moran, who only weighed about 116 pounds, had to tack on for most rides at 165 pounds.
“He was enormous,” Moran said. “He was so tall and I could barely lift the saddle with the weights, let alone get it on his back. But to ride him, he was a gentle giant. He never would do anything cross. He took care of me.”
She added, “In our time together, I gave him some horrible rides. Charlie and Jake always forgave me, but it was hard on me. I felt like I had let him down. He always gave 100 percent and was always the best jumper in any race we were in. I will always be grateful to Charlie for putting me up on him. And if I gave him a proper ride, he always won.”
Fenwick could see early on that Buck Jakes was only going to perform for the female jockeys.
“He really loved the girls,” Fenwick said. “He had a special relationship with Anne. The two of them were very close. We took him to New Bolton on Monday [January 2] and I think he just wanted to see Anne one more time. She visited him about four times and shared some jelly beans with him. Those were his favorite. But when we realized he wasn’t getting any better we made the decision to take him home, put him down and bury him on the farm.”
Moran said she felt like he just wanted to say goodbye one last time.
Hardly slow and steady, Buck Jakes and Moran broke a long-standing course record in their first Maryland Hunt Cup win (8 minutes, 30 seconds over four miles) taking down one of his biggest rivals, Florida Law, in a stretch duel. Also a gray, Florida Law and Buck Jakes would battle many times over courses.
In his lifetime, Buck Jakes won 18 races, had eight seconds and seven thirds out of 77 starts over flat, point-to-point, hurdle and timber races. He made $321,318 in his storied career. Not a bad return for a horse bought for around $15,000.
With all his successes in America, Fenwick decided to take him to England to train for the English Grand National at Ainetree, but he never took to the courses overseas.
He returned, winning one more Grand National in 1998 and was second and third at several other timber stakes races before he was retired in 2000, becoming a favorite foxhunter.
But Fenwick admits, he was no Ben Nevis II.
“I made a mistake taking Jake to England,” Fenwick said. “He hated it there, everything, the atmosphere, his jockey. When he returned he was his old self again and won his third [Maryland] Grand National with Anne. His races were here and he loved those courses.“
A favorite around the farm, Buck Jakes was ridden by Fenwick, his wife Sherry, his children Charlie Fenwick III, Emily, Beth and many others as a steeplechasing schoolmaster of sorts up until the last six months of his life. For 17 years, Buck Jake hunted with Maryland’s Green Spring Hounds.
Always up for a gallop, at a spry 21, Buck Jakes and Fenwick were united again to race in the 2009 Foxhall Farm Team Trophy Chase.
Buck Jakes was buried on a hilltop, near an old shade tree next to another champion, his best friend and pasturemate, the two-time Breeders’ Cup hurdle champion, Highland Bud.
“It’s pretty unusual to have three amazing horses like these in a lifetime,” Fenwick said. “I’m really going to miss Jake. He was a huge part of my life and my family’s.”