By Katherine O.Rizzo
He must be proud. He must be smiling. He must have, at every meet last spring, whispered a few words of encouragement into the ear of McLane Hendricks. Or perhaps he was giving his old mount, The Knife Speaks, a little extra tap to drive him over the finish line.
Surely he was there in the Winner’s-Circle with McLane and The Knife Speaks.
And surely he was there the night McLane was awarded the scholarship presented annually in his name, his memory: The Jonathan Kiser Memorial Scholarship.
A Racing Start
Now 15, McLane was only a child when Jonathan Kiser died in 2000, but he was not too young to watch, listen, and learn as Jonathan rode horses for his father.
And like Jonathan, McLane got off to a strong start, winning his first race at the age of nine on a pony names Farrashacca. McLane has 19 wins out of 25 starts over the past five years. Most of those wins were on Farrashaca; the rest, however, are with an “always honest” horse named The Knife Speaks.
The 11-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding was originally trained by McLane’s father Ricky and finished second at the 2000 Middelburg Hunt Point-to-Point Maiden Flat with Jonathan aboard. “Jonathan ran him over hurdles for my family,” said McLane who grew up watching Kiser ride quite a few horses for his grandparents and father. “We have win pictures with him in them all over the house,” McLane said. A few years after The Knife Speaks left Ricky’s barn, a friend called him and said the horse was up for sale at New Holland. Ricky bought the horse back in 2005 and McLane had his first start on him at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races that year where he finished third.
The following year, the pair was unstoppable, winning all five races entered (Junior Field Masters Chase-Horse races). 2007 was an equally good year with four wins and a third place finish at the North American Point-to-Point Championships.
Learning from the Best
Growing up on the backside of the racing scene, McLane has had exposure to both steeplechase and flat racing. His mother, Liz Merryman, is a member of the famed Merryman flat racing family and his stepmother, Sanna Hendricks, is a leading NSA champion trainer. His father Ricky grew up racing ponies and then horses on the flat and over hurdles. Now a steeplechase trainer, Ricky encourages his son’s passion by having him gallop horses and setting up an opportunity to work with Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard in Unionville, Pennsylvania. “I gained a lot of experience working with him,” said McLane.
Through the Kiser Scholarship, McLane got to work with legendary Maryland trainer Tom Voss at his farm in Monkton. “That was a great experience!” said McLane. There McLane learned the ins and outs of Voss’s farm and “what it’s like to be a trainer and jockey.” Voss was impressed with the “quiet and studious” McLane who started chipping in with farm work right away. “When you run an operation like mine,” said Voss, “you need to be able to a little of everything. He got right down to it and pitched in.”
Voss felt McLane was “one of the most advanced scholars that have come here” and allowed him gallop some horses while he was there. “McLane was good enough to ride any horses at my place,” Voss said.
Young Rider Camp
If riding for such trainers as Voss and Shepard wasn’t enough for one junior to do, McLane also attended the North American Point-to-Point Association (NAPA) Young Rider Steeplechase Camp in 2007. A weeklong traveling camp organized by NAPA executive director Regina Welsh and amateur jockey Anne Hambleton, McLane and fellow campers met some of the sports great trainers and jockeys. “It was very neat working for different trainers each day,” said McLane. “I started out in Maryland with trainers Jack Fisher and Neil Morris and then went to Virginia to work with jockey/trainer Richard Valentine.” From there he went to Pennsylvania to learn from Bruce Miller.
Full Steam Ahead
So what does 2008 have in store for this promising Kiser scholar? “I’m really going to focus more on school,” said The Tatnell School (Wilmington, Delaware) student, who also plays ice hockey and lacrosse. McLane still plans to race this season, though The Knife Speaks has found new life as a hunter. McLane will move on from this special horse once ridden now by two special young jockeys and will be riding in a few junior local races on his father’s horses.
Closing the Circle
Was receiving the Jonathan Kiser Memorial Scholarship a strange twist of fate? “They even ride similarly,” noted Regina, “they both have a quiet classic form over fences.”
For McLane: “I think it’s cool that we both rode the same horse…he started riding him [The Knife Speaks] and then I won this award named after Jonathan on that same horse. It’s kind of neat.”