It's September 1979; we had just celebrated Labor Day. I remember that because the races at the state fair ended on that day and I had gotten my trainer's license the month before. I was a groom for a trainer who had stalls at the fair so I just walked down to the steward's office one morning after I got my work done and told them I wanted to take the trainers test. They all sat behind gray metal desks in a room painted pea soup green with dirty beige carpet on the floor and looked at me kind of strange, cause they had never seen me before cause I was new, not new to the racetrack but new to going into the racing offices; never gone there cause I was afraid to talk to people, ‘cause I stutter especially when I'm scared, and going into those offices scared me.
But I didn’t stutter that day though and I was proud of myself and I just looked at them right back until one of them told me about taking the test and how I had to see Charlie Phelps and pass the barn test first before they would give me the written one. I didn't see any problem with that cause I knew Charlie and knew I knew everything he was gonna ask me to do with any horse or saddle or bridle. So I walked right up to Charlie when I went back to the barn and told him what they told me to tell him about taking the barn test. He just smiled and said, "Come around here tomorrow after you get done your work and I'll give you the test."
So that's what I did, took Charlie's barn test, which was just putting some bandages on this horse of his and the bridle and racing saddle with the elastic girth and an overgirth. Now I'd never put a racing saddle on before because only trainers did that in the paddock before a race, but I had seen it done lots of times, since I was in the paddock too holding the horse. So I just put that saddle on over top of the pad and tightened up that elastic girth and overgirth like I had done it before and Charlie never knew the difference and passed me.
Took this slip of paper Charlie gave me saying I had passed the test down to the steward's office; they all stared at me again from behind their desks, like a little kid who’s wearing a hand me down Halloween mask that doesn't cover his face and everybody knows who he is.
I handed the slip of paper saying I had passed to the guy who told me about taking the barn test. He was the oldest one of the stewards so I figured he was in charge. Plus he sat behind a sign on his desk that said Chief Steward, Albert Ferguson Esq. I knew he had that Esq. behind his name because he was a lawyer and I guess because of that he was suppose to know the racing laws, which is what the written test is all about.
He, Albert Ferguson Esq. looked up at me from the piece of paper saying that I passed and said in an aggravated authoritarian tone, "Be here tomorrow at 11am." I said "OK" and walked out of their office with my shoulders all back and standing up straight to let them know I was all proud of myself again.
So that's exactly what I did: went to their office at 11am the next morning, took the written test about all the laws in horse racing.
I finished answering all the legal questions and filling out the diagrams about a horse's anatomy in about an hour. All the stewards had gone to the races by then so I handed the test in to this boring looking guy with a brown suit, white shirt, and thin brown tie, sitting behind one of those gray metal desks. “Come back tomorrow around 11 and we'll have your score,” he said in a voice that matched his looks.
The next morning when eleven o'clock came around I walked down to the steward's office. When I turned the brushed aluminum knob and opened the door. Albert Ferguson Esq. and the other stewards and the boring guy all stopped what they were doing and looked right at me. Albert Ferguson Esq. motioned me over to the chair alongside his desk. My hands began to shake and I was gritting my teeth. I sat down slowly awaiting the verdict. He opened the big desk drawer on the bottom right side. I could see all of the multicolored dividers. When he reached behind a red one and I thought for sure I was doomed. He held my test in his hands facing him so I couldn't see the score.
“Mr. Brown. I didn't think you would come close to passing this test and I only let you take it because the rules say I have to.”
I could see him look at me square in the face and say in a stern tone of voice, “You got the highest score anybody has ever achieved on their written test, a 98. But that still didn't mean you passed. Any smart kid like you could memorize a condition book. You had to have done as well on the barn test, not just gone through the motions, but really showed that you knew your stuff. So I checked with Charlie Phelps to see if he thought you'd be all right to train a racehorse.”
He got a frown on his face and I thought for sure he was gonna flunk me.
“Seems he's stabled in the barn with you and told me about how conscientious you are and how the guy you work for keeps on promoting you,” he says as he gives me the once over.
“I guess I have to congratulate you Mr. Brown. You are now a trainer.” He nods his head towards the boring looking guy, “He'll give you your license.”
I shook Albert Ferguson Esq.'s hand just 'cause I thought it was polite to do so. I really didn't want to. There was something about him I didn't like.
I had to fill out some papers and pay my money to get my trainer's license. As soon as the boring guy handed it to me I hung it on the tag that clips on the pocket of my blue oxford cloth shirt, right over top of the one that said “Groom.”