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A LEGEND AT AGE 33 : Round Table Won 43 Races, $1.7 Million, Hearts of Many

May 11, 1987|GRAHAME L. JONES | Times Staff Writer

PARIS, Ky. — At the top of a hill deep in blue grass country stands a yellow and white barn.

From it, as you look out across the paddocks and pastures, the meandering streams and flowering dogwoods of Claiborne Farm, you can see another barn, a black one, also bestriding a hill about half a mile distant.

The black barn is where, on the night of April 6, 1954, lightning, figuratively speaking, struck twice in the same spot.

On that night, two of thoroughbred racing's all-time greats were born, scant yards and scant hours apart.

One was Bold Ruler, whose remains lie buried in the place of honor reserved for the greatest of Claiborne Farm's long and distinguished list of thoroughbreds, the farm's equine cemetery.

The other was Round Table, who, at the venerable age of 33, is very much alive, a symbol of everything for which Claiborne Farm stands.

The yellow and white barn is where Round Table lives, surrounded by yearlings who will be lucky to achieve even half as much as he did on the track and, later, as a sire.

It seems astonishing that a horse who ran his first race more than three decades ago, who went on to become one of the greatest runners of his era, should still be alive. But Round Table is, and very much so.

He looks a lot different today, of course, than when he battled Iron Liege, Gallant Man and Bold Ruler in the 1957 Kentucky Derby, or when he scored a string of 11 consecutive victories en route to Horse of the Year honors in 1958.

The once-strong back has sagged a little, and his muzzle and forehead are flecked with gray. But as John Sosby, Claiborne Farm's manager and Round Table's greatest admirer, says, Round Table has not lost the fighting spirit that characterized his racing career.

This, then, is a look at an American racing legend--present, past and future.

THE PRESENT

The polished brass plate on the door of Round Table's stall gleams in the mid-morning sunlight. The figure inscribed upon it immediately catches the eye: $1,749,869.

Even by today's standards, it is an impressive total, one good enough even in this era of inflated purses to leave Round Table high on the list of all-time money-winning horses in North America.

But on a farm encompassing 3,114 manicured acres, a farm whose fences alone stretch for 86 miles, a farm with 26 miles of roadway and 161 employees, a farm whose stallion barn just down the hill includes the likes of Secretariat, Nijinsky II and Spectacular Bid, a million dollars is just so much horse feed.

No, it is not his earnings that make Round Table special to the Hancock family, or the fact that he won 43 of the 66 races in which he ran, or the fact that he sired an impressive string of stakes winners. It is the horse himself.

"He means a lot to these people (the Hancocks, owners of Claiborne Farm)," Sosby said. "Hell, he's just like family. He is family. And we treat him that way. I'm sure there are other places where when a horse gets into his (later) years like this--which is kind of rare--I'm not sure they get the type of care they do here."

A horse can be spoiled simply by living at Claiborne, but Round Table gets additional treats--soft peppermints or mashed carrots, for example, when one of the Hancocks, either Seth or sisters Dale and Clay, visits his barn.

"Right now, he's on the same schedule as the yearlings are," Sosby said. "He comes in at 7 or 7:30 in the morning. It all depends what time Ronnie (Cameron, Round Table's handler) wants to put him up.

"Of course, you'd think Ronnie was taking care of a Triple Crown winner. He is taking care of our champion. He'll brush him, clean him off. He'll give him a softer food than the others . . . those soft oats.

"At 2:30 in the afternoon, (Round Table) will go out and stay out there during the night, (but) if a storm comes up, the night man is to put him in (his stall).

"That'll happen here in the summer with about six or seven stallions--when you turn them out, and one of these Kentucky summer storms blows in on you. The first appearance of a storm, he comes in."

Sosby, 49, was born here in Paris and has spent virtually his entire life at Claiborne. His father went to work there in 1941, and the younger Sosby followed after graduating from high school in 1956. He rose from yearling groom to farm manager.

His career, therefore, has paralleled Round Table's. He watched the horse leave Claiborne as a 2-year-old to embark on a racing career and he watched him return to stand at stud four years later.

Now in retirement, Round Table still amazes Sosby on occasion, like the time last year when, at age 32, he still was frisky--and determined--enough to break free from his handler and gallop off.

Retirement hasn't slowed Round Table any, it seems.

"He'll lay down and roll," Sosby said. "Maybe he don't get up as quick as he used to, but who does?"

THE PAST

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