ARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Bob Dunham, who trained 4-year-old filly Chou Croute to championship Sprinter honors in 1972 before there were separate categories for males and females, won his first Saratoga stakes on Friday with 3-year-old filly Byhubbyhellomoney. But it will hardly be his swan song.
“My family has been trying to get me to retire, but what would I do,” asked Dunham, 85. “I like to play cards, and I like to go fly-fishing in Vermont and Montana. But you can’t go fishing every day.”
What he likes to do best every day is train his stable of seven. And he still does it well.
When former claiming horse Byhubbyhellomoney won the $200,000 Fleet Indian on Friday’s New York Showcase Day at Saratoga by beating the favorite Make Mischief, it was an enormously popular win. But it wasn’t for the filly’s $28.40 payoff for a $2 bet. It was a sign of genuine respect and sincere affection for Dunham.
“It was an extremely exciting win. We all felt really great for Bob, which is the main thing,” said trainer Phil Gleaves, who is married to Dunham’s daughter, Amy. “I cannot tell you how many people, especially trainers, have come by the barn to ask me to please congratulate Bob for them. This morning, Shug McGaughey stopped by the barn to say the same. Bob is such a well-liked guy. Mark Casse was very classy. He just got beat with the favorite, who had a rough start, and Mark was literally the first one there to shake his hand.”
Casse, a Hall of Fame trainer, said Dunham is a long-time family friend.
“I was extremely happy for Bob Dunham. He was a great friend of my dad and since I was a little boy, he was always very kind to me,” Casse said. “I saw him before the race and he said, ‘I don’t think we can beat you’ and I said to him, ‘If anyone beats me, I hope it’s you.’ It was bittersweet and I feel bad for Gary Barber (owner of Make Mischief), but I’m also happy Bob won. I remember him training Chou Croute and she was a champion sprinter. He was a dear friend of my father.”
Chou Croute beat Icecapade in the 1972 Fall Highweight at Belmont, and the old media clippings say that had not Secretariat, then 2-years-old, been the Horse of the Year it might have been her. Each year the Fair Grounds runs the Chou Croute Stakes for fillies and mares.
“She was a great horse,” reminisced Dunham, who is a Kentucky native and said he started mucking stalls at Claiborne Farm was he was 12 years old.
“I worked there for Bull Hancock. Moody Jolley [father of Hall of Fame trainer LeRoy Jolley] was the trainer. When I was a teenager, Bull asked me if I wanted to be Moody’s foreman. My parents wanted me to stay in school, but I went with Moody. I was the assistant when he trained Round Table,” said Dunham, who remains sharp as a tack and has total recall.
Round Table was a five-time Eclipse Award winner, the 1958 Horse of the Year, and a 1972 Hall of Fame inductee. Other top-flight horses Dunham worked with as an assistant include Delta, Doubledogdare, and Nadir.
Dunham trained multiple graded stakes-winner Moment of Hope and that horse was his most recent stakes winner when he won the Grade 2 Stuyvesant Handicap in New York in 1987.
“He is from way back. He was the assistant with all those good horses, and he’s an Eclipse Award winner himself, in 1972, and now he wins a stake at Saratoga 50 years later. And with a claim. Imagine that. How wonderful is that? He’s won a few races over the years here, but certainly nothing of this consequence,” said Gleaves.
Gleaves and Dunham have a little history of their own, and it predates the marriage to Amy.
“We joke that he was my pacesetter in the 1986 Travers, which I was fortunate enough to win [with Wise Times]. He had a horse in there [Moment of Hope] that was on the lead, and we joke about that all the time,” said the son-in-law.
Dunham and his wife, Judy, stay with Amy and Phil Gleaves for the Saratoga season every year and for the younger trainer, he said it’s almost like having a living encyclopedia of horsemanship under his roof.
“Over the years I’ve had lots and lots of conversations about horses with Bob and I’ve picked his brain on numerous occasions about things I needed some advice on. He’s always been there about that,” Gleaves said. “He helps me a lot because I come up here in May from Ocala and ship the horses down to Belmont to run. Most times I don’t go, and he saddles them for me. He’s saddled a few winners at Belmont for me, which has been great, and it’s a big help to me not have to drive down there and back up here every time I run a horse. We interchange horses. I go to Florida for the winter, and I leave horses with him for the winter in New York because he trains there year round.”
Not only will Dunham keep hanging his shingle outside his barn, but his stable is also about to get bigger.
Steve Shapiro, the owner of Byhubbyhellomoney, currently has three in Dunham’s care and said he’s going to claim another New York-bred for him to train.
“Bob Dunham is a genius. He is a genius trainer. He’s underrated. He doesn’t have a lot of horses, so he can pay attention to me,” said Shapiro.
Dunham is also a gentleman, and one from the old school.
“That’s the best way to describe him. He’s a very likeable person and a high-class person,” said Gleaves. “These are the stories that making racing so great, and you can’t make them up.”
Top Photo: Bob Dunham (NYRA/Coglianese)