Soviet Problem Trainer Has Good Bloodlines

Posted: November 02, 1994

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Horse racing, perhaps more than any other sport, is passed on from generation to generation. Once your family is in the sport, you are in it.

In the summer of 1947, Boots (only in racing are people named Boots) Gilchrist had a string of horses at Longacres in Seattle. He had his wife, Rowena, a 13-year-old daughter and their horses. Figured that was about it.

Let Greg Gilchrist finish the story. Seems Rowena went up to Longacres from California to spend some time with her husband. On April 24, 1948, Greg Gilchrist was born.

"My father told me I was conceived in a tackroom at Longacres," Gilchrist said. "The nearest he could figure out, he thought that's when it happened."

Boots Gilchrist trained horses in an era when race meets lasted a couple of days or weeks and then everybody moved on the next spot, a carnival with wagering, a circus with walking rings.

Saturday, Boots's son will send out the likely favorite in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint, a 4-year-old filly named Soviet Problem. She has been to the post 17 times. She has been favored 17 times. Won 14. Finished second twice. Beaten males many times. Won two match races this year.

Won at Golden Gate Fields, Bay Meadows, Del Mar, Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Laurel. Won seven of eight starts at 6 furlongs, the Sprint distance. Won all four of her starts on grass. Won $642,113.

Boots Gilchrist is 90; Rowena Gilchirst, 80. Saturday, their son, the son conceived in a tackroom at one of America's most beautiful race tracks, a track that has been shut down to make way for the expansion of a Boeing plant, will send out a horse to run in front of the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs for a purse of $1 million.

"My father can't comprehend such a thing," Gilchrist said. "When he was running horses, they probably weren't running for a million dollars total across the United States."

Back then, race trackers survived. But it was a life unlike any other.

"I remember some real lean times around the race track," Gilchrist said. ''We had horses that other people didn't want. Unload the horses and live in the trailer sometimes, the old Mickey Rooney thing."

Dad and mom cranked out a living. The son never wanted to be anywhere but the track.

"Racing has been very good to me," Gilchrist said. "I don't know where I'd be if it hadn't been for racing."

The game has changed. It's a business now, a business that, exclusive of Triple Crowns and Breeders' Cups, is struggling to survive.

"It was great," Gilchrist said of his days growing up around tracks up and down the West Coast. "We'd go around the county fairs. You could make a movie of that kind of stuff. It's something you don't see anymore. I miss it.

"It's become a business now. In those days, there were mom and pop stables. People would own two, three, four horses and you took care of them yourself.

"If one guy couldn't make it to the next town, I remember more than once my dad turning around, we'd unload ours, go back and get another guy and bring him to the next town, 90 miles away or something.

"Those things are something that I wish that people coming up in the game nowadays could see and really enjoy. But time goes on and things change."

Gilchrist remembers his dad "betting every quarter he had" on a mare called Four Pea Violet at Bay Meadows. She won by the length of the stretch and Boots made a down payment on a ranch in Northern California.

Boots won his share. His son, who served with the 82nd Airborne Division in

Vietnam, has built on his father's legacy.

"We used to travel from place to place and my mom would cook on one side of the van and we'd sleep on the other," Gilchrist said. "I didn't think this day would ever come. Neither did my parents."

This day will be Saturday. But there have been other days. Gilchrist is a high-percentage trainer on the competitive Northern California circuit with generally 25 or 30 horses in the barn. But he's never had one like Soviet Problem.

All she does is win. Twice, she's been in winner-take-all match races. She beat Lazor by 4 1/2 lengths in May. She beat Mamselle Bebette by 6 1/2 lengths in August. Just went to the front and dared the other horse to pass.

"I love the match races," Gilchrist said. "I grew up with them. I was matching horses when I was a kid. But never for $100,000."

Out west, match races are part of the horse culture. It's all about speed and "my horse is faster than your horse."

Saturday, Soviet Problem will try to beat 13 of the fastest horses in the world in a race that will last about eight or nine seconds past a minute. It's definitely no match race.

"I've stopped looking at the Racing Form because it just mixes me up," Gilchrist said. "It's 14 very nice horses. You can make a case for every horse in the race."

But Soviet Problem, the filly Boots Gilchrist's son trains, likely will be favored. She always is.

"I'd like to be the favorite every time I go over there," Gilchrist said.

Generally, the favorite wins about one-third of the time. Unless the favorite is Soviet Problem. She wins almost every time. Now, she is after a winner's share that can get her owners almost as much money in one race as she's made in her 14 victories combined.

And that's quite a long way from sleeping in a horse trailer and conception in a tackroom.

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