Steeplechase horses have heart to compete - WSMV News 4

Steeplechase horses have heart to compete

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Horse owner and trainer Johnny Gray Horse owner and trainer Johnny Gray
Jockey Gus Dahl Jockey Gus Dahl

While the spectators turn out by the thousands for a glorious afternoon of fun Saturday at the Iroquois Steeplechase, it's anything but that for the owners, trainers and jockeys, whose hearts will be racing.

It's a sport many love to watch, but it is a way of life for the people involved.

This year, there are a record 68 entries competing in the eight races, but each one is different physically and emotionally.

Johnny Gray and his wife, Karen, raise champion horses at their Giles County farm, Rose & Thistle.

They have three horses competing this year at the Steeplechase, and all three have unique personalities.

"This horse has the sweetest disposition until you get on his back. He is as quiet as a mouse but is one of these horses that only has one speed, and that's fast," Johnny Gray said.

Their jockey for all three races is 18-year-old Gus Dahl - a natural rider.

"Some are sort of mean almost. They're herd animals, so once they get into a group, they want to be the best of all," Dahl said. "The quieter you are, it's just about the only thing you can do to get them relaxed is to stay still and quiet."

A testament to the devotion those in the horse industry have to their animals is a bronze statue near the Percy Warner Park stables honoring Arcadius, an 8-year-old gelding, who collapsed and died soon after his victory in last year's Iroquois Steeplechase.

Arcadius certainly had heart and was a winner to the very end.

"There's lots of horses who go into training and then come out of training because they are not good enough. And it's all about what's in their heart. If they don't have it in their heart, it just doesn't work," Johnny Gray said. "They've got to want to do it."

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