By Maryjean Wall
So, hey, we’re the Clydes. We’re at Keeneland and we’d like to say nobody gets it like we do when Willie sings “On the Road Again.” We put on miles and miles making public appearances. This week, rolling into Kentucky, we would agree it’s true that if you’ve seen one race track, you’ve seen them all.
Well, not quite. All these tracks tickle our feet a bit differently. And we do have feet. Big, hairy feet four times the size of racehorse feet. We could stomp you if we choose. We don’t, though. We’re gentle giants. But with all the tracks we’ve thundered across at a brisk jog, pulling our big red, white, and gold wagon, it’s amazing we’ve never actually won a race. Or run in a race (well, not quite true and we’ll get to that). Then again, to run a race you have to fit in the starting gate.
That’s not happening. We stand tall in the saddle: taller than the stalls in any gate. The job requires we measure at least six feet in height. Since your average thoroughbred racehorse measures a little over five feet, you can understand why we look down on those prissy little beasts. And why we can’t fit in the gate. But hey, we’re so big and tough we could pull the starting gate. We weigh an average of 2,000 pounds apiece (at least double the racehorse weight) and there are 10 of us on each visiting team, with eight in harness and two spares. That’s horsepower!
Officially, they call us the Budweiser Clydesdales. Everybody knows us by our drinking song. We’re born to that tune. I’m sure a few of us were born asking for a Bud.
That music gets us in a lot of places without having to buy a fancy ticket. Plus, we star in beer commercials seen by millions of people. We’re so popular on TV that we’ve shared air time with Janet Jackson shakin’ her stuff at Super Bowl. And Lady Gaga before she became A Star is Born. Plus, Michael Jackson. And the Rolling Stones.
We thought it hilarious when the Stones toted along their icon of a big red human tongue to Super Bowl. We did not think it funny when Super Bowl censored their lyrics because they were too sexy. Imagine turning off Mick Jagger’s microphone. Just when we Clydes were warming up to the performance back in the straw. “I’ll never be your beast of burden. My back is broad but it’s a hurting. All I want is for you to make love to me.”
Yeah. Pass the Bud.
Racetracks are a calmer venue. And we’ve seen a few: Oaklawn. Churchill Downs. Santa Anita. Meadowlands. Penn National. Canterbury. Turf Paradise. Monmouth. Turfway Park. Rillito. Keeneland. Churchill was cool, jogging around the track where the Kentucky Derby is run. Even if we didn’t get to run and we only go 20 miles an hour, about half the speed of a racehorse.
Let me tell you about visiting Rillito. Therein lies a tale. Yep, a real horse tail. It was at Rillito that two Clydes ran an actual race against a grab bag of draft horses: two Percherons, a Belgian, and a Shire. We’re not revealing the result. Don’t have to. Race results aren’t available.
Back to business: job requirements for Budweiser Clydes are a bit discriminatory. To get hired we must have four white legs, a white blaze, a black mane and tail, and a bay coat. No exceptions. And no telling how that would go over in a real work place with lawyers and such. But if we can meet requirements, work with Anheuser-Busch Brewing Co. at St. Louis, Missouri, is a pretty good job to have.
Meals come with the job. Every day they feed us 20 to 25 quarts of whole grains and 50 to 60 pounds of hay. That’s a whole lotta carbs and roughage. Keeps us regular. We drink 30 gallons of water daily. But sadly, no Bud Lite in our water.
We have big appetites because we’re big boys pulling a lot of weight. The restored beer wagons that we haul down the stretch at racetracks aren’t feather-light. Add to that weight the Dalmation dog that sits on the bench with the driver and does nothing but add his fannie to the tonnage.
The dog is a story. We Clydes are somewhat amused that the Dalmation never does a lick of work except to look pretty. These Johnny-come-lately hounds have it easy. Originally the coach dog was required to work. When the driver went into a tavern to deliver the beer, the dog’s job was to keep guard over those cases of beer left sitting on the wagon. You can imagine how it would have gone if there hadn’t been a guard dog.
Speaking of beer cases, you’ve probably wondered whether they have anything drinkable packed inside the boxes on our wagons. Or if they’re just for show. That’s one secret we can’t divulge. The dog might feel called to get to work.
You might also wonder if we can be ridden. Any horse can be ridden if it’s taught. The question is whether you could hang on. But enough.
Strike up the Budweiser tune. We’ve been doing this since 1933 when the Busch son gave our forebears to his father, August A. Busch, Sr., to commemorate the repeal of Prohibition. And we’re not done yet. A while back, Budweiser had the nerve to try to can us for the Super Bowl, and you know how that went. Our fans were outraged. This was unthinkable. Our fans reacted with such vehemence on Facebook that Anheuser-Busch was forced to bring us back.
So, see you at Keeneland, Thursday, October 17 through Sunday, October 20. We’ll parade on the track Saturday. One of us will also spend an hour from noon to 1 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the East Gate for schmoozing and hoof-o-graphs. We’re the Clydes. Always happy to see ya.
Maryjean Wall is the former turf writer for The Lexington Herald-Leader. She retired from that publication following a career that spanned four decades and included three Eclipse Awards and an AP Sports Editors Award. She holds a Ph.D. in U. S. History, has taught history at University of Kentucky, and continues to write about horse racing as a free-lancer. She has been published in Sports Illustrated, Wall Street Journal, Forbes Life, Cincinnati, and Keeneland, among other publications. She has authored two books focused on horses and racing: How Kentucky Became Southern: a Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders; also, Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel. When she is not writing, she is photographing, always pursuing the creative muse.