This is a factual story of a thoroughbred with a long list of injuries, a trainer who purposefully kept his light under a bushel basket, and a female jockey with the spunk and drive to overcome her injuries.
Royal Mountain Inn was the thoroughbred with problems enough to limit him to only three races as a three-year-old, and then had to endure more injury-caused layoffs at age four.
Barclay Tagg was the work-hard, work long hours, stay-in-the-background trainer. Tagg had once been a steeplechase jockey who was raised in Abington, Pa. His first win as a young rider was at old Liberty Bell Park, but he was long gone from the days when he was a rider.
Julie Krone was the “if-you-aren’t-helping, then-move-aside” rider whose upbeat personality got her on some thoroughbreds and got her to the winner’s circle on others.
Tagg toiled mostly in the shadows of the shed rows at Pimlico and Laurel in Maryland. By the time he had Royal Mountain Inn in 1993, he was not a young man. Having mostly lower level claiming horses through his first 20 years, Tagg had shown patience and a steady hand even with the oft-troubled $5,000 throughbreds he tried to keep comfortable and tried to keep running.
Tagg’s success with what could only be described as “lower echelon” thoroughbreds was recognized in the small ponds where he worked. Owners whose racing experience was limited or had their first horses would seek out Tagg. He was one of the trainers who protected his charges with the same integrity that had earned his good name and reputation.
A few of the horsemen remaining active from the late 1930s said Tagg reminded them in an encouraging way of Seabiscuit’s trainer, Silent Tom Smith. Those oldtimers admired the way the quiet steeplechaser took real care of his horses, didn’t rush them into prickly situations, or try to get a few more dollars out of ones that had questionable legs or conditioning.
Tagg would put his horses first and told owners his concerns and what he thought would be best for their thoroughbreds. The men with 50 or 60 years in the sport said Tagg was “his own man”.
It seemed like the race meetings and then the seasons and years flew by before Tagg was able to find many stakes-quality horses.
Even when Royal Mountain Inn was his to fine tune, he had to wait for the gray’s injuries and misfortunes to leave.
The reserved Tagg and the courtly and responsive Royal Mountain Inn came to 1994 with only one stakes win. The unhealthy thoroughbred had not been able to loose his ground-eating stride in enough races to shown any consistent promise. And he was already five years old.
At age four, there came a momentary glimpse of what was possible in the Grade II Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct in the Queens, New York. The 1 1/4 miles (10 furlongs) distance was negotiated in a quick 1:59.80 as Royal Mountain Inn outpaced the field for his first graded stakes success.
The rider that day was Julie Krone, who was trying to make a habit of winning the Red Smith as she had been astride Montserrat in finishing first in the 1992 version of the stakes.
In 1994, Royal Mountain Inn was brought to the Man o’ War Stakes, a Grade I feature run at 1 3/8 miles (11 furlongs) at Belmont Park in New York.
Julie Krone, who had just become the first female to win any Triple Crown race when she guided Colonial Affair to victory in the 1993 Belmont Stakes, was aboard once more.
Krone was able to display her signature smile and hand- raised sign of victory as she returned to the winner’s circle because trainer Tagg and his group of stable workers were waiting there to begin a low-key celebration of Royal Mountain Inn’s first Grade I win.
Krone didn’t seem to covet the limelight, but she didn’t shy from it, either.
Her appearance on the cover of the May 22, 1989 Sports Illustrated magazine came after she had won riding championships at Atlantic City, The Meadowlands, Monmouth Park, Gulfstream Park, and Belmont Park.
Eventually, she would become the first woman inducted into the U. S. Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga.
She had even more injuries than Royal Mountain Inn, if that is possible.
Krone retired from race riding in 1999. But she left the broadcasting job she had taken to ride again in 2002. Less than a year later Krone was involved in a horrific spill that left her with broken bones in her back, disabling enough to keep her in a body cast for over four months.
Not to be denied, she was back riding soon enough to lead the 2003 Del Mar meet in jockey money earnings. In that same year, she became the first female rider to win any Breeders’ Cup race.
But in December of 2003, another fearful fall left her with broken ribs and muscles ripped from bones or torn in strips.
Krone tried riding again on Valentine’s Day in 2004, but didn’t win any of her three races. She never rode again.
Barclay Tagg kept moving upward in his career. He received more notice/acclaim for training 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide than he had in all his previous 30 years of combined work. Funny Cide was Tagg’s first Kentucky Derby entry.
In 2007, Tagg was in the top 20 in earnings by North American trainers. His number of Grade I-winning champions had risen to eight.
The Royal Mountain Inn, Tagg, Krone combination was pieced together from three underdogs to make a success story that had the oldtimers ambling through the stables smiling to themselves in an understanding way.