Gretchen and Roy Jackson were watching a replay of the recent $200,000, Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga Race Course with a level of enthusiasm that might be associated with newcomers to the game.
They winced as Chalon, a 5-year-old mare that won their hearts long ago, endured an uncharacteristically slow start before launching a determined rally. Try as she might, she could not quite overtake Minit to Stardom in the Grade 2 contest, missing by a length and a half to the 20.70-1 longshot.
The defeat was reminiscent of the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint last November at Churchill Downs. Gretchen was so sure Chalon had picked off one horse after another until she got there at the end that she began hugging and kissing Arnaud Delacour, their trainer, who is not given to such displays of emotion. Gretchen’s jubilation abruptly ended when she realized they had fallen short by a nose to Shamrock Rose.
Some owners might find Chalon frustrating to the point of being exasperating. The Jacksons, both 82, have been in the game too long for that. They delight in their Dialed In mare, for she is always dialed in. She has won or placed in all but two of her 16 career starts, with six victories, seven second-place finishes and one third. She is closing in on $1 million in earnings and a much-anticipated return to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
“It’s been really neat because every time you know she is going to try. She’s as consistent as the devil,” Roy said. “It’s fun to have a horse like that. You don’t often have a horse that’s that consistent.”
Chalon has made eight starts since the Jacksons transferred her to the barn of Delacour before the start of last season. She has never been worse than second since coming under his care.
“She’s all heart, you know,” Delacour said. “It’s very enjoyable and refreshing for a trainer. She’s a really neat filly to train.”
The Jacksons have made as strong a connection with Delacour as they have with Chalon. They got to know him while he assisted highly respected Christophe Clement for seven years.
“We thought he’d done a good job with Christophe and wanted to give him a try,” Roy said. “I can’t say enough. He does a good job. We hope he doesn’t get too big like some of these trainers. We’re just being honest with you.”
Honesty. Integrity. Class. The Jacksons embody all of those qualities.
Those who know them well still marvel at their commitment to Barbaro, their dominant 2006 Kentucky Derby winner who sustained a severe injury to his right hind leg at the outset of the Preakness. They spent heavily to give him every possible chance to survive. When complications that included laminitis made it impossible for him to go on, they made a massive donation to assist research intended to advance the treatment of that painful hoof disease.
When there is a good cause, the Jacksons are almost invariably there to help. The Belmont Child Care Association at Belmont Park is prominent among those worthy causes.
“They did so much for the day care center, not only in terms of money, but they would physically come to the events,” said fellow owner Michael Dubb. “They were so generous with the day care center, and they did it with such class and quiet humility.”
Dubb has been a driving force behind the Belmont Child Care Association, which nurtures and educates the children of backstretch workers. He noted that the Jacksons would travel from their Pennsylvania farm to Elmont, N.Y., to watch the children graduate in cap and gown.
“They never looked for credit. They never wanted the limelight and I believe they got great pleasure out of the kids, as most of us do,” Dubb said.
The Jacksons estimated that they are closing in on half a century in racing. They love nothing more than spending quiet time with their horses and then watching them run. Especially Chalon.
“She lets you pet her and kiss her and rub on her,” Gretchen said. “She’s not the biting type.”
Making the right connection with a trainer is among the keys to success with any owner. The Jacksons have been so pleased with Delacour that they eventually assigned all of their horses to him. They currently have approximately 20 runners in training with him, competing under the Lael Stables banner.
Delacour could not be more appreciative of what they have done for him and for the industry as a whole. “They’ve been great for racing through the years. They are great ambassadors for the sport,” he said. “I’m fortunate to train for them because of the quality of the horses and the way they let us manage them. It’s just very enjoyable.”
Delacour’s wife, Leigh, is an integral member of his team. She is a former exercise rider for Hall of Fame trainer Graham Motion and gallops many of the Jacksons top horses in the morning.
“She tells him what they’re capable of doing,” Gretchen said.
Delacour is considering giving Chalon two more starts in advance of the World Championships. The $500,000, Grade 1 Ketel One Ballerina Stakes, on Aug. 24 at Saratoga, is one possibility. The $250,000, Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes, part of Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland, would almost surely be the race leading into the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 1 and 2 at Santa Anita Park.
Whatever path Chalon follows, she can count on Dubb to be part of the cheering section.
“I root for them every time,” he said. “In my opinion, there are no finer people in the game than the Jacksons.”
He is not alone.