HORSE RACING\Rash left his mark in a short time.
Some of Rodney Rash's racetrack friends think the gifted thoroughbred trainer knew all along what the rest of us found out last Friday: He wasn't destined for a long life.
Joanne Cornell remembers hearing him predict as much while they were sharing a bottle in a tack room years ago. "I don't think I'm going to make it to 40," Rash said - a way to rationalize the drinking and the drugs.
"The rest of us looked at each other and thought, 'If you keep going like this, you won't make it to 25,' " Cornell said.
If Rash knew something, maybe that explains why he lived so intensely in the 36 years before his sudden death last week from complications of a blood disease.
"He took everything to the extreme," said Karen Headley, who works in a neighboring barn at Santa Anita.
He once had lived recklessly but became a model of discipline. He could be pensive one moment and wickedly funny the next, demanding yet generous, hard to get along with sometimes but hard to say goodbye to.
He squeezed more stakes victories - including the 1995 Santa Anita Handicap with Urgent Request - into less than five years of training than most of his rivals will in full-length careers.
He had been a long-haired "wild man," his old friends say, when he arrived from Maryland at age 16 and asked for work in Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham's barn. The rise from hot walker to the coveted job of Whittingham's assistant trainer - for nine years before Rash opened his own barn in 1991 - was hardly smooth. There were arrests, car crashes and other trouble.
Whittingham not only didn't fire him; he bailed him out of jail and paid for the damage he had done. Rash became like a son to the old trainer, who had lost a boy to the drug world.
"I couldn't save Taylor," Whittingham's biographer, Jay Hovdey, quoted him saying. "Maybe I can help Rodney."
Rash had been sober 10 years, almost to the day, when he became ill two weeks ago with what turned out to be a blood disorder of unknown cause.
He had straightened himself out and become almost military in his devotion to work, always at the barn by 4 a.m., just like Charlie, the old Marine.
"He died a success," Cornell said.
She'll remember more than that.
Cornell, now a veterinarian's assistant in the Santa Anita receiving barn, recalls the time she went into the hospital with a kidney stone. An envelope arrived from Rash - $500 "to get you through."
When Cornell needed surgery, she received another envelope, with another $1,000 and another note. "I know that if I was in trouble, you'd want to do the same for me," Rash wrote. "You know, we have to take care of each other at the racetrack."
Gregg Kaminsky, Rash's partner for the past six years, remembers driving home from a celebration dinner the day Whittingham-trained Golden Pheasant won the 1990 Arlington Million. Rodney spotted a homeless family and casually pulled over and handed them a $100 bill.
"He didn't even stop talking," Kaminsky says.
"Every time someone needed something," Headley said, "he was there."
As Whittingham had been his father figure, Rash filled the same role for some of those around him.
"I grew up without a father," said Tony Soto, who was Rash's barn foreman. "Every time I needed something, I could talk to Rodney. He helped me a lot. He could be hard to work for. But he was a nice person inside."
Headley said he threw the racetrack's best parties and could break up the routine in the oddest ways. Once, when assistant trainer Ben Cecil bought a new car, Rash arranged to have it "stolen" from Cecil's home. He found it parked safely at Santa Anita. Another time, knowing that jockey agent Scotty McClellan's wife loves cows, Rash arranged for a real, live cow to be delivered to the backyard of the couple's Arcadia house.
Racehorse owner Susan Isaacs said Rash was the first person to make her laugh after her beloved Blaze O'Brien died following surgery in 1995.
"You have to think of it like this," Rash told her. "He was an old gelding, and when he got to heaven he was a whole horse again, and he was surrounded by his own harem. He's a happy horse now."
"I told him Blaze paints the sunrise for me," Isaacs recalled. "A few days later there was a gorgeous sunrise. Rodney said to me, 'Did you see the sunrise that Blaze painted for us this morning?' "
Rash seemed to care deeply about everything he did but especially about the well-being of his horses.
"Rodney liked to get things off his chest," Santa Anita racing secretary Tom Knust said with a smile. "The thing about Rodney was, he'd be upset one minute and joking about it the next.
"I think," Knust said, "that he was going to be around a long time."
Trainer Rodney Rash, who died at age 36 last week, is remembered as a person who cared about other people. Benoit & Associates
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Mar 8, 1996|
|Previous Article:||LOCAL ROUNDUP\Burroughs stuns L.B. Millikan.|
|Next Article:||THIS LONG ROAD TRULY A TRIP\There's always bell to answer on De La Hoya-Chavez caravan.|