Serving the Washington Thoroughbred Industry for over 65 years
MR. PASS GOES TO THE FAIR
Story and photos by Monica Bretherton
INTRODUCTION. Although Chinook Pass was born just a few miles outside of Enumclaw at Rainier Stables and has made innumerable public appearances during his long retirement, he never got to go to the fair until he was over 30 years old. On July 16-18, 2009, Washington's Horse of the Century was the horse barn's guest of honor at the county fair in his old hometown, which is actually just a few miles down the road from his current digs in Maple Valley. Mr. Pass, as longtime companion Jill Hallin calls him when she wants to sound formal, stood patiently as people lined up to meet him, to reminisce, and to hold their grandkids up to touch his forehead. Monica Bretherton's charming story written for Horsebytes, her Seattle Times on-line blog, captures the essence of those three days perfectly. I know -- I was there! ~ John Loftus, Chinook Pass biographer
Some stars require their personal stylist, their trainer and their manager to be accommodated before they will make an appearance.
I met such a celebrity on Saturday in the horse barn at the King County Fair in Enumclaw. His name is Chinook Pass. In his case, all of these roles are handled by one person, Jill Hallin, who is, to borrow a term from his publicity materials, his "long-time companion." And then there's Ellie, his entourage.
Jill does the heavy lifting. Ellie's job is just to hang out, allowing the Thoroughbred to hog the limelight while she naps in the corner. Every now and then, though, the entourage decides to make a bid for some attention and emerge from the shadows.
"What happened to her ears?" a concerned visitor asked, clearly fearing that Chinook was responsible somehow. Jill laughed. "She's a La Mancha. They are not supposed to have ears."
The bay gelding didn't look much like a ear-ripper to me anyway. He accepted the caresses of a stream of young people at the King County Fair, although he kept an ear flicked towards Jill most of the time. She was busy answering the multitude of questions, including mine.
Standing back by the table were Ron and Sharon Ellenberg. They came to the fair just to see this horse, but they don't want to intrude on the kids who are eager to visit him also until I urge them to step in for a photo.
They were there in the stands the day he came tearing down the stretch to win the Longacres Mile in 1983 by six lengths, the crowd roaring.
"They were all on their feet," Ron said.
"He was a wonderful horse," Sharon added.
That was 26 years ago and the last of his 25 races. Chinook Pass celebrated his 30th birthday in April with an open house at Hallin's Maple Valley Ranch. He's a member of the Washington Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and the subject of a series of articles written by John Loftus about the horse and his connections that reaches far back into the glory days of racing. With 16 wins, 11 of them stakes races, and nearly half a million dollars to his credit, Chinook is a well-known phenomenon. He was described by jockey Laffit Pincay as "the fastest horse I ever rode, and the fastest horse I ever saw. I have often thought that he might've been the fastest Thoroughbred that ever lived."
Chinook had the pure speed of a sprinter, who still managed to stretch out and win at a mile that memorable August day in 1983.
The first article in the series by John Loftus also relates how Chinook came to live with Jill, who worked at Donida Farm, where an attempt was made to rehab him and bring him back to the races again. When he didn't handle the return to training, he was retired and eventually became Jill's riding horse, doing dressage and showing. It's not a bad finish for an ex-racehorse who, regardless of his glorious wins, was a gelding and therefore not destined to pass on his genes. Continuing to work has obviously helped kept him going, though he is no longer being ridden. I ran my hand over his haunches and was suprised to feel so much muscle there.
Thirty is not unheard of for a horse, not even close to a record. But it is still fairly remarkable, particularly for a horse that gave so much so young, and I asked Jill what she thought the key to his longevity was.
"Routine," she said. "Structure. Daily turnout." She also watches his diet, but he has never colicked.
Emotional nourishment could be added to that list of key factors. When Jill removed Ellie from the stall during a momentary lull in the stream of visitors, Chinook was suddenly a very different horse. He emitted an uneasy rumbling nicker, and his eyes flashed white as he paced the front of the stall. The moment she returned, the anxiety subsided and he relaxed.
At home, Chinook has an equine entourage - Turbo, another retired stakes horse (registered name Turban) who ran from Jim Penney's barn, Heller (Hellerhighwater) whose career was considerably less grand, an Appy mare and a little POA named Charlie, most of whom are still working in Jill's lesson program (she is a British Certified Riding Instructor). They are all considerably younger, and crowd the fence when someone shows up with a carrot.
Chinook doesn't rush over like the others, but when he shows up, "he parts the waters," as Jill says. The others recognize his celebrity status and step aside.
He doesn't make many appearances these days, but since the fair in Enumclaw was close, Jill trailered him over. He might appear calm now, but he was all excited when they arrived, Jill told me, and pranced all the way to his stall.
For a horse that has traveled to Santa Anita, to Del Mar and to Hollywood Park, getting off the trailer still means something. Just like for his fans Ron and Sharon when they recall his race, the years fall away. His age may show in his swayed back, and his racing years in his bowed tendons, but his self assurance belongs to a horse that is anchored securely in this moment.
I think to the list of Chinook's longevity secrets we should add another - Jill Hallin, who says little of her own accomplishments with him, cheerfully shares his past with his old fans, and helps him acquire new ones.
Hopefully Chinook Pass will continue to make occasional public outings -- he can do more with one touch of his nose to help future generations appreciate former race horses than all the scribbling in the world.
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