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Wednesday's John's Call holds bittersweet memories for Voss Murray

By Tony Podlaski | 08/04/2014 01:35 PM ET
John's Call
PHOTO/Brandon Benson

About six months before the 146th meet began at Saratoga Race Course, an integral part of the Oklahoma Track Annex was lost when long-time steeplechase and flat trainer Thomas Voss died suddenly at the age of 63.

Today anyone passing by Barn 85 can still see the distinctive yellow and black colors with the initials THV; however, it's Voss' daughter, Elizabeth Voss Murray, who is running her late father's stable.

Voss had his share of Saratoga success with steeplechase horses such as Petroski (1996 New York Turf Writers Cup winner), Brigade of Guards (1997 A.P. Smithwick winner) and Anofferyoucantrefuse (2003 A.P. Smithwick winner).

Then there was John's Call, who made thoroughbred racing history in 2000 by joining John Henry as the oldest horse - at 9 - to win a Grade 1 flat race, in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga. On Wednesday, the 1 5/8-mile race named for John's Call will be run for the 11th time but unlike some previous years, Tom Voss won't be presenting the trophy.

Voss Murray was a 20-year-old pre-med student at the College of Charleston when John's Call won the Sword Dancer, and she had come to Saratoga to share the experience with her father.

"I remember that bullet work three days before the Sword Dancer," she said. "Then, we were watching him way back in the grandstand as he was coming around the turn in the race. There was no way that anyone was going to catch him. It was an incredible feeling and an amazing day the way he won."

John's Call, who was purchased for $4,000 by Douglas Joyce of Trillium Stable at the 1992 Fasig Tipton Kentucky Yearling sale, became a stable pony at Saratoga for a while after retiring with 16 wins, 11 seconds, and three third-place finishes for earnings of $1,571,267 in 40 starts. John's Call died four years ago at the age of 19 at Voss' farm in Monkton, Md.

"John's Call was probably [my father's] favorite," Voss Murray said, "He had a lot of fun with him. He loved all of his horses. There are still has a bunch in the meadow who are 28-30 years old. It's an 800-acre meadow. He wanted to make sure they all had good homes. They were very important to him."

Through John's Call and others, Voss Murray said she learned the importance of training and caring for horses.

"He used his common sense and just took his time with his horses," Voss Murray said about her father's training philosophy. "He jumped all of his horses. He thought it would make them better and make them more athletic. Though, John's Call was a terrible jumper; he even fell. I'm still learning a lot. You just try to do right by the horse and let them tell you when they're ready and don't push anything too much."

After her father's passing, Voss Murray had doubts about coming to Saratoga. However, had she passed on the opportunity, she would not have scored her first Grade 1 victory when Makari - a 7-year-old gelding who just came to the United States two weeks ago - won the A.P. Smithwick. It was an emotional scene in the winner's circle with the Voss and Smithwick clan both on hand.

"We weren't even thinking of coming up here, but it would have been much harder to stay at home and watch all of this going on," Voss Murray said. "I'd rather be up here because we all love it so much. We decided to come up here and give it a go. It has worked out so far. Our horses have run pretty well."

While Voss Murray and her horses have gotten off to a good start, she admitted the Saratoga experience without her father is difficult at times.

"Obviously, I go through different stages where I am glad to be up here and run horses; other times, I feel like I cannot breathe because I miss him so much. I go through different points," she said. "I feel like it's easier for me to be here and do stuff that he would have been doing, especially at the farm. It's good to be busy."

Voss Murray said she would have liked to have a horse run in the John's Call. However, with only eight stabled at Saratoga and another 10 back on the farm, she didn't have a horse ready for this race.

"I wish I had a horse running it," Voss Murray said. "I was trying to find something to run in this year's race, but I didn't have anything for it. That will be one of my goals for next year."