Jane Schwartz


This is a place where you you can find out about my books and other writings, and even a little bit about me. I'll soon be adding links to some writers, artists, and various other people whose work I admire.

If you are looking for more information about a particular book, please click on its title in the SELECTED WORKS column on the right. You can also click on the heading MY WORK (directly above my photo) to find sample chapters from my books.

From time to time I'll post shorter pieces (some published, some not)--maybe some of my favorite "Free Rein" columns from the Daily Racing Form, short essays, and poems.

Of Current Interest...

The cover of the latest edition (2002) of
RUFFIAN: BURNING FROM THE START. The book was first published in 1991.

**Updated 5/12/08**

Those of you familiar with Ruffian's story have probably heard that Frank Whiteley, her trainer, died on May 2 at the age of 93. I wrote a brief remembrance of him in today's NY Times' racing blog, The Rail. You can read it (below) or jump to the newspaper itself to check out the entire blog (click on the Quick Link in the right-hand column).

WARNING(just joking): The Times' style policy disallows a certain mild exclamation that Frank frequently used; I've re-instated it here, though I doubt anyone will even notice.

Frank Whiteley, a True Horseman

It’s less than a week before the Preakness, and on this relatively quiet day, as the sport turns its attention from Louisville to Baltimore, my attention turned to a Maryland homebred, the trainer Frank Whiteley, who died a little over a week ago.

His name was on people’s lips for another reason this past week: the breakdown and death of Eight Belles prompted many turf writers and fans to recall Ruffian, the horse with whom Frank was most closely associated in the mind of the general public. Some of the commentary has been thoughtful and insightful; some has been ludicrous and inaccurate.

But the larger issues raised by breakdowns on the track—whether or not the cameras are running—will continue. I’m not looking at those issues here. I’m just remembering one of the great horsemen of the 20th century.

Frank Whiteley was tough on people he didn’t like and equally tough on people he did. But somehow you could always tell the difference. He liked Barclay Tagg (winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Funny Cide), who worked at Frank’s barn in New York for about a year back in the 1970s. Tagg told me that he got exactly one half-day off during that whole time. He needed the afternoon to drive to his bank, in Baltimore, to straighten something out and get some money. (This was before ATMs.)

Frank had O.K.’d the plan, but kept delaying Tagg by giving him additional chores that tied him up until the last possible moment. Finally Tagg was dismissed. He would have to significantly exceed the speed limit to reach the bank by 3 p.m., but hey, no problem! And he would have made it, too, but the downtown traffic in Baltimore was heavier than expected; when he reached the door of the bank, it was already locked. But he could see the tellers inside, so he pounded and knocked and hollered until finally one of them took pity and let him in. Tagg got his money, turned around and went straight back to the barn. That was a vacation day in Whiteley World.

Frank’s lack of affection for the news media was no secret. He once chased a well-known Daily Racing Form columnist out of his barn with a pitchfork. The week before the match race between Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure, he allowed a photographer from a weekly newsmagazine to waste an entire morning taking pictures of Loud, a big black gelding, under the mistaken impression that this was Whiteley’s legendary filly. Frank was a firm believer in the therapeutic effects of cold water, and when he took over the training of Forego (after Sherrill Ward retired), he spent hours hosing down the gelding’s notoriously bad legs. One day a TV commentator kept interrupting him, trying to get an interview, and when she wouldn’t go away Frank “accidentally” turned the icy stream on her instead.

His Kentucky Derby story is part of racing lore. In 1967, when Frank brought Damascus to Louisville as the favorite in the Derby, he ignored the media all week. The Derby, more than any other horse race, is a cultural phenomenon that draws hundreds of general interest reporters who often know little about the sport. After being begged by the public relations team all week, Frank finally agreed to a single news conference. He needn’t have worried about the strain on his vocal cords.

Some poor innocent stood up to ask the first question. “Mr. Whiteley, what are Damascus’s sleeping habits?”
“How the hell would I know?” Frank snapped. “I ain’t never slept with him!” He stormed out of the room. End of news conference.

The trainers Steve Penrod, Bill Mott, Shug McGaughey, Barclay Tagg and the late Charlie Hadry all worked for Frank at some point in their careers, and he always enjoyed hearing from them and following their successes. To the jockey Jacinto Vasquez and the former trainer Mike Bell, both of whom first crossed paths with Whiteley in the 1970s, Frank was like a father. This relationship did not end when they went their separate ways. Both men spoke to Frank regularly and visited him in South Carolina, as did a surprisingly large number of exercise riders, grooms, assistants and other former colleagues whose names would not be known to the larger public but whose friendship meant everything to Frank. For a stubborn, ornery old man, Frank was extremely well-loved.

In 1991, things got even better. That’s when Frank, who had been divorced for many years, met Ginny Watts, who worked in his accountant’s office in Camden. He asked her out to dinner and she told him that she couldn’t go out with him; she was in the process of getting a divorce, but it wouldn’t be final for a few more weeks.

“What the hell difference does that make?” Frank demanded.

“It makes a big difference to me. And to my lawyer,” Ginny replied.

When the divorce became official, Frank asked her out again, and this time Ginny accepted. They were together for the next 17 years, and they were together in the hospital room, along with Frank’s son Alan, when Frank took his final breath on May 2.

I was a complete outsider to the sport of horse racing when I called Frank Whiteley for the first time to introduce myself. That was in 1986. I was going to write a book about Ruffian, I said, with a confidence only the truly ignorant can possess, and I wanted to interview him about the filly. I had spent several months reading everything I could find on the subject, and now I needed to meet the people who had been connected with Ruffian.

“That was a long time ago, you know. Don’t remember much.”

“Well, whatever you remember will be a big help.”

“I’ve already told everything there is to tell.”

I explained that I’d really like to talk to him in person. Even if he didn’t have anything new to add, it would be good to hear the story directly from him. He said okay, and we agreed on a weekend in May.

The trip was more than a month away, so I called one more time to confirm the dates before I actually went to purchase my plane ticket. Uh huh, he said, that’d be fine. He’d be there the whole weekend.

I arrived in Camden on schedule and called Mr. Whiteley from my motel room. It was around 4 p.m.

“I’m busy!” he snapped. “I ain’t got time to talk.”

I was stunned. I stammered something about maybe meeting him the next morning.

“Won’t be here. Got to drive some horses up to Baltimore.”

Now I was really desperate. And angry. I had never been in a situation like this before. Then, out of nowhere, some auto-pilot seemed to take over my body, and I heard myself saying, in a calm and reassuring voice, “Well, maybe I could just come by for 10 minutes or so? Just to meet you.”

He said he didn’t have anything to add about the filly. Everything had been written already.

I made one last stab. “Well, even if you don’t have anything to say, I know it will make a difference if I could just meet you. In person. It...it will make the book more real.”

There was a pause. “Hell, you want to waste your time, come on then. But I’m busy.”

When I got there, Frank was sitting under the shedrow. We shook hands. I asked him a question. He answered. I asked him another question. He gave a slightly longer answer. We were still talking four hours later, having driven into town and eaten dinner at the Holiday Inn. At 9 p.m. he looked at his watch.

“Goddammit," he said, "you’ve kept me up past my bedtime!” He stood up from the table and put his hat on.

I thanked him and said goodnight.


**from 5/04/08**

I've been blogging for the New York Times racing blog The Rail for a couple of days, but I didn't write anything yesterday after the filly Eight Belles broke down well after crossing the finish line. She had run a great race to come in second, well ahead of third-place finisher Denis of Cork.

The day before the Kentucky Derby, I had written a post about her called "Eight Belles Belongs in the Derby." (Quick Links, right-hand column) I still believe that. I don't think anyone will ever know exactly "why" she broke down, but she didn't break down because she was a filly. After all, two years ago Barbaro broke down in the Preakness,and he was a colt. And the day before the Derby, Barbaro's trainer Michael Matz saw his colt Chelokee break down in the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs. Chelokee has been given a 50-50 chance of survival as of May 3, but his racing career is definitely over.

I say this to reinforce the fact that both fillies and colts break down, and looking for some metaphoric symbolism in the gender of a fallen horse is, in almost all cases, not a very meaningful activity.

(Ironically, last year I had a piece titled "Colt vs. Filly: What's All the Fuss?" in the June 11 New York Times Sports section. It was about the great performance of the filly Rags to Riches in winning the Belmont Stakes, third leg of the Triple Crown. She won and she didn't break down, so there was no outcry then about how fillies shouldn't compete against colts.)

My point, last year and this, is simply that all thoroughbreds should be placed in races where they belong, where they have a chance to be competitive. In racing this means the horses should be entered in races that are at the right level, or "class," at the right distance, at the right time in their development.

It's true that, in general, colts are bigger and stronger than fillies, but races aren't run "in general"; they are contested by specific, individual horses, and when those individual horses break down, everyone in the industry, and everyone who cares about the horses, should double their efforts in calling for more research and fact-based analysis of all aspects of the sport (from breeding, to the use of "approved" race-day medications, to the various types of track surfaces, to trauma care,etc.) so that constructive, rational changes can be made.

For those of you who are interested in this subject, I highly recommend the excellent May 3 article from Jim Squires, also in the New York Times racing blog (Quick Links, right-hand column).

* * * * *

Selected Works

Biography; Nonfiction; Sports
The definitive portrait of the greatest filly in thoroughbred racing, and of the people and politics that shaped her brilliant, tragic career.
Set in the rooftop world of the Brooklyn pigeon-flyers, where the beauty and freedom of the skies offers a sharp contrast to the narrowness and violence of the streets, Caught is the story of an unusual friendship that develops between a ten-year-old girl and a grown man.
Here are a few of the poems that I'm collecting into a book.
A humorous self-help grammar book for adults.

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