May 25, 1990 – July 5, 2017
Tinners Way spent a long, full life upholding family tradition, while being very much his own horse. For many fans of Secretariat, he provided a living connection to his great sire. In his golden coat, white markings and handsome head, you could catch strong glimpses of the Triple Crown champion. But in his own right Tinner was an extraordinary athlete and a most definite presence.
Three Grade 1 wins and $1,846,546 earnings, for Juddmonte Farms and trainer Bobby Frankel, attest to Tinner’s prowess on the track. In the first of his two Pacific Classic (G1) wins he nearly equaled his dad’s Derby record. Secretariat ran a mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs in 1:59.40; Tinners Way covered a mile and a quarter at Del Mar in 1:59.43.
At stud in Kentucky, California, then Texas, he continued to enjoy a good life. As the stallion began to age, owning partner Phil Leckinger had such affection for him that he confided that letting Tinner leave Key Ranch wasn’t easy. I spoke with him on the phone once as he was making the decision to retire Tinner to Old Friends, and I remember thinking that whether Tinners Way retired with Phil or with us, this was a horse who’d always have the best of everything.
Yesterday I phoned Phil to reminisce. “You’re supposed to approach it as a business,” he said, “but a lot of sentimentality went into that purchase. I’d watched Tinner from the beginning. There were high hopes when he went to stud. If you go back to the ’96 Blood Horse, Tinner was on the cover: ‘How the West was Won.’ For us, it was a privilege that we could stand him at stud. Being Secretariat’s son put a special shine on him, but I think he was appreciated for more than that. When the time came to retire, we would have given him the care he’d had all his life. Retiring him to Old Friends was a heartfelt tug, but we wanted him to have the best care and wellbeing. And I’m glad he helped Old Friends provide for other retired horses. He had a good run, any way you want to see it.”
At Old Friends, we’d given a final home to Secretariat’s son, Academy Award, and we still missed the small red stallion whose sweetness was much like Alphabet Soup’s. “Oscar” let children pet and hug him. Tinner immediately told us he was a different kind of horse. He was fiery, proud, a stallion who expected respect, and got it. But he also reached out to people. He wanted to make friends. When he let us know the front of the farm was too busy for him, we gave him a quieter paddock off the beaten track of the three daily tours and all the other comings and goings. Tinner liked his new digs. A line of tall trees provided him shade and a wind break, and instead of the usual stall-sized run-in shed, Tinner had a luxurious double-sized run-in shelter. Unlike some, he wasn’t really a fan of his shed, though. He preferred the front of his paddock. From that high ground he could see pretty much the whole farm, and we could see him.
Tinner’s preference for the back of the farm made some inconvenience. Visitors who asked to see him sometimes couldn’t when their schedules wouldn’t allow staying after the regular tour, or when no guide was available to take them up the hill. To all who never got to feed him a carrot I offer heartfelt apologies, but I know you understand that Tinner’s wish for calm surroundings had to come first. For all that, he really enjoyed playing host once every day or three. He liked making friends. A long horse but not a tall one, he’d put his nose between the fence boards for carrots, often huffing and puffing (“I’ll blow your house down!”) just so we’d all understand he was no pushover.
His favorite thing of all was to have his butt scratched. A one person, two handed scratch was good. A two people, four handed scratch on his back and butt was bliss. Phil recalled Tinner’s enjoyment of a good scratch. At OF, Laura eventually brought him a wooden back scratcher of his very own, which he loved her to use. Sometimes when I delivered his lunch he’d ignore the food, sling his fanny upside the fence, and call me over.
But other times, it’d be all about the meal, or the carrots, or the neighbors. Tinner’s relationship with the horses in the nearby paddocks was competitive. Whether it was Williamstown, son of Seattle Slew, or Affirmed’s son Affirmed Success, or Zippy Chippy during the summer he spent in Kentucky, Tinners Way made sure everybody knew exactly who he was.
Who he was—decidedly in his own right—is impossible to put into mere words. Tinners Way had a big presence. He was demanding but outgoing, feisty but affectionate. He was no pussycat, but he had an honest, kind heart. I know I’m just one of those who will always miss Tinner just because he was Tinner.
Photos by Laura