Hot trainer has paid his dues

June 12, 2001 11:11 AM
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Hope, dedication is winning parlay for Cliff Sise Jr.

The frames on the license plates of Cliff Sise Jr.’s car read: "I PAID MY DUES."

Sise is like many blue-collar trainers who, despite long hours and more failures than successes, stay the course with dedication and hope.

Sise is among the unsung horsemen who make the nondescript races go on a daily basis, meet in and meet out. Between the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup, racing’s marquee events, there are thousands of ordinary races that are the lifeblood of the sport. It is men like Sise who keep the game going.

Sise has never won a Kentucky Derby, but he came close to winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 1996 when Paying Dues, a member of the mutuel field at odds of 31-1, finished a game second to eventual Eclipse Award champion Lit de Justice.

"Being around Paying Dues was a pleasure," says the 49-year-old Sise, who had a brief career as a jockey before becoming a trainer. "He was a very smart, intelligent horse. We were buddies. I don’t know if I’ll ever replace him."

But that doesn’t stop Sise from trying. "You’re always hoping for some good 2-year-olds," Sise said. "They keep you going."

Sise had a sensational meet last summer at Hollywood Park where he just missed winning his first major training title. He lost out to Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, 23-22, on the meet’s final day. Sise is on another hot streak at Hollywood, where this meet he ranks second in the standings with 10 wins.

One Sise campaigner is an old war-horse named Sir Harry Bright, who was still earning his keep at age 10, albeit in low-end claiming races. He’s currently recuperating from ailments but Sise hopes to have him racing again next year at 11.

"Sir Harry Bright was cut out to be a nice horse, but he’s had his problems," Sise said. "The key in training horses is patience. If you rush them, you’ve got nothing."

Sise learned from the best.

"My dad (Cliff Sr.) had a trailer down at the old Seaside Village near Del Mar," Sise recalled. "In those days, all the jocks and trainers stayed there. My dad was in the transportation business. I was the one who got him in the horse business. I grew up with Ronnie and Scotty McClellan, all the racetrackers. I always loved horses. In Arcadia, in the old days, everybody had a horse in their back yard. I learned how to gallop horses from (trainer) Keith Stutke and his son, K.L.

"At age 20 (in 1971), I was the youngest one in California to ever get a trainer’s license at that time. In those days, if you weren’t 55 with graying hair, you had no shot at training horses. Doc (George J.) Shima was my contract holder when I was a bug boy, and he let me train a couple. Then I was assistant to Lou Glauburg for a few years before I hooked on with Noble Threewitt. Lou had a lot of class but Noble paid more, so I was inclined to go towards Noble, even though they were best of friends. Down the road, they had a falling out and when I went to work for Noble, Lou would never speak to him."

With almost four years as a jockey, Sise knows what it’s like to be under tack in the heat of competition. He rode against the likes of Bill Hartack and Bill Shoemaker until his weight forced him to call it a career.

It takes more than good horses to have a winning operation. It takes caring personnel. Sise names his 19-year-old son, Robert, among that number. "He’s my assistant trainer," Sise says with fatherly pride. "Does he enjoy it? You can’t keep him away. He won’t even take a day off. He loves it and he’s very good at what he does."

As is Cliff Sise Jr., a serious trainer who is still seeking another serious race horse, one like his favorite, Paying Dues.

"Paying Dues was in the midst of a comeback in 1998 when he shattered a pastern at Del Mar and had to be put down," Sise said with a touch of fondness and sadness.

He may not be able to replace Paying Dues, but Cliff Sise sure has paid his. And racing is better for it.

THE HOMESTRETCH: Bob Baffert, about to hop a plane from New York Sunday morning to his California home, said via cell phone that Point Given came out of his overpowering Belmont victory in good shape, but that he is undecided on his next race. "He’ll come back to California and just sit," Baffert said of the huge chestnut colt that won two legs of the Triple Crown after losing the Kentucky Derby in what will go down as a mysterious blot on an otherwise impeccable record…D’wildcat, 10-length winner of the Swale Stakes last March, is readying for a return to the races with the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Belmont Park on Oct. 27 as his ultimate goal. "He’s walking under tack about an hour and a half a day," said trainer Bob Hess Jr. "We’ll try to get a prep into him about three or four weeks before the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but he won’t race again until the end of September, maybe in the Ancient Title (at Oak Tree) or the Kentucky Cup Sprint at Turfway Park on Sept. 22." D’wildcat suffered an injury to his right shoulder following the Swale…Agent Brian Beach is pressing onward despite the ponderously slow start of East Coast invader Mike Smith. Before winning Friday’s seventh race on 11-10 favorite Live Your Dreams, Smith had won only once in 50 rides since moving from the East Coast. "There are a lot of six-horse field and not a lot of opportunities," Beach said. Smith, a two-time Eclipse Award winner, had his only winner before Live Your Dreams for trainer Roger Stein aboard Swiss Miss on May 11, going nearly a month between victories… Owner Ron Anson, a huge Chicago Cubs’ fan who is in his glory days, on how a first-time starter named Barney’s Monkeyboy that won the fourth race on June 6 got his name: "I have two dogs, one a pit bull named Barney, and I named the horse after him."…Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, who races as Creston Farms, like most owners says winning the Kentucky Derby would be his "dream come true," but says his ultimate goal in racing "is to break even."