The Worst Job In Sports – Plantation Pay and a Smile

From USA Today in 2005…You cannot make this stuff up. The case of Mr. Paul Perry:


While others can’t get past the acrid smell of manure, Perry reports to work at 4:30 a.m. and delights in the dawn and the stirring of life around him. While others are wary of 1,100-pound animals who are apt to bite, kick or trample anyone perceived as a threat, he moves under and around them fearlessly.

While others wonder about a world in which the earning power of Thoroughbreds is infinitely greater than that of their grooms, Perry is content with take-home pay of approximately $375 each week and a nearby dormitory room barely larger than one of his horse’s stalls.


Rags to Riches – Winner of the Belmont Stakes 2007

“I’m happy with this,” he says. “This is something I like to do all the time.

“I’m outside. I’m free. I’m not cramped in a building.”

The 53-year-old Perry has spent the past 32 years feeding horses, bathing them, removing mud from their shoes and generally giving them more attentive care than many human beings will ever know.

The son of a construction worker, he grew up in Holly Hills, S.C., and dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. “I had to get out of there,” he says. “There was nothing going on.”

The story continues:

“He just was a natural,” says George “Rusty” Arnold, one of a series of trainers who has employed Perry in an itinerant industry. “It’s something I can’t explain. He never raised his voice, he never showed emotion, he never hit them.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who oversees Perry, says: “He has a special knack. He seems to get along with the meaner horses.

I think it’s probably instinctive. His laid-back manner probably helps. A lot of times, when a horse is very aggressive, people want to get aggressive with them. That is the worst thing you can do. He’ll just talk to them, ‘Quit it, boy.’ “

Pletcher, whose father, Jake, was a well-regarded horseman, was honored with an Eclipse Award as the nation’s leading trainer last year. His massive operation produced 240 victories and an unmatched $17,511,923 in earnings.


While Bandini (pictured below) is the latest test for Perry, the 3-year-old is hardly his stiffest challenge.

A horse named Closeup terrorized everyone in Pletcher’s barn in the late 1990s until Perry came along.

“He would bite you. He would jump on you. He would knock you to the ground,” remembers Ginny DePasquale, an assistant trainer. “Paul would just go into the stall and say, ‘Come here, boy.’ I would not go into the stall without Paul.”

Perry has an intuitiveness that even he cannot quite explain.

“I just understand horses,” he says. “I don’t fear them. I pretty much know what they are going to do, anyway.”

Arnold will be forever grateful that Perry got along with aptly named Tricky Creek when no one else could.

Tricky Creek’s aggressiveness served him well on the track, where he earned almost $900,000. It made him a terror, however, whenever anyone entered his stall.


Finally, if you ever wanted to know why a certain segment of Black folks stay in a rage:

Ask Perry why they coexisted so peacefully and his answer is almost as curious as Tricky Creek’s behavior.

“I went along with his story,” he says, “and he went along with my story.”

What is Perry’s story?

He is a man who dreams of finding a wife and of buying a trailer and some land. But, for now, those are only dreams.

Reality is he is always among the first to arrive at Barn 11 and the last to leave. Even when the only chore that remained was to rake smooth the area in front of his four stalls, he politely declined a lunch invitation.

He preferred to be alone, with his horses.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, er, plantation:

Jake J. PletcherBorn: Oct. 24, 1937, in Arnett, Okla. … Resident: Ocala, Fla. … Family: wife Joan, son Todd (trainer) … Principal business: Operates Thoroughbred breaking and training center near Ocala … Began working with Quarter Horses in 1962 in Texas; began training Thoroughbreds in 1969 … Trained Thoroughbreds at racetrack until 1987 … Won 1980 grade II Oaklawn Handicap with Uncool … Trained for Oklahoma oilman Ran Ricks for many years … Moved to Ocala in 1985 to establish C. B. Farm for the late Cloyce Box, former pro football lineman with Detroit Lions … Managed High Mark Farm near Ocala from 1995-98 … Now operates own training center with 60 horses currently on property … “Training horses is all I’ve ever done for 35 years now. I wouldn’t know any other way to make a living.” … Formed partnership with Betty G. Massey of Dallas, Texas, in 1994 … Stakes winners raced by partnership have been Level Sands, Turkappeal, and Rare Rock.

Betty G. MasseyResident: Dallas, Texas … Widow (married 40 years) of James A. Massey Jr., auto parts distributor in Dallas … “I decided to form a partnership with J. J. Pletcher to buy some horses because I knew something about him and I needed something to do. J. J.’s brother Rock (Rockne) Pletcher is my lawyer in Dallas, and he introduced me to J. J.” … Bought Level Sands (by Storm Cat) privately and resold him after he established new track record for 6 1/2 furlongs at Keeneland in 1995 … Raced stakes winner Turkappeal and Rare Rock … Rare Rock purchased for $50,000 at 1994 Keeneland September sale … “The Breeders’ Cup is my favorite race day of the year. This will be the fourth one I’ve been to, but the first where we’ll have our own horse.”

And back at the Derby:

Todd Pletcher : Derby History
A native of Dallas, TX, Pletcher grew up around Thoroughbred racing as his father, Jake Pletcher, trained Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. After graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in animal science, he went to work for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He stayed with Lukas for six years, eventually becoming his main East Coast assistant trainer. Pletcher went out on his own in 1996 and he currently trains for such powerhouse owners as: Michael Tabor of Coolmore, Aaron and Marie Jones, Padua Stables, and Eugene Melnyk. In less than 10 years, Pletcher has conditioned such top-class performers as Ashado, Left Bank, Speightstown, Strong Hope, Forest Danger, Flower Alley, Balto Star and others. While he has been very successful since taking out his license, 2005 was a banner year for the Pletcher stable. He set a season earnings record in 2005 with his horses winning more than $20.8 million in purses, surpassing the previous record of $19.1 million set by Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel. With that stellar year, Pletcher was awarded the Eclipse Award for the second consecutive year as the top trainer in the land. After going winless with his first 12 Breeders’ Cup starters, Pletcher won two races in the event in 2004: the Sprint with Speightstown, and the Distaff with Kentucky Oaks champ Ashado. Both would also go on to be Eclipse winners in their respective divisions. Pletcher’s best Derby finishers to date are Invisible Ink, second in 2001, and a fourth place with Limehouse in 2004.

I won’t be doing any analysis of this piece. I’m trying to figure out how in the hell a 53 year old man believes he’ll find a bride on $375 a week. Unless he’s on the Osceola McCarty Plan, it’s not happening. Any further analysis might cause me to snap a neck or two on my way home. Shit, I might have to play some Bobby McFerrin.

Nah, never that.

Oh, one last thing…


Young Todd Pletcher walking with the horse Criminal Type. 


  1. We have here the story of a high-school dropout who found a job that he loves, that he is gifted at, that gives him the respect and trust of those around him, but that doesn’t pay very well. (Sounds like some teachers I know, except for the dropout part.)

    At the risk of someone getting a snapped neck, can you provide a bit of clarification (if not analysis) here?

    What is it, exactly, that makes you angry about this story?

  2. Well James H., I’m sure T3 can speak for himself, and I know you didn’t ask, but I’ll give you a taste of what pisses me off about this story. It’s very simple: the guy is not being paid what he’s worth. He’s obviously being taken advantage of. How is that not clear to you?

  3. “It’s very simple: the guy is not being paid what he’s worth.”

    Well, so that he wouldn’t be “taken advantage of,” what would you pay him?

  4. They meant $375 per day….yeah, that’s it…its got to be. That’s what happened…they meant per day, not week. I’m gonna believe that because I’m really not gonna mess up my Sat believing otherwise.

  5. Oh, I don’t know. Perry makes $1,600-$1,700 a month net (that is, take home money, after taxes), and apparently he also gets free room and board as part of his deal. Also bear in mind he is in Florida, where the cost of living is much lower than, say, in New York or Philly, so money goes a lot further.

    And he loves his job so much that it is “his nirvana” (according to the article from which Temple3’s above excerpts were taken).

    Oh, and before we get too titillated by the Plantation analogy, remember Perry’s own words: “I’m happy with this… This is something I like to do all the time… I’m outside. I’m free.” Would that everyone could have that kind of attitude after 30+ years on the same job!

  6. Harriet Tubman..”I freed thousands of slaves; I could have freed more if they knew they were slaves.”

  7. When I consider your comfort with this – and your discomfort with my previous post linking racism and white supremacy (because you perceived it as an obstacle to the co-opting of whites and capitalizing on their guilt), I am left to wonder what possible benefits you might deliver to Black folk.

    With all that this post suggests about the miseducation of the Negro, public school accountability and service delivery, about the exploitation of migrant labor, and about the structural and intergenerational accumulation of wealth in this nation, I’m wondering what you’ve found to smile about. Ignorance may indeed be bliss, but it is no occasion for celebration.

    The plantation reference was not intended to titillate. It should be patently obvious that at the formal conclusion of slavery a system of labor exploitation was erected that reduced folks to poverty. It should take a man who has generated millions in profits for others more than three decades to buy a piece of land.

    If you keep this up, I’m gonna have back to assuming you’re white or very confused. And I don’t say that to titillate or to offend…I say that to save you the trouble of posting nonsense here when there are so many other sites where your tacit endorsement of low expectations and myopia would be well received.

  8. Good. Something besides vapid one-liners.

    I see no profit in echoing these little tales of woe just so that readers can say, “see there, that’s right, “yeah, that’s how they treat us,” etc., etc.

    Especially when we don’t really know why Perry hasn’t gotten further ahead (in 30+ years). Maybe the system is holding him down; maybe he simply enjoys where he is and what he does; maybe he’s a drunk, or retarded, or maybe he’s just a serial f*ck-up (they come in all shapes and sizes).

    As Whites’ key weakness is guilt, so Blacks’ key weakness is self-pity. It is the endlessly proliferated perception of self and race as victim–a nurtured perception that numbs and debilitates, producing excuses instead of solutions, and a “what am I due” mentality instead of a “what I can do” commitment.

    Recognize the basic truth of victimization, let its fire refine and purify your determination to move forward, but as dwelling on it starts slowing you down, jettison the preoccupation.

    You said elsewhere on this blog that you are an historian. Assuming that you are a trained scholar (rather than a buff), surely you are able to grasp my point.

    If not, I’m afraid you are the one providing a “tacit endorsement of low expectations and myopia.”

  9. James H.: Interesting. It’s as if we read entirely different accounts of the man.

    When you say “Whites’ key weakness is guilt”, I wonder if this your own personal hypothesis, or if you got it from someone else? However, there’s no need for you to bother replying; it’s already clear to me that an open discussion is not your true intent.

  10. Pdub

    Did you read the whole article from which Temple3’s excerpts were taken?

    Regarding the White guilt issue, see the last couple of posts under the McNabb heading for a more complete discussion.

    Re: “it’s already clear to me that an open discussion is not your true intent.” You don’t seem to bring enough intellectual firepower to the discussion to answer a simple question, let alone to assess “an open discussion.”.

    To refresh your memory, I’ll ask you the question again: “…so that he [Perry] wouldn’t be ‘taken advantage of,’ what would you pay him?

  11. James…

    You need to stop smokin’ that shit. Aside from being condescending in a space with folks who know far more about the condition of black folk than you do – your own positions are sadly inconsistent. (that claim, by the way, is easily defensible given your posture since arriving on the scene…don’t even need to see your resume)

    If you’re looking to capitalize on white guilt, this story should be right up your alley. That’s a pathetic way to live, though. I don’t see a shred of dignity or value in that shit. You seem bored. You go back and forth between “vapid” and titillation – perhaps you’re looking for a way to apply to your assessment of our condition. Are you looking for a vehicle? There are plenty of folks who are willing to follow you down that primrose path of casting your lot with white folks. Check the NAACP and the Urban League…that’s their stock in trade. You write as if you’re a diversity trainer who has just discovered the merits of Black Republicanism – or vice versa. Either way, both positions are tired as hell.

    As for the notion of self-pity, get a hold of yourself…and however you need to hold yourself to move beyond titillation and regressive politricking – grab on. Do you, but don’t get it twisted. I don’t do pity. You be hard pressed to find a single example on the site – and that wasn’t the intent here.

    You’ve already stated your priority. It is a value-less, parasitic approach to restoring your people. It is as ahistorical as it is bereft of vitality. One day – if you can ever get out of your own way, you’ll figure out what all the great integrationists before you figured out. You won’t find real solutions, but they pad your bank account.

  12. Actually, now that I think about – you might just know as much as the rest of the regulars – you could just be more fatalistic about it all. In any event, there appear to be some significant discrepancies between what you profess to know and what you propose to do.

  13. Temple3

    Regarding my positions being “sadly inconsistent.” What can I say? I’m still sorting through these complex issues.

    Regarding “looking to capitalize on white guilt” being “a pathetic way to live,” I certainly agree. But using guilt to neutralize White interference as we move forward is one effective tactical weapon (not a way of life) that we can, and should use. I should think that would be obvious.

    If it wasn’t your intent to further a culture of victimization among Blacks, fair enough. But whatever your intent, the effect is the same. I understand that the challenge this presents is intimidating for you, given your approach, but think about it.

    Regarding “being condescending,” I generally give as good as I get.

    “Check the NAACP and the Urban League”? Then I really would be bored! And I’m not a “diversity trainer,” so you can relax about that.

    “Are you looking for a vehicle?” Just trying to probe, challenge and understand. Is that a bad thing?

    Oh, and regarding “get a hold of yourself,” that would take both hands, and then I couldn’t keep “smokin’ that shit.” Guess I just haven’t yet mastered multi-tasking.

    Perhaps you find me annoying (being so smart and unconventional, I do get that sometimes). But I am here to learn. So tell me (succinctly, please), what is your solution to moving Blacks forward in this White-dominated society? I am ready to hear what you say. I will listen.

  14. No rocket science…emphasize math, science and culture…work collaboratively with Black folk and people of good will on enterprises that we lead for the betterment of our ourselves (first) and for the good of humanity. real simple stuff. the particulars can get thick – but I don’t know you like that.

  15. Given the contours of our conversations, I must recommend that you read Harold Cruse’s book Crisis of the Negro Intellectual…and with all due respect – I say you’ll need to read it at least three times. If you’ve already read it, I suspect it’s been some time since you’ve picked it up.

    Do yourself a favor – pick it up. You’ll find answers to many of your questions – and you’ll see that you’re in a position which has been abandoned by our best and brightest in recurring generations for exactly the same reasons.

  16. “No rocket science…emphasize math, science and culture…work collaboratively with Black folk and people of good will on enterprises that we lead for the betterment of our ourselves (first) and for the good of humanity. real simple stuff.” Well, we certainly don’t disagree there.

    “the particulars can get thick” Indeed, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Then you add “but I don’t know you like that.” Uh, I’m not interested in sleeping with you–I’m just interested in something concrete from you that I can work with, rather than abstract platitudes. Talk, the currency of academia, really is cheap.

    Why not just pick an area, say economics, and lay out some details on one of those “enterprises that we lead for the betterment of our ourselves (first) and for the good of humanity?”

    Oh, and yes, I have read Cruse’s collection of essays (and yes, it was many years ago). For all the hoopla it created, in the end it was mostly a rant, attacking pretty much every attempt at moving forward, and offering no real solutions. It’s hard to see how his decades-old contrarianism will help us here.

    Bringing these two strands of discussion together, I have learned from long experience that if you have to read something three times, then what your’re reading is either junk or badly communicated (or both).

    Here’s hoping that your details of a plan to move forward economically need only be read once to be understood.

  17. Hm. So you don’t have anything to say that somebody hasn’t already said (some 40 years ago!)? How did you get tenure, anyway (or is that a secret detail, too)?

  18. “He is a man who dreams of finding a wife and of buying a trailer and some land”

    Given this qote and the millions made by the owners, I don’t think that the post-slavery plantation analogy is a stretch at all. But I think that Miranda’s Harriet Tubman quote really nailed the true sadness of this story that is the pschological place that Mr. Perry is in.

  19. “He is a man who dreams of finding a wife and of buying a trailer and some land”

    Given this qote and the millions made by the owners, I don’t think that the post-slavery plantation analogy is a stretch at all. But I think that Miranda’s Harriet Tubman quote really nailed the true sadness of this story that is the pschological place that Mr. Perry is in.

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