Last week, a horse-trailer driver was as defenseless as the horse in the back. Pulled over more than 15 feet off the pavement of Route 4, west of Stockton, Tom Knight was innocently changing a flat tire on the pickup truck. The trailer contained a racehorse he was taking to Galt for a veterinary appointment. Through a bizarre and totally unnecessary series of events, another truck was forced off the road and slammed into Tom as he was working on the tire. Tom Knight died. He did everything right, and he died. Some idiot didn't have the patience that is required to drive Route 4 and Tom Knight died.
I want to tell you about this remarkable man. First - he was born in Wagon Mound, N.M., and there aren't a whole lot of people around who can claim that! He worked on ranches pretty much his whole life and had a love for and a deep understanding of animals, particularly horses. He worked cattle on the open range as a lad of 8 or 9 and was moving large herds of cattle and sheep to distant markets in his early 20s.
In the early years, he lived the life of a hard-working, hard-playing cowboy. He had good times and bad ... even rode the rails (more than once) from New Mexico to Colorado. His life improved about 35 years ago for several reasons - not the least of which was meeting and marrying Gladys, his wife of the past 35 years. They moved to northern California in 1972 and made the decision to follow his dream of being a full-time professional trainer of racehorses.
Tom began training at the old Pleasanton Race Track as well as taking horses to the county fair racing circuit. At first it was really tough going and money was tight. Gladys and her daughter helped out by cleaning stalls early in the morning before going to school. Bit by bit, Tom's reputation as a good and kind trainer spread and he began to get additional horses to train.
Tom was especially adept with young horses. Bettors took notice of his first time starters because they knew that Tom brought them to their first race well trained and well prepared. Typically bettors will pass on a first-time runner because anything can happen. But they trusted Tom's horses to do their job - they were that well prepared.
In all those years, Tom never had a "big" horse - a Lost in the Fog or a Cigar or a Damascus. What he had was a 35-year string of a lot of "nice" horses. Tom and Gladys never expected to get rich running racehorses - they understood the economics of the game. They, and Tom especially, just wanted to follow the dream and turn out nice, dependable racehorses. They made enough money to pay the bills and put a little away for the future.
Tom was my friend. He was more than that. As members of a unique fellowship, Tom was my mentor, confessor, counselor and role model. The fact that we both loved horses just made the friendship all the more strong. We communicated by phone or in person almost every day for the past four years. Even though he was 10 years older, I have never met a man in better shape or able to work as hard as Tom at age 76. In his own way, Tom would give his all and expect nothing in return. He sincerely believed that his Higher Power would get him through anything ... all he had to do was the next right thing.
So, because some yay-hoo didn't have the patience to drive on Route 4 with civilized people, Tom Knight died. No doubt Tom's Higher Power has a string of top horses up there and needed the services of a good, kind and honest trainer.