Lawyer-trainer Maher pursuing his “calling”
by Jim Hague
If you’re looking for a horse trainer who can double as your lawyer, you’ll find him on the Laurel Park backstretch, in barn nine. In fact, that might be about the only place you’ll find that peculiar combination of skills.
But none of this was planned; in fact, Ted Maher’s remarkable journey into a life of thoroughbred racing began humbly as a child going to visit his grandparents in Massachusetts.
“My mom’s dad was a thoroughbred trainer in Massachusetts in the New England fair circuit,” Maher said. “I was about five or six and I saw the jockeys with all the different colors of their silks and I became fascinated with it. That’s how I got into it. It was my first exposure.”
Turn the clock ahead 10 years and Maher is a teenager growing up in Laurel, Maryland.
“I was about 15 or 16 and I would check the horses out by sneaking into the track,” Maher said. “I was so drawn and called to it. It was kind of a fun thing. I was able to become a hot walker at Laurel, but I figured I better go to college or my mother would throw me out.”
Maher spent four years playing varsity lacrosse at Providence College, where he studied business with the intent of going to law school.
“But something kept bringing me back to racing,” Maher said. “I wrote a letter to several stables, to introduce myself and see if anyone needed any help in their stables.”
One stable that answered Maher’s plea was Pin Oak Stud in Lexington, Kentucky.
“It was the only response I received,” Maher said. “They said that they would love to have me.”
It was the summer of his junior year at Providence. Maher spent the summer working with the mares and foals and working in the stalls. He was getting to learn about the horse business up close and personal.
While at Pin Oak, Maher befriended a veteran horseman named Joe Osborne.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” Maher said. “Joe told me that I had to work in the track for a year. He also said that I should go to work for Bill Mott, because he was the best.”
Maher went back to Providence to finish his undergraduate degree, but while he was there, he wrote a letter to Bill Mott, the legendary trainer.
“But I didn’t hear from him, so I called,” Maher said. “When I told him I was graduating college in May, he said, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re hired.’ He didn’t even care about my horse background. I went to see him about a day or two after graduating.”
Maher drove to Elmont, N.Y. to begin working for Mott at Belmont Park.
“I was a groom,” Maher said. “I got to groom some great horses, like Richman, who won the Illinois and [Louisiana] Derbies, and Paradise Creek, the champion grass horse that won the Eclipse Award. I took care of them.”
Maher remained with the Mott stables through the Belmont season, into Saratoga, then Gulfstream Park. It was at that time that Maher knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“At that point, all I wanted to do was ride,” Maher said.
But Maher was too big to become a jockey, so he had to settle for being an exercise rider and an amateur jockey.
“I wanted to be a jockey, but I was too heavy,” Maher said. “But I knew that’s what I wanted to do. It’s what I liked doing.”
Maher went back to Laurel and galloped horses for over a year. He got the chance to ride his first race at Camptown in Virginia.
“I rode a six-year-old that no one else wanted to ride,” Maher said. “I got her out and we made it around.”
Maher then began a life racing on the ARCA (Amateur Riders Club of America) circuit that raced in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
“I rode all over the country,” Maher said. “I won a race at Arlington (Park). I rode at Suffolk, Monmouth and Aqueduct.”
Maher said he raced in “12-to-15” races a year and in 1996 was the leading rider in the amateur circuit.
In 1995, Maher traveled the globe, racing in Canada, England, even winning a race in Germany at 57-to-1 odds. Maher traveled to Norway and Sweden to ride.
“I was lucky enough to be asked to go,” Maher said. “I had the time of my life, seeing all those new places in the world.”
While traveling the European circuit, Maher lived in Lambourn, England and exercised horses for trainer John Hills and rode a few races.
“It was a great experience because they do things differently there, like everywhere you go, you take some new knowledge with you,” Maher said. “They like to let them roll up hills over there and then walk home quietly.”
But in between, Maher started the other phase of his life.
“I started law school at the University of Baltimore in 1993,” Maher said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. My parents were both attorneys, so I figured I should do something along their career paths. I did okay, but I never really liked it.”
In 1998, Maher began his career as a criminal defense lawyer.
“I did a lot of trial work,” Maher said. “Then my mother wanted to slow down and I took a lot of her cases. I was always good at bringing in the cases.”
In March of 1998, Maher gave up riding horses.
“I rode my last race at Calder,” Maher said. “I had to practice law full-time. I had to stop.”
From 1998 through 2004, Maher was pretty much retired from horse racing.
“I did go in and get on a couple of horses, but nothing seriously,” Maher said.
Maher took out his trainer’s license in 2005, a year in which he won a single race — but what a win it was. One Genius, a four-year-old filly, was working on a nine-race losing streak and had been off for several months. Colonial Downs bettors weren’t impressed, making her 108-1.
“Her form wasn’t too good,” Maher said. “She hadn’t run in seven months. But she was training beautifully.”
One Genius wore down the favorite to win by a neck, paying $215.80 to her few backers — and make Maher a winner in his very first start.
“It was exciting,” Maher said. “I loved it. I had been practicing law for seven years and had my own firm. But this was exciting. My love for it grew a little bit more every year.”
In 2006, Maher claimed Matt Blanc, an Irish-bred five-year-old Night Shift gelding, for Brett Friedman and Neil Junker. Matt Blanc finished eighth the day Maher claimed him, and then eighth, ninth, and DNF (did not finish) in his first three starts in the new barn.
“I got him ready for a race and he won,” Maher said. “He was another long shot, but he was tearing up the track. I then started to get more owners to train for.”
Matt Blanc paid $83.60 in his first win for Maher and went on to win three more times on the grass.
In fact, Maher had something of a specialty in reclamation projects — and longshots. Kayla’s Smile, a low-end private purchase by client Harry Kassap LLC, won five of 13 races in 2007 and ’08, earning $85,000 in the process. Brickell, claimed for $10,000 in late ’08, also by Kassap, won the ’09 Henry S. Clark Stakes at 50-1 odds
Then there was Ra Der Dean, a private purchase following the 2006 season. The Rahy gelding, seven when he entered Maher’s barn for the ’07 racing season, had been a sprinter exclusively, but Maher stretched him out successfully. Ra Der Dean earned over $113,000 in Maher’s tutelage, most notably a third-place finish — just a head from second — in the 2008 edition of the Grade 2 Dixie Stakes at Pimlico.
But by 2011, Maher felt like he had to make a choice: training, or lawyering.
“I had to do one or the other,” Maher said. “I was in a bit of a lull with the horses.”
With few horses in the barn, Maher put his energies into his other profession. His charges haven’t made more than 23 stars in a season since 2011, just 15 last year. At the moment, there’s just one runner in the barn. But the hiatus achieved its purpose.
“I got the law practice running right,” Maher said. “But I always kept my foot in the door in case something broke [in training].”
During his quiet years, Maher did keep a toe in the water. After being away from training for about six months, Maher returned to train a 2-year-old owned by his good friend Jerry Knauer.
Maher also had the chance to purchase another horse, a one-eyed old-timer named Lonely Whistle, who had been claimed from him the previous season.
“He had one eye when I bought him,” Maher said. “But I got a good deal. He was 11 years old.”
The purchase of Whistle helped complete the circle for Maher and the Say Florida Sandy gelding he calls his favorite horse. Maher had originally purchased the gelding as a 2-year-old — for $6,000, a bargain basement price he attributed to that missing eye. Lonely Whistle went on to win the Old Nelson Handicap at Colonial Downs and place in the Henry S. Clark and Woodlawn Stakes at Pimlico.
These days, Lonely Whistle, says Maher, is a “very good” stable pony.
At 47 years old, Maher has made the decision to forego the law and concentrate on horse racing.
“I have a passion for horse racing and training,” Maher said. “I really don’t care for the law too much. I had to do something.”
Maher is in the process of selling his law practice to focus exclusively on training horses.
“I can’t run a law practice and be involved with horses,” Maher said. “People who know me best know that this is where I want to be. A lot of people have admonished me, telling me I can’t make money doing that. But I have to be 100 percent into it.
“[But] I’m most happy at the track and being around the horses,” he continued. “I look forward to going to the track. My thing is that I try to keep the horses happy. I give them fresh air, fresh grass, turn them out and keep them happy as much as I can.”
As spring approaches, Maher is thinking about renewal, and taking the long view.
“I don’t want to wake up 60 years old or 70 something and say that I didn’t do what really liked doing,” Maher said. “This is my calling. It’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s almost a waste to not pursue it.”