Awful circumstances forced Jay Glass to assume the responsibilities of a man when he was 10 years old.
He was that age when his stepfather, Norman Funk, the only father he had known, was involved in a horrific car accident caused by a driver who ran a stop sign. Funk, in the back seat of another vehicle, paid a terrible price for that error. He was struck at an angle that left him paralyzed.
After half a year in rehabilitation, Funk was able to return to the barn in Middleburg, Va., where he and his wife, Rozanne Glass, trained Thoroughbreds. He provided instructions on what needed to be done, but much of the hands-on work fell to his stepson.
Glass, who went on to a career as an exercise rider and valet at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., will never forget Funk's mental anguish or the physical demands placed on him out of necessity.
“I can still remember the first day I talked to him on the phone after it happened,” said Glass, 51. “It was tough, really tough.”
Glass quickly realized he was suddenly desperately needed at the barn every day, even if he was in grade school.
“Whatever you got thrown at you, you pulled your boots on by your straps and you sucked it up and you got it done,” he recalled. “There was no day off. If you were sick, you weren't that sick. You got up and went to work. They were pretty hard-boot people. There were no excuses.”
The daily grind of a trainer's life — combined with limitations that tore at Funk – no longer allowed a boy to be a boy.
“I was brought up to 'Okay, that's the situation that you're in. It is what it is. The bottom line is you have horses to take care of and we have horses to train,'” Glass said. “The horses always, always came first with them. That was our lifestyle. You worked and you took care of your horses the best way you knew how.”
He would wake up at approximately 4 a.m. every day to accompany his parents to the barn and perform the chores of a groom before leaving for school. Once his last class ended, there was more heavy lifting to be done at the barn.
On nights when horses ran at Penn National in Grantville, Pa., he was needed there, too. The family would often return to Middleburg at 2 a.m., so late they would park the truck at the barn and sleep there for a couple of hours before meeting the demands of a new day.
“I was 16, 18 hours a day from 10 on,” Glass said.
It was an overwhelming schedule for someone so young, and it made it nearly impossible for him to perform at school. He can remember sitting at the back of the classroom, overcome by fatigue, and falling asleep no matter how hard he fought to stay awake. He will always appreciate the teachers who knew the family's plight and empathized with his situation.
In one sense, that is all behind Glass now. His parents died some time ago. He and his wife of 29 years, Stacey, have three children: Derbe, 22; Kira, 18; and Jaxson, 14. In another sense, those hard times will never leave him.
“If I said I wouldn't change anything, I'd probably be lying,” Glass said. “But they put such a work ethic into me, it was something that really shaped me even to this day. To this day, I still put in 16-, 17-hour days.”
In the morning, he has been a valued member of trainer Joe Orseno's operation as an exercise rider for the last seven years or so. Glass has been galloping horses since he was 15.
“He knows what he's doing and he knows me,” Orseno said. “We click so well. He knows exactly what I would want. It makes my job a lot easier.”
Glass compares the process of learning each horse to a chess game. He ventured to Great Britain last June to help prepare Imprimis for an eventual sixth-place finish in the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot. Imprimis later took sixth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
“He can be a little difficult at times. He kind of has a mind of his own, but I seem to get along with him,” Glass said. “I deal with him, and he kind of deals with me.”
On racing afternoons, he works as a valet for Tyler Gaffalione, Nik Juarez, Marcos Meneses, Santiago Gonzalez and he'll work with Romero Maragh when he returns from thoracic fusion surgery.
Stacey, 50, also works as an exercise rider despite a career filled with major injuries that include a broken back, a broken leg, a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn hamstring. Their oldest child, Derbe, works for trainer Brendan Walsh and is an aspiring jockey.
Jay and Stacey both expressed the desire to retire from riding before quickly noting that their financial obligations will not allow that. They never had the benefit of a retirement plan.
So Jay keeps his head down, with one long day blending into another as they have since he was a boy.
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