By Julie Sarno
As a child, trainer Clifford Sise spent summers with his family, vacationing in a trailer park on the ocean in what is now the parking lot at Cardiff State Beach and going to the races in the afternoon.
The rest of they year they lived not far from Santa Anita, on a street where horse trainers Jimmy Jordan, Bill Molter and Ray Bell lived.
“Growing up, I was always small and loved horses,” said Sise. “I wanted to be a jockey. My mother was best friends with Sally Jordan, wife of trainer Jimmy Jordan.”
Sise is off to a good start at Del Mar, saddling two winners the third day of the race meet. His winners were Lochinvar’s Gold and Fu Peg He Rat, by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus. Sise has a strong stable of 25 at Del Mar. Son Robert has another 10 horses at Hollywood Park.
Sise’s stable this year includes a lot of promising 2-year-olds, most owned by Ranch Santa Fe residents Martin and Pam Wygod. Sise looks forward to the debut of Snap Shot, by Awesome Again.
The Wygod’s 2-year-old Lyrical Goddess, by Bertrando, is a full sister to $160,000-plus earner Vice Admiral, owned by Halo Farms and Alan Magerman.
Sise also has 2-year-old, Pretty Amazing, for the Wygods. She is a full sister to major stakes winner Idiot Proof, another Sise trainee. Sise’s older horses also include Smooth Performer, second in her stakes debut in the recent Hollywood Oaks (Gr. II).
“Being a trainer is just like being the manager of a ball team,” said Sise. “You have a bunch of good players and win a lot of games and you’re a great manager. This game (racing) goes in cycles.”
Sise’s boyhood friends included Gary Brinson, starter at the Southern California tracks and Scotty McClellan, agent for top jockeys Alex Solis and Joe Talamo. When Sise was 11, he began working at the racetrack, walking horses for Jordan, his neighbor in the Los Angeles area who also was a trainer.
When Sise was 12, he suffered a near-fatal car accident. Anticipating his summer at the track helped him recover.
“I was in a coma for three weeks and in the hospital for six weeks,” Sise said. “My parents were having a huge dinner party that night and I wrecked it. My pelvis was broken, and my ribs and my sacrum. It was in February as I recall because baseball season was coming around. I had to learn to walk again.”
The accident did not take the daredevil out of Sise: “We came down to Del Mar that summer. I would go to (trainer) Keith Stucki’s barn. I learned a lot from him. Keith taught me how to gallop. That summer I put an exercise saddle on the pony and practiced out behind the barns.”
Stucki trained a lot of good horses, the best of which was Ancient Title. Sise said Stucki’s son K.L., who was about five years older, worked with Sise as well.
Sise became a jockey and rode his first horse in 1967 at age 16. He rode until 1970, primarily at Turf Paradise in Arizona and at the California Fairs. In 1970, he took out his trainer’s license.
“I was a terrible jockey,” laughed Sise who is renting a home in Carmel Valley this summer. He no longer gets on horses as a result of the boyhood accident, but his enthusiasm for the racetrack has not dimmed.
The affable trainer enjoyed his best year to date in 2007. Runners he saddled earned $2.1 million. His highest earner was then 3-year-old Idiot Proof, a son of Benchmark, who brought home purses totaling $803,136. Idiot Proof also races for the Wygods.
Sise saddled Idiot Proof to win the 2007 Jersey Shore Breeders’ Cup (Gr. III) at Monmouth Park lowering the track record for six furlongs to 1:07.47. Then Sise won his first Grade I event with Idiot Proof, the Ancient Title at Oak Tree.
“It meant a lot to me to win the Ancient Title with Idiot Proof,” said the 56-year-old trainer. “I learned so much from Keith (Stucki) and the race is named for the best horse he trained.”
Sise shipped Idiot Proof back to Monmouth Park for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last fall. Idiot Proof was sent off as the third betting choice in the field of 10. Ridden by David Flores, he finished second to Midnight Lute.
Earlier this year, Sise saddled Idiot Proof to finish second in the Golden Shaheen, a major stakes race in Dubai. Sise has worked Idiot Proof over the turf at Del Mar and is aiming Idiot Proof for the Green Flash Handicap on the turf at five furlongs on August 13.
Sise’s only other Breeders’ Cup starter was Paying Dues. He saddled Paying Dues to finish second to Lit de Justice in the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Woodbine. Part of the mutuel field at more than 30-1, Paying Dues was ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day. Sise won other stakes races with Paying Dues, including two Grade III events at Hollywood Park, the Los Angeles Handicap and the Vernon O. Underwood.
Sise’s son, Robert, in addition to training is also a horseshoer:
“He trains in the morning and shoes horses in the afternoon,” he said.
Sise makes his home year round in Glendora with wife, Lorrie. He also has a daughter, Kim. Sise’s father-in-law, Junior Nicholson, trained horses as well. Since boyhood, being at the racetrack has given Sise something to look forward to. With many promising 2-year-olds in his barn this season, the lure is stronger than ever.