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Show Biz Luck Holds True For Stagehand-Turned-Trainer

July 24, 1993

NEW YORK (AP) _ Break a leg 3/8

That’s an expression of good luck in show business, where Red Terrill has spent much of his life as a stagehand.

Break a leg 3/8

It’s something that’s not talked about in Terrill’s other world, that of horse racing.

It’s what Turnback The Alarm, trained by Terrill, did last summer. Show biz luck was on Terrill’s side, however, and the 4-year-old gray mare is doing what she used to do - win stakes.

After a lifetime in the sport, Turnback The Alarm is the biggest hit for the 64-year-old Terrill, who could hear but never share in the applause when he worked behind the curtain on such Broadway shows as ″My Fair Lady″ and ″West Side Story.″

Red Terrill - stagehand jockey and trainer. It’s quite a tale.

″My father was a jockey years ago,″ Terrill recalled outside his barn at Belmont Park, his training base. ″It was how he met Al Jolson. Jolson liked to bet the horses.″

Jolson, who made ″The Jazz Singer,″ one of the first talking motion pictures, in 1927, might have liked to wager on the horses, but he balked at sticking his hand in a horse’s mouth, something his character was supposed to do in the play ″Big Boy.″

So Jolson, according to Terrill, got William V. Terrill Sr. to perform the feat as his double in the play and in the movie version.

Terrill’s father also had a part in ″The Whip,″ a show about racing at the old Hippodrome in New York, but the talented member of the family was Terrill’s mother, Margie.

″She used to sing and dance, and she was in a lot of shows, including the Ziegfeld Follies,″ Terrill said.

As for the elder Terrill’s future in front of the curtain, he was encouraged by Jolson to join the stagehands’ union.

″My six brothers and a whole bunch of nephews also became stagehands,″ Terrill said. So did his son, Billy, also a trainer.

By the time Terrill became a stagehand at age 17, he had been breaking, galloping and riding horses in racing for several years. His first win as a jockey was in 1945.

″I rode for about three years and then I got too big,″ he said.

Terrill became a trainer in the mid-1950s, but it was as much a labor of love as a profession.

″In the wintertime I worked as a stagehand to make some money,″ said Terrill. His career as a stagehand ended on a high note at a Frank Sinatra concert at Carnegie Hall on Father’s Day five years ago.

″My son, Billy, knew I liked Sinatra, so he called me, and I worked the show,″ he said.

A year later Terrill retired from the stagehands’ union to become full-time head of the William V. Terrill Stable, a real family operation.

″My daughter, Ginny, is my assistant trainer and she does a wonderful job,″ he said. ″And don’t forget my wife, Dorothy. She takes care of the books and the payroll. She’s the real boss.″

Terrill’s son also is involved, helping select horses at sales.

″Billy picked Turnback The Alarm (not named at the time) out at a 2-year- old sale in Ocala (Fla.),″ Terrill said. ″We had her X-rayed. There were no fractures, but there was kind of a gray area. We weren’t sure, but she wasn’t a returnable item (with no proven disabilities). We’re not rich people.″

Enter Buzz Burke, who bred the filly and co-owns her with Dr. Richard Coburn, a New York plastic surgeon.

″Buzz Burke, who sold her, said, ‘I’ll buy her back.’ That’s how she got her name.″ Her sire is Darn That Alarm.

Burke went a step further.

″He asked me if I’d like to train her,″ Terrill recalled. ″The first time I ran her was in a maiden claiming race for a $50,000 tag and she won by 17 lengths.″

In her other eight starts as a 2-year-old, Turnback The Alarm posted another victory, four seconds and a third. The win was in the Schuylerville at Saratoga.

The almost-white filly opened her 3-year-old campaign with a victory, the Althea on April 18 at Aqueduct, then finished second and third in her next two starts before winning the prestigious 1 1/8 -mile Mother Goose and the 1 -mile Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park.

Then Turnback The Alarm fractured her right hind cannon bone Aug. 9, 1992, while working out at Saratoga for the Alabama six days later.

A brace was put on the injured leg, Turnback The Alarm was driven to Belmont Park the day of the injury, and that night Dr. Steve Selway performed surgery, putting three screws into her leg.

At the time, Terrill was quoted as saying, ″We don’t know if she’ll be able to race again, but we know she’s all right and, at least, should be a good broodmare.″

On May 8, Turnback The Alarm returned to the races, finishing third in a 6- furlong allowance race at Belmont Park. In two starts since then, she won the 1 1-16-mile Shuvee Handicap May 22 and the 1 1/8 -mile Hempstead Handicap June 12.

Turnback The Alarm. Jolson would have bet on her.

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