Monday, August 30, 2010

Clem’s Smile

If you’ve ever wondered what da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is smiling about, here’s a smaller-scale mystery:

Nashua’s handler Clem Brooks was as familiar to Nashua’s fans as Will Harbut was to Man o’ War’s. When Nashua died in 1982, Spendthrift Farm’s Leslie Combs II commissioned a half-scale bronze sculpture from artist Liza Todd, Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter. She beautifully captured Nashua and Clem walking towards the breeding shed, the stallion relaxed with his head gently turned towards his groom.

Clem was, by all accounts, quite the character, and you’ll notice a trace of a smirk on his face, similar to Mona Lisa’s smile:

Clem was always willing to share souvenirs from Nashua, and there was no shortage of admirers for the son of *Nasrullah and Segula. Champion 2-year-old in 1954, Belair Stud’s Nashua trained on at three to win the Preakness and Belmont. He defeated Swaps, to whom he’d been second in the Kentucky Derby, in a match race to settle 1955 Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male honors. Nashua was the second horse in history, after Citation, to earn in excess of $1-million. His record after three seasons of racing was 30-22-4-1, and he was the first horse syndicated for over a million – $1,251,200, to be exact. All of this ensured a steady stream of visitors to Spendthrift.

After Clem would show the bay stallion to fans, he’d pull a shoe out of his pocket and watch their eyes get big when he told them it was off Nashua. Then he’d offer to sell them the shoe, and who could resist that? I can only imagine how excited people were as they left Spendthrift taking home a shoe that was off the great Nashua.

What they didn’t know was that whenever the blacksmith came to trim the stallions, Clem would rifle through the back of the truck looking for old, worn shoes that came from who knows where. It was these that he presented and sold to visitors as being “off Nashua.” It became a lucrative little side business for the groom.

Clem was a clever fellow, always very careful to say that they were off Nashua. And as he pointed out, he never did say the shoes had ever been on Nashua, and it was quite true that they were off him, as Nashua was not wearing them!!

Here is a view of the statue and another of Clem from a different angle:

And now, take a close look at Clem’s right pocket and see if you can guess why he’s smiling:

(click on photos to see them full-size)


  1. Haha! Great stuff.

  2. Great post and the Liz Taylor connection, too.

  3. I'd never noticed the shoe in Clem's pocket until my friend at Spendthrift pointed it out earlier this month. That small detail really makes the story, and I love how true the sculpture stayed to Clem and Nashua.

  4. The shoe really does make the story, Frances, as does the relationship between Clem and Nashua; there are parallels to my post on Barbara Budinszky and Overdose, too, from the obvious relationships between men,women,and horses, to the story we both told through photographs in social media in our respective posts. Did my tweet to you today with the Barbara Livingston photos, including the one of Clem and Nashua, hasten this post, or was it pure coincidence that we--who chat a lot about horses and other things--were on the same thought cycle? Thoughts, ideas, pollinating and cross pollinating over "internet waves," as you call it.

  5. I was linked to this blog by a Spendthrift employee--after asking another question, I mentioned meeting Clem Brooks in the mid-80s (I was about 6 years old). He gave me a postcard of Nashua and a horseshoe. I still have those mementos. Thanks for sharing his story.

  6. I just want to update--my parents recently converted several old home videos to DVD and on one of these is a video of the visit to Spendthrift that I mentioned in the last comment. The visit was in summer 1990 (clearly my memory failed me on the time frame!) and there's a shot of Clem giving my brother and I the horseshoes. Pretty neat.

  7. Clem Brooks was my granddaddy!