From the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, William R. Prickett was one of the most successful horse trainers in the Delaware Valley. In 1976, his horses won 131 races. His star sprinter, Al Battah, won 21 races from 57 starts and $330,539 when purses were nothing like they are today. Return of a Native won the 1976 Ohio Derby for Prickett. After he claimed Keep Shining, the horse became a win machine.
Mr. Prickett, who lived in Townsend, Del., and served in the Air National Guard, died of cardiac arrest on Jan. 8 at Christiana Hospital in Newark, Del., one day shy of his 82nd birthday.
“It’s amazing how many people called,” said Patience Gowan, his companion of nearly 40 years.
She worked for Mr. Prickett starting in 1975, then worked on her own in horse racing for a few years before they reconnected in the early 1980s.
“I signed for him to get his first trainer’s license,” said Eddie Gager, an equine dentist and lifelong friend. “We traveled all over the country together, bought a lot of horses together. He was a good guy. His father was a dairy farmer. In fact, his father set a world record with a Guernsey cow with milk production. Billy grew up on a farm.”
Al Battah and Return of a Native were stakes winners, but Gowan said, “his claim to fame was Keep Shining. He carried the highest weight at Delaware Park in starter handicaps. He won and won and won.”
Thoroughbred horse racing records before the mid-1970s are incomplete. From 1974 to 1986, Mr. Prickett’s horses won 719 races from 5,429 starts. He very likely won more than 1,000 races during his career, which would have included wins at Garden State Park, Atlantic City, Monmouth Park, Liberty Bell, Keystone, and Delaware Park, among other tracks.
According to Gager, Mr. Prickett’s training career ended at a relatively young age because he had health issues. But he was always around the horse racing business. At one point, he came up with another plan.
"When he was 60 years old, he said to me: ‘I’m going to Alaska and do some prospecting,’ " Gager remembered.
So Mr. Prickett went looking for gold. It did not go well.
“He gave $15,000 for a piece of equipment and it cost him $10,000 to get it there,” Gager said. “The best day he had up there was about $1,800 in gold. He said if the thing broke down, you were like two weeks getting the parts for it. When he left, he left the machine up there. For $10,000, he wasn’t going to bring it home. That was kind of a bust.”