THE ROLEX OTTBS (Riders; Country):
COURAGEOUS COMET (Becky Holder; USA)
WONDERFUL WILL (Michael Pollard; USA)
HIGH SOCIETY II (Jessica Hampf; CAN)
ANTHONY PATCH (Lainey Ashker; USA)
SEA LION (Pam Fisher; USA)
RUNNING ORDER (Doug Payne; USA)
DOUBLE RIVERS DILLON (Kadi Eykamp; AUS)
LAST MONARCH (Holly Hudspeth; USA)
JET (Ashley Leith; USA)
PARK LANE HAWK (William Fox-Pitt; GBR)
SANTA'S PLAYBOY (Amy Ruth Borun; USA)
HERE'S TO YOU (Emily Beshear; USA)
TSUNAMI III (Sally Cousins; USA)
SAL DALI (Beth Perkins; USA)
CLIFTON PROMISE (Jonathan Paget; NZ)
MANOLO BLAHNIK (Sara Kozumplik; USA)
COOL DANCER (Brittany Lunney; USA)
TITANIUM (Buck Davidson; USA)
CAN'T FIRE ME (Becky Holder; USA)
PARKER (James Alliston; GBR)
ICARUS (Michael Pollard; USA)
It was when I was speaking with eventing rider Becky Greene a few months ago for a previous OTTB Showcase story that I heard the words that perfectly described what for years I've been telling pretty much anyone who's willing to listen.
“Thoroughbreds coming off the track were bred with one purpose – to be athletes. It's the ideal sport horse.”
It's a true statement if there ever was one. Any Thoroughbred coming off the racetrack at one time or another shouldered the Graded Stakes hopes and Kentucky Oaks or Derby dreams of their breeder(s) and/or owner(s), grooms, exercise riders, trainers, jockeys, and countless other individuals. For many horses, after a race or two…or 10 or 20…or 50… or 70… or more, those hopes and dreams fade away.
For many horses, those faded aspirations were replaced with a new set of expectations and goals, such as jumping, dressage, barrel racing, foxhunting, or trail riding. For 21 off-track Thoroughbreds, their connections have the 2012 Rolex Three-Day Event in the crosshairs this week at the Kentucky Horse Park.
The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is a four-star competition, which can be likened to Grade/Group 1 competition in the racing industry. For eventers, this is their Kentucky Derby, and the Olympics and World Equestrian Games – which are held opposite each other in two year intervals – are their Breeders' Cup Championships.
President of the Maryland Horse Council, and renowned eventing rider and coach Steuart Pittman has an appreciation for off-track Thoroughbreds that dates back to his childhood. An eighth-generation horseman, Pittman's first off-track Thoroughbred was Hurricane Hannah, a raced, but non-winning chestnut daughter of Calgary Brook out of the Roman In mare In Awhirl, who was the winner of nine of 37 races in the 1950s.
These days, Pittman is tirelessly touting the value of off-track Thoroughbreds through his newly formed Retired Racehorse Retraining Project, whose mission is to facilitate the placement of retired Thoroughbred racehorses in second careers by educating the public about the history, distinctive characteristics, versatility of use and appropriate care and training of the iconic American Thoroughbred.
“Nobody was promoting ex-racehorses like they promote other breeds. We are working to change that,” explained Pittman. “They are bred and trained to be brave enough to lead down the homestretch. That's the same bravery we need to jump to the far side of a gaping ditch or down a big drop into water. They have proven their soundness and athleticism at the track. They are quick thinkers and can get themselves out of a tight spot cross country without going splat. When trained and ridden well, they are also competitive in dressage and show jumping, but it is the cross country where they have an advantage.”
Just looking at the list of entries for the Rolex Three-Day Event, it's obvious Pittman isn't the only one who's discovered the hidden gem of the off-track Thoroughbred.
“It's not a fluke that I gravitate to off-track Thoroughbreds,” said eventing rider Becky Holder, who is riding Thoroughbreds Courageous Comet and Can't Fire Me at this week's Rolex Three-Day Event. “They've got this generosity, along with a certain try and grit to them.”
Both Courageous Comet and Can't Fire Me came into eventing after racing careers. While Can't Fire Me, a son of Fire Maker born in 1999, raced only seven times and never hit the board, Courageous Comet was a successful racehorse, winning four of 37 starts and even running third in the $100,000 Times Square Stakes at Aqueduct for trainer David Donk.
“Each time Comet comes to compete, and this is a horse that had a very lengthy, successful racing career,” said Holder. “The fact that he has gone on to compete in a new sport at the highest level for another 11 years, making his sixth appearance at Rolex is an amazing accomplishment.”
Comet represented Team USA at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and will be competing at his sixth Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Holder hopes he has a few more runs at the four-star level left in him, but says he's more than proven himself as one of the top eventers in the world…and he seems to know it.
“He's quite a ham…the king of the barn. He's used to people waiting on him hand and foot and he expects it,” Holder said with a laugh. “Comet is the actor complaining that his water isn't cold enough or isn't the right brand; Teddy (as Can't Fire Me is affectionately known) is the naughty one of the two…the one in the back room with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve.”
When it's time to compete, however, both horses are all business.
“Comet likes big crowds, responds to applause, and responds very well to pressure. I attribute that to his earlier years on the track,” said Becky. “Teddy's work ethic came later in life, but once it appeared, it came on strong.”
Fellow four-star rider and OTTB advocate Michael Pollard, who is riding ex-racehorses Icarus (who raced as “I Just Want To Fly,” by Boundlessly) and Wonderful Will (by Woodman) at the Rolex, has noticed a similar confidence in his mounts.
“When I finish a course with Wonderful Will, you can tell he's proud. He's got a different walk when he's leaving a course than when he's coming onto it,” said Pollard. “Fly (as Icarus is nicknamed) knows how to be competitive – you can just feel it. He knows how to bring it in the big moments.”
While Michael and Icarus placed 19th at last year's Rolex, this year they won an advanced division at Pine Top Spring Advanced in Georgia and seventh at Red Hills, a three-star event in Florida. Pollard's other Rolex mount this year, Wonderful Will, has taken his rider around the country and the world, as the pair has competed not only around the U. S., but in England, Sweden, and Germany in recent years.
Pollard noted that a key element in the process of improving the process of transitioning racehorses into sport horses is educating the racing industry about what attributes make a horse well-suited to be jumpers, eventers, dressage horses, show hunters, etc.
“There are lots of models of Thoroughbreds…if you have one that floats across the ground and is a good mover, you may have a good eventer,” said Pollard. “If Thoroughbred trainers could recognize what sport their horses who aren't making it at the track may be well suited for, it can help everyone. It's our job – the sport horse community – to make and maintain connections with Thoroughbred trainers so we can help each other and the horses.”
Both Pollard and Holder admit they were originally drawn to off-track Thoroughbreds because of their affordable price and accessibility, but both were quick to point out the many advantages of using ex-racehorses as sport horses.
“I've been lucky to find a lot of good horses off the track,” said Pollard. “They have an innate stamina and competitiveness…a unique will to keep going, keep trying.”
Added Holder, “They are quick thinkers and quick reactors, which is important for safety in any discipline, especially in cross country. Generally, they have a forward-thinking, willing disposition and they've had some major exposure to the world at a young age, which I see as a positive.”
This week we also put it to the masses. We asked our followers on Twitter and Facebook to answer the following question: What's your favorite thing about off-track Thoroughbreds?
@jack_straw21: “They provide my wife with a wonderful playmate while leaving me free to follow the ones still on the track.”
@Gallop13: “OTTBs tell us they didn't drop from sight at career's end. They're making us happy and proud, and they love doing it.”
@ashley_mailloux: “They are talented, athletic, and kind. Versatile and amazing prospects for about any discipline. Most of all, their huge hearts.”
@snuggers114: “They are affectionate!! And so willing to please you. They can do anything they set their minds to. Wonderful horses!
@ShesUnskippable: “Because with an OTTB, everyone can own a star!”
@jeanninee12: “They're impeccably broke and generous souls eager to try anything, even team penning! No kidding, I've done it!”
@mbauerherzog: “Their willingness to work and the fact that they have seen a ton of stuff so they are easier (imo) to season.”
@equisponse: A good one is worth their weight in gold. A grt TH show jumper stallion would blow the top off the Warmblood mkt in US
@ShuveeIL: “Besides the horses themselves, my fav thing about #OTTBs is the people with hearts & minds big enough to give them a chance.”
@kate_jennings89: ”Once you earn their trust, an OTTB will give you their all. Willing, honest, intelligent, playful, affectionate.”
@Hayley_Rochelle: “talented athletes that have the strength, stamina, & heart allowing them to excel in any discipline! They truly are special horses!”
@womanowar: “They run a lot slower…but with style.”
@NewStrideMarcy: “Intelligence, grace, style, power, but most of all, heart. TBs reward respect with deep, unforgettable relationships.”
@bsd987: “I like off-track Thoroughbreds when they're clearly mudders yet are getting ridiculous odds on an off track”
Hayley Barbato: Not only are OTTBs amazingly talented athletes, they posses the strength, stamina, and heart that allows them to excel in almost any discipline! Every single one that I have worked with learns quickly and tries their absolute hardest to please. They truly are special horses! :)
Jessica Yeargin: OTTBs want to find someone to bond with, if you let yourself connect with one, it will do anything for you. They also are very perceptive horses (I believe it's because they are more sensitive than most), and everyone I have had has known when they need to be gentle (when a child or disabled person is around), and when their more energetic side is wanted (when their rider just wants to gallop and run away from it all).
Anne Stahel Thornton: We have had several in our barn and they are all characters! They are kind, smart and love to learn! All of ours have been fabulous with children and actually play nice in the pasture when they come in off the track!
Carol Dean-Porter: I have ridden Thoroughbreds for more than 50 years. I place dozens of them each year as they retire from the race track and start on their journey to their second careers. I love the Thoroughbreds for their HEART.
Christine Smith-Siegel: I love their work ethic! No matter if they lean more on the lazy side, or are a bit more forward, the OTTB's I have had the pleasure of working with are always ready, willing, and able to transition into their next career!
Sandra Harris Frey: They are Horses with drive, resilience, and that competitive spirit they are born with to endure. They rock my world!
Ted PeepLover: Intelligence, athleticism, sensitivity, debonair good looks,and utter lack of vanity. I should know. I am one.
Amanda Hammons Frye: The only thing i can say is their heart! No other horse out there will give you their utmost as a OTTB. Their heart…their desire to please their rider is like no other. I have even experienced them putting their own lives in danger to save their rider. Their heart is what makes them like no other….
Hanna Howell: That sometimes if you whisper to them, they believe they can do anything.
Lisa Geraghty: Unparalleled beauty
Kristen Brennan: That when you make a mistake, they may roll their eyes at you but they never hold it against you =)
If you have or know of a retired Thoroughbred with an interesting story to tell, we'd love to hear about it! Just email Jen Roytz ([email protected]) with the horse's Jockey Club name, background story, and a few photos.
Jen Roytz is the marketing and communications director at Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Kentucky. She also handles the farm's Thoroughbred aftercare efforts. She currently owns two retired Thoroughbreds: Point of Impact (by Point Given; a.k.a. Boomer), who retired from racing in late 2011 and is just starting back under saddle to find his forte as a riding horse, and Shotgun Shine (by Tale of the Cat, a.k.a. Gage), who is in training as a hunter/jumper. Contact Jen on Facebook and Twitter.
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