“She was my greatest mentor at the track…and taught me that sometimes the best jockey is the best passenger,” said Kaylea Richardson, the former jockey and now owner of this week's featured off-tracker, Tank.
Tank, who raced as Royal Tiara, was a hard knockin' runner that earned more than $100,000 in the claiming ranks in Western Canada.
“I started my racetrack career as a groom and galloper at Northlands racetrack in Edmonton, Alberta,” said Kaylea. “Nearing the end of my first season in July of 2009, our trainer claimed a horse for $13,000, and she came into my care.”
That horse was Royal Tiara, or “Tank” as she was soon known around trainer Rick Hedge's Northlands Park-based barn because of her size.
“She was such a looker, but boy was she miserable, and I really don't blame her,” said Kaylea. “She had chips in her knees, chips in her ankles, wind puffs, swollen hocks, and a sore back.”
All of those painful issues gave Tank quite the sour attitude, but Kaylea spent hours each day icing, wrapping, and rubbing down Tank, using magnets on all of her sore spots and “issues.”
“She slowly started coming around and being happier,” said Kaylea.
All of Kaylea's hard work and loving attention paid off. By the end of the meet, Tank had two photos in the winner's circle, with Kaylea standing right next to her as her groom.
That winter Tank was sent to a training farm to get a bit of freshening and rest, and Kaylea was there with her the whole time.
The next year at the track, Kaylea was preparing to get her jockey's license and was focusing on riding more than grooming, the exception to which was Tank.
“My second year she was the only horse I groomed, and I'd spend hours with her after morning training working on those tender little legs of hers and even taking her for walks when it was quiet in the afternoons,” said Kaylea.
Toward the end of that season, Kaylea was approved by the stewards to ride races and embarked on her long-awaited jockey career.
“I wanted to ride her [in a race] so badly,” said Kaylea. “I begged and begged Rick to let me ride her and, after about a month of trying to convince him, he finally let me ride her for her last race!”
On race day, Kaylea came early to bathe Tank and clean all of her tack. She set her race bandages out, put her magnetic blanket, knee sweats, and ice boots on her and made sure that all Tank's race-day groom needed to do was throw everything together and bring her to the paddock.
“She was my eighth mount ever, and I was so confident and happy sitting up there in the tack. It was definitely a dream come true,” said Kaylea.
Kaylea warmed up Tank, and they loaded into the gate with the other horses.
“I'll never forget sitting in that gate and it being all quiet as I wrapped my hands in her mane,” said Kaylea. “When they sprung I was amazed at how hard she broke. To this day, I've never ridden a horse as fast or as strong as her. She lived for it and she was a gritty old girl.
“Turning for home, we were three abreast with two other horses, and she needed no encouragement. I just yelled ‘come on mamma bear!' and she dug deeper and deeper – I couldn't believe how many gears that old mare had. It was the most exhilarating feeling in the world! I pushed behind her ears at the wire and we WON! It was the happiest day of my life.”
Coming back after the race, Tank gave a little buck and squeal and was so strong Kaylea could barely pull her up.
Knowing that would be Tank's final race, Kaylea talked with her owners, expressing a keen interest in having Tank as her own horse. Tank's owners were well aware of Kaylea and Tank's bond and agreed that after Tank produced one foal, Kaylea could have her.
Just a week after retiring from racing, though, Tank and her new pasture-mates spooked and broke out of the gate to their pasture. Tank suffered a laceration to her neck that went down to her windpipe.
“I spent every day driving an hour from my house to the barn to take care of her and clean her neck up,” said Kaylea. “She is a very fortunate horse to have survived that, and thank goodness it healed.”
Once she recovered, Tank was bred to Alberta-based stallion Alydeed and on March 8, 2012, she produced a beautiful colt.
“It was a long three years, but she is fat and happy on the farm just being a horse,” said Kaylea. “She's a great ride, even after coming home from the track and having two years off. She'll forever have a home with me on lush green pastures where we live.”
Name: Royal Tiara (a.k.a. “Tank”)
Height: 17 hands
Dam: Queen's Inn
Sale History: none
Race Record: 46-11-13-8
Race Earnings: $107,463
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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