Three Chimneys Presents Good News Friday: Secretariat Lives On … in the Showring

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Innkeeper Innkeeper

As the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown run has come and gone, Big Red’s blood seems to fade further into the distance of today’s Thoroughbred breeding.

But in the sport horse world, that blood is still very much in demand.

In 1988, the Mr. Prospector mare Sue Babe foaled a strapping bay colt by Secretariat in what would be one of his last crops. As a yearling, the colt eventually named Innkeeper commanded $1.2 million from D. Wayne Lukas at auction. His running style didn’t seem to match his looks, however, and Innkeeper was retired to stud at three with just one career win.

Although he’s revered as a racehorse, Secretariat wasn’t known for being as great a sire as many expected, and Innkeeper’s stock went down the longer he stood at stud.

One of Innkeeper’s few Thoroughbred offspring was Motel Time, a 1994 mare who finished second in the Maggies Pistol and third in the Born Famous Handicap in her days on the track. It seems she was Innkeeper’s biggest success as a sire of racehorses.

Innkeeper stood initially in Ocala before transitioning to New York, where he garnered little support from Thoroughbred breeders. This is where, in the days before Old Friends and other stallion retirement facilities, the story could have taken an unfortunate turn, but it didn’t.

The stallion eventually fell into the hands of Dr. Rick Irvine, and sporthorse breeder Ursula Ferrier met Innkeeper as an 8-year-old. By then, the stallion was a show horse in Connecticut, and his owner asked Ferrier if she would like to lease him. One of the few things she knew about him, besides his imposing looks and royal pedigree was his barn name—“Howard.” Ferrier didn’t feel she had the right to change it.

“It’s the stupidest name in the world. I’d always be in the barn screaming, ‘Howard!’” laughed Ferrier.

Innkeeper during an eventing competition

Innkeeper during an eventing competition

Ferrier became so enamored with the horse that she bought him. Throughout his younger years, Innkeeper dabbled in eventing, hunters, and dressage with success, even competing in the internationally-recognized Dressage at Devon show. He briefly competed with Olympic eventer Stephen Bradley and trained with Olympic eventer Bruce Davidson, who competed several of Howard’s offspring.

Even though Innkeeper was a stallion, Ferrier said he was always a consummate professional, and despite a shrill neigh (which was once mistaken for the cry of a peacock), he was safe enough for a child or beginner to ride.

“Super, super temperament,” she said. “He’s been ridden his whole life.

“I always said he was like Beavis from Beavis and Butthead or Eddie Haskell. He was always grabbing things and tossing blankets around. But he’s very safe. Very loud and boisterous with a very beady, bright sort of pony eye. He’s very cheeky.”

Innkeeper in his competition days

Innkeeper in his competition days

She had been looking for a Thoroughbred stallion to add to her breeding program, and Innkeeper had the perfect mix of imposing presence, physical sturdiness, correctness, and the type of racing blueblood that has become attractive to sporthorse owners. She got the horse licensed by the Oldenburg Registry North America and the International Sporthorse Registry—a difficult feat for a Jockey Club-registered Thoroughbred.

“He’s just a beautiful horse. Just gorgeous. “He looks a lot like a bay version of Secretariat—same size but bay. The Warmblood people just fell all over themselves to find a Thoroughbred with that bloodline who looked like that,” recalled Ferrier.

Howard proved as versatile a stallion – standing several seasons at Maryland’s Hilltop Farm – as he was in the show ring. Ferrier said he was preferred by breeders for his ability to “lighten up” stockier Warmblood mares while contributing a very sporthorse-type build. He has produced horses who have excelled as hunters, dressage mounts, eventers, and even stock horses.

Oldenburg son of Innkeeper, Innervness

Oldenburg son of Innkeeper, Innervness

Ferrier ultimately donated Innkeeper to Virginia Tech’s Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension (MARE) Center, where at age 25, he is still available for breeding via artificial insemination. Ferrier hadn’t planned to give Howard up, but when the opportunity arose, she realized it was an ideal place for him to live out his days.

“We’ve been really impressed by how versatile a sire he’s been,” said Dr. Rebecca Splan of the MARE Center. “I think he’s benefitted from the fact that there’s the Secretariat connection and the fact that being a Thoroughbred, he’s able to contribute to so many different breed registries.

“He definitely has his fans out there, and the Secretariat connection does draw folks to him. He’s a very good stallion in his own right without that as well. He certainly gets a lot of interest from folks from all over the U.S.”

Splan said Howard’s excellent demeanor has made him an ideal teacher for the college students at the Center who are learning about herd health and stallion collections. He lives in a paddock near another of the Center’s stallions, and Splan said he serves as a sort of rooster on the farm.

“He is very talkative. You always know what’s going on on the farm because he lets you know,” said Splan.

Although many stallions who prove unpopular commercially are at risk of nefarious ends, Ferrier said she doesn’t feel that Howard would have ever been in real danger of becoming another ‘unwanted horse.’

“He was sort of lost in the Thoroughbred world … [but] you stop to look at him. He’s very striking,” said Ferrier. “We always joked that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He’s just one of those kinds of characters where if you dropped the bread it would land butter side up. I know it happens to a lot of them, but I don’t think it would have ever happened to him.

“It’s just how he is.”

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  • victoria

    If I were still in the sport horse breeding business, I’d be all over him too. What an athletic jump.

  • MyBigRed

    Oh how I wish I had the money and a broodmare to have artificial insemination by Innkeeper. I’ve loved Secretariat since I was 15 in 1973 & my LOVE & ADMIRATION has never waned over the years.

    • Ida Lee

      Yeah, me too! Secretariat was and still is a very real presence in my life.

  • Barbara

    I agree. It makes me want to go out and buy a broodmare and breed her to Howard. I’m in VA too, so he is not that far away. ♥

  • Fred A. Pope

    Bruce Davidson won top individual at the 1974 World 3-day Championships, which allowed the U.S. to host the 1978 event, and the Ky. Horse Park was chosen. My ad agency was working on both the KHP and the event. One day in 1975, Bruce was in Lexington and we had a network film crew in town doing prep work for a preliminary event.

    I took them over to Claiborne to film Secretariat. Event horses must be a minimum 5 YO, and Secretariat was 5, so Bruce was looking at the magnificent full horse with envy and Big Red was hamming it up for the camera. I’m glad Bruce got work with some of his babies.

  • Patricia Jones

    popular bloodline in barrel racing also

  • amgm1431

    Great story. I’m showing a four-year-old from the Secretariat line in dressage. I’d love to see “Howard”s descendants in the show ring.

  • MsMarianne

    I bred a granddaughter of Secretariat, Miss Believer, and I’ve been told she went on to foal several Gran Prix jumpers

  • SunnySide

    Love this, “…One of the few things she knew about him, besides his imposing looks
    and royal pedigree was his barn name—“Howard.” Ferrier didn’t feel she
    had the right to change it.

    “It’s the stupidest name in the world. I’d always be in the barn screaming, ‘Howard!’” laughed Ferrier…”

  • Tinky

    Interesting to note that Oldenburg appears much more physically reminiscent of Big Red than his sire, Innervness.

  • rachel

    That picture of his son, Innervness is absolutely perfect…lovely, lovely rider.

  • Gontyna

    I have a son of Innkeeper, named Immaginn, and my neighbor is Major-General Jonathan R. Burton, who competed for the U.S. in two Olympic Games (’48 and ’56) and was later a dressage and eventing judge. A few years back, while he was bicycling past my place, he stopped to look at my Innkeeper son, who was galloping around the arena and showing off. “What do you think?” I asked, nodding at Immaginn. “He’s magnificent!” Burton answered. “That’s interesting,” I replied, “You were one of the judges who approved his dad, Innkeeper, for the ISR/Oldenburg registry.” He just smiled.

    • Kitty

      Hi Gontyna, I am an old friend of Judy Burton and have a questions for the general. is it possible for you to tell me what
      state you live in? I would very much like to visit him if possible. Kitty Weyl

      • Gontyna

        He’s in Arizona. He’s also on Facebook.

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