When has a horse done enough? That was the question many people were asking a week ago when Cost of Freedom, a 10-year-old California-bred gelding by Cee's Tizzy with career earnings of $1,018,799, was entered in an $8,000 claiming race on the final weekend of racing at Betfair Hollywood Park.
He'd been racing since 2006, beginning his career in modest company for owner-breeder John Harris, breaking his maiden carrying a $50,000 claiming tag in his second start.
Two years and six starts later, trainer John Sadler dropped a $50,000 claim on the horse for owners Gary and Cecil Barber. In two months, Cost of Freedom was a Grade 1 winner pointing toward the Breeders' Cup Sprint, after capturing the Ancient Title Stakes at Santa Anita.
Foot problems sidelined him for a year, but he came back strong, finishing a close third, beaten a nose and head, in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Sprint.
The next year, Cost of Freedom won a pair of G3 races, the Los Angeles Handicap and Vernon O. Underwood Stakes, but by 2011 his form had trailed off, and he was back running for a claiming price. Trainer Ed Moger Jr. picked him up for $32,000. Cost of Freedom was a reliable competitor for Moger, winning several races in claiming or allowance company before changing hands again in April of this year in a $12,500 claiming race at Golden Gate Fields.
His new owners, Nick Ferrara and Battle Born Racing, had some success with the gelding during his 10-year-old campaign, winning two of five starts in Northern California.
But when Cost of Freedom was returned to Southern California and entered at Hollywood Park in an $8,000 claiming races on Dec. 21, John Malone, the head clocker at Santa Anita and Del Mar, got a call from his friend, trainer Carl O'Callaghan, asking the question: Hasn't this horse done enough?
Malone, a former trainer who has a handful of Thoroughbreds on his farm in Temecula, inquired about buying Cost of Freedom privately to retire him before the race. He'd followed the horse's career as he ascended the ladder from claimer to Grade 1 winner, and was disappointed to see him falling down to racing's lowest levels. His efforts to buy him weren't successful.
Cost of Freedom wound up running 10th, beating one horse, as the 8-5 favorite in the worst finish of his 47-race career.
Cost of Freedom was claimed out of the race in a three-way shake won by trainer Robertino Diodoro, who planned to take him to Turf Paradise in Arizona and run him in a series of starter handicaps as an 11-year-old.
O'Callaghan, who'd recently experienced the joys of riding retired stable star, Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Kinsale King, in a horse show, posted messages on Twitter and Facebook, asking when “enough was enough.” He was flooded with responses urging that the horse be retired.
O'Callaghan and Malone felt they needed to do something, but weren't exactly flush with cash. They made some calls, including one to Diodoro, who was fully cooperative, and tried to raise enough money to buy Cost of Freedom. The gelding's former trainer, John Sadler, stepped up with a significant donation, encouraging them to continue. They set up a Paypal account seeking donations to retire Cost of Freedom and were, according to Malone “blown away” by the support. Increments as small as $5 from places as far away as Malaysia came in, and by Christmas Eve Malone posted on his Twitter account (@clockersinsider) that Cost of Freedom was officially retired. Cost of Freedom got his own Facebook page, allowing Malone to keep the horse's fans and supporters up to date on the retirement.
“The only sad thing,” Malone said, “was that people who don't have any money were kicking in $10 while others with the resources to help didn't.”
Diodoro will keep Cost of Freedom at his barn until he's ready to be let down and head to Malone's farm this weekend.
Before going forward with the retirement, Malone talked with Moger to make sure Cost of Freedom had the temperament to be a riding horse. Diodoro, he said, has been a complete gentleman throughout and even offered to pay transportation costs.
The experience has provided a new perspective to Malone, who's been clocking horses for more than 20 years. He's even considering forming a 501(c) 3 charity and devoting more time to racehorse retirement.
“I don't need a riding horse,” he said. “I've got several already. My plan is to get him down here, let him down and maybe make him into a trail horse. He might be a good stable pony for someone at the track. Horses do need a certain activity level. He's going to need a job.”
Malone has talked with people like California Retirement Management Account founder Madeline Auerbach and Tranquility Farm benefactor Gary Biszantz about ongoing industry efforts to help give more retired racehorses a second career but “you can't save them all,” he admits.
“I'm in the racing business,” Malone said. “I've got three on the ground at my place that are going to be racing eventually. This was an eye-opener. We have to do a better job of taking care of these old warriors.”
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