Suffolk Downs, Connections Do ‘The Right Thing’ for 7-Year-Old Gelding

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Convocation wins an allowance race at Gulfstream Park March 18, 2010 Convocation wins an allowance race at Gulfstream Park March 18, 2010

At the other end of the spectrum from the deceased Monzante – winner of the 2008 Eddie Read Handicap who died Saturday in a $4,000 claiming race at Evangeline Downs – is a 7-year-old gelding named Convocation.

A son of Pulpit out of Shade Dance, by Nureyev, Convocation didn’t win a Grade 1 race. In fact, he never won a stakes of any kind, though he earned nearly $400,000 competing in graded races in New York during his 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old campaigns. Purchased for $340,000 at the 2008 Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training sale, Convocation raced most of his career for Centennial Farms, the Massachusetts-based partnership created by the late Donald V. Little and now run by his son, Don Jr.

Convocation was sidelined for more than a year after an eighth-place finish in the 2011 G1 Woodward at Saratoga. When he returned 14 months later, Nov. 11, 2012, he was dropped in for a $50,000 claiming tag at Aqueduct by Centennial Farms and trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher claimed him, and Convocation ran third.


When the gelding surfaced next, at Aqueduct on Jan. 18, Pletcher and Repole dropped Convocation in for a $30,000 claiming price. His rider that day was Eclipse Award-winning Ramon Dominguez, and when Convocation went down in a spill after clipping heels with another horse, it would be the last race the future Hall of Famer would ride. Convocation became an unfortunate footnote in history when the accident would later force the retirement of Dominguez.

David Jacobson claimed Convocation out of that race for Christopher Dunn, then ran him back two months later for $20,000 claiming. Convocation finished fifth, but was claimed by trainer David Cannizzo on behalf of Two Tone Farms. Six weeks after that, on May 9 at Belmont Park, Jacobson claimed Convocation back, this time for $15,000.

Jacobson sent Convocation to trainer John Assimakopoulos at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, Mass., where the gelding worked three furlongs in :37.40 on July 1, then had him entered in a bottom-level $4,000 claiming race at Suffolk last Wednesday. Like the drop of Monzante from $15,000 to $4,000 before his final race, this is a move that often doesn’t end well.

The entry raised the eyebrows of several people at Suffolk Downs, including Sam Ellliott, the vice president of racing. Don Little noticed, too, having put Convocation on Daily Racing Form’s Stable Mail, a service that alerts subscribers when a horse is entered to race.

“I never questioned any soundness issues and have nothing against the owner or trainer,” Little told the Paulick Report, “but I know the digression of claiming races and decided we needed to find something else for him to do.”

Don Little Jr., president of Centennial Farms

Don Little Jr., president of Centennial Farms

Little contacted his Centennial partners and began the process of buying Convocation back. Word reached Elliott, who called Assimakopoulos last Tuesday and let him know Centennial was interested in retiring the horse.

“Within two minutes,” Elliott said, “I got a call back from John, and they agreed to do this without hesitation – zero reluctance.”

Convocation was scratched. “It was a seven-horse field, too,” Elliott said. “Racetracks are short of horses and you can’t tell people what to do with their horses. I’m glad I have people in place here who are willing to do the right thing.”

If Centennial didn’t step up to purchase Convocation, Elliott insisted the horse would not have run if there were any questions about his soundness.

“With my vet, if they don’t like one even a little bit, they’re not running. That’s the policy we have,” Elliott said. In Massachusetts, the veterinarians conducting pre-race exams are employed by the track. “With the wrong people in place, that could be dangerous,” Elliott said. “We let the vets do their jobs and don’t interfere.”

Unlike Evangeline Downs, Suffolk Downs is a member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety Alliance, which has an accreditation process and Code of Conduct for member tracks. “We are NTRA certified and we take it all very seriously,” Elliott said. “The safety issue begins with vigilance. You need the right attitude to do the right thing. It’s never going to be perfect because of the nature of the sport, but you’ve got to do everything you can possibly. What happened to that horse at Evangeline Downs, it’s sad. Grade 1 winners are the royalty of the sport.”

Little said the deal was not closed yet, but that “we will complete this transaction and I have a place for him to go” – someone who lives near Little and wants to transition Convocation into a trail horse.

“The nice thing is most of our partners are in showjumping or horse shows, and we do find good homes for our horses. That’s part of the philosophy we like to see in the partners we have. Convocation was a good horse for us; he won races at Saratoga two years in a row. This was the right thing to do.”

If only more owners saw things this way, and more racetracks were so vigilant in protecting the health of the horses and riders.

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  • Richard C

    Maybe – and it could be a dream – the hideous demise of Monzante will finally get tracks, owners, trainers, previous owners and others at all the ovals to begin taking seriously the health and welfare of the runners. The idea of disposable athletes was a brutal vision of the East German sports machine – which used young athletes in PED experiments to create the perfect competitor – and tossed them away once their bodies broke down and they were no longer of any use to the country.

  • Knowitall

    Suffolk Downs may struggle as much as any track in the country, and has no casino or slots money yet, but if every track was owned by a Richard Fields and hired a Sam Elliott and Chip Tuttle to run the place, this would be a MUCH better sport. KUDOS to Suffolk Downs and most of all to Don Little and Centennial Farms for not even thinking twice when it was time to step up for their horse.

    And now we hear, with little surprise, that Thacker ordered Monzante put down when he had not suffered a certain life ending injury.

    The yin and the yang of the game is hard to fathom at times…

  • Jack

    If there were no soundness issues, why was the horse being entered like a hot potato, dropping thousands after each claim? If the horse was sulking, I’d hope one of the multi-millionaires (Repole/Jacobsen) who had claimed him, would have had the decency to put him on a farm….it’s nickels for these guys, especially when you realize they could have written off the loss.

    • Howard Chinchuck

      The thing I dont understand, is that David Jacobson reclaimed him .
      If he was crippled why would he have done it?
      After he reclaimed him for $15k he went to Suffolk to run for $4k

      • Anna

        He wasn’t “crippled”, he just wasn’t competitive.

      • Nancy

        This was not the first time Jacobson sent a horse to Suffolk to run in a cheap claimer to dump him on someone else. Happens quite a bit and I’m sure he’s not the only one who does it. Check out Say Toba Sandy, doesn’t she deserve a decent retirement after over 40 starts and earnings of $400,000. I’m afraid Karakorum Elektra has also started down this path after being claimed by Jacobson for $25,000. Disgraceful.

        • Roisin

          I’ve been watching Jacobson for some time and really do not think much of him . Yes, he is making money and a name for himself. But there two sides to the “name ” he is making !!

  • thoroughbred watch dog

    Hate to rain on this parade but the state vet at suffolk downs is no better than any other vet who has allowed an unsound horse to race. A few years back a horse named bullheaded jogged for his pee-race exam and was noticeably off. The trainer begged the state vet to let the horse run, assuring him that the horse would be sound by post time. What happened? You guessed it. The horse broke down in the race and was vanned off. The racetrack hierarchy can do and say what they want. Yes they have done a lot when it comes to retirement but just as many if not more have slipped thru the cracks.

    • Knowitall

      is that vet still employed at SD?

  • Stephanie

    Well I hope everyone who spread the word about Monzante also spread this story around.

    • Beach

      Of course. But it’s always nice to hear about good practices, vice bad ones.

  • Keith

    Great article! However I believe it was actually Jessica Paquette, the handicapper at Suffolk Downs, who first noticed the entry on their end.

  • Jay Stone

    Congrats to Sam for doing the right thing in this situation. The problem is where do you draw the line in these cases. Age cannot be the barometer. Every horse that runs has some problem from very small to major. With mega purses a steep drop in some venues doesn’t necessarily mean worsening physical issues. Guys are running horses with huge drops not worrying about losing them because the purse is more than twice the value of the animal. This is a very complex issue with no specific answer.

  • old horse lover

    Good to have a smile for a moment on this one.
    Thank you

  • MyBigRed

    Thanks Ray, for staying on top of these stories & keep them going. Horses can not speak for themselves, they need caring humans who are brave & will stand up for them. I wish all horses retired on lush green pastures with loving & caring owners, like they deserve.

  • MyBigRed

    Does anyone know where Caracortado is & what became of him ??

    • Anna

      He had a workout last month, but may have had another hoof setback. He’s still around though, and is probably still stabled at Hollywood (where he worked in June).

      • MyBigRed

        Thanks for the update. Caracortado is still one of my favorites. I hope & pray when it is his time to retire, he goes to a loving owner.

        • we’re wtaching

          It sounds like it’s time for him to retire right now. That’s the problem, knowing when. And if he has nothing more to give, retire him.

          • MyBigRed

            I wish Caracortado was on the East Coast, because i would adopt him in a heartbeat & allow him to live the life of luxury, like my 2 older horses have. Please those who are in California, keep an eye out for him. Please don’t let him go to the wayside or be forgotten just because he is a gelding……

    • Gina

      Thank you for asking! He’s a half-brother to my OTTB, Capital Cat. He just fell off the screen.

      Would like to see Wasserman retired, up at Emerald.

      • Matthew Martini

        I agree with you regarding Wasserman. 81 races and close to $600K in earnings is enough for this guy who is a big fan favorite among many NW racing fans, including me. I would love to see him retire to a good home or even become a stable pony (ala Lava Man) so that we can still see him on the track, but in a safer capacity. His story needs to end well. He deserves it.

  • dawnallama

    I was getting ready to go to the track that day he was supposed to race in the $4k claimer… I was shocked to see him… but then I saw he was scratched and heard through the grapevine he was retired instead. Having that happen before the Monzante fiasco cemented a little more faith in humanity, and I’m glad this story was published for the same reason. Very classy move and I’m proud of Suffolk for doing it. Now I’m just waiting for yet another Mike Repole horse to get funneled– My Entourage has been making the entry box in lower-level claimers lately!

    • RayPaulick

      It’s hard to keep track of everyone and their latest moves, but from my point of view Mike Repole has been a big supporter of Thoroughbred retirement. Horses go up and down the claiming ladder. It’s hard to “legislate” what should and shouldn’t happen with a horse, but as I originally wrote there has to be compassion, common sense and decency involved in these decisions by owners.

      • Beach

        I second. But, I sure as hell hope that some people ARE supporters of Thoroughbred retirement, especially when they lose the Belmont–but, about 3 days later, if I remember correctly, sell a company for ~ $220 million…we’re not talking the “small-time claimer” stuff in a case like that.

    • Trudatmofo

      Mike Repole, as Mr. Paulick said, is a HUGE supporter of retired horses. Lets focus on the positive in this story rather than trying to drag someone through the mud that has nothing to do with it.

    • dawnallama

      Well this was meant as a positive remark, though I guess everyone has concentrated more on the comment on My Entourage. We prevented one from slipping through the cracks, but it’s important to watch the rest. I brought up Entourage because I remember watching him at higher-level races as Mike Repole’s potential Derby horse, and I’m mentioning him because I want to be sure he doesn’t become a statistic like Monzante. No, I don’t personally like Repole, but just like I am with everyone else, I’m watching to make sure people who CAN afford to buy up a large number of horses can also afford to see them through to the end. You have to sign paperwork for that when buying a dog, why would you skirt the same for a horse? This sort of thinking applies to everyone, too.

    • monica horn

      It’s not my personal story to tell, but a good friend of mine had a great experience with Mike Repole. She noticed a horse of his was dropping in class and my friend, working with Repole’s racing manager and through a reputable OTTB rescue/rehoming organization, was GIVEN the horse by Repole. He willingly and w/o hesitation PAID for the transportation and made a generous donation to the rescue. The horse is happily retired. These positive things going on behind-the-scenes don’t often make the headlines. If not for my friendship with this person, I’d have never known it happened.

      • dawnallama

        Thanks for sharing your experience with Repole, that makes me feel much better as I see more and more of these level droppers.

  • Amy

    Thank you Ray, for this wonderful story, as it restores our hope for the future of this beloved sport.

  • Beach

    Kudos to Suffolk Downs and co. for making effort to do this right. And this track has struggled just as much, if not more, than many other tracks. Just read the book “Not By a Long Shot”.

  • Ida Lee

    Thank you so much for doing the right thing for Convocation. We all needed this story right now.

  • Lina_TX

    Kudos to Suffolk Downs, to Don V. Little, Jr and Sam Elliott and all the other good folks at Centennial, as well as Convocation’s connections for seeing this horse retired in a timely manner. Convocation is a very lucky horse. May he have a long and healthy life, and enjoy his next career.

  • betterthannothing

    Great story, thanks to all who secured Convocation’s safe retirement from racing.

  • Paula Watson

    Anyone knows where UPTOWNCHARLYBROWN ended up at?

    • Guest

      He’s at stud

      • blackcatlover

        At stud outside of Harrisburg, PA.

        • Paula Watson

          GREAT NEWS! I think I’ve missed the official announcement that he went to Stud. He was still on my virtual stable and I was starting to worry. Thanks!!!

          • MyBigRed

            I LOVE Equibase Virtual Stable. That is how I keep track of my Favorite Horses, that are not always the winners of their race, but I love them all the same.

          • Don Reed

            I agree. It’s one of the bright spots in an otherwise often carelessly run industry that often, infuriatingly, shows scant consideration for their customers.

            (Thank goodness we don’t run the ocean oil platforms and that NYRA didn’t hire their new CEO from BP.)

            A tip: I use it each spring to track the Derby aspirants. At one time, I would type, cut and paste the boilerplate information. For some reason, that blew up their software and what a mess that was to untangle.

            If the situation remains the same and you want to enter 20-25 horses onto your list for the same reason, you’ll have to take the time to input each one manually, doing the typing.

            (I’d say “keyboarding,” but that term is reserved for the boasting computer hotshots who occasionally spell a word correctly.)

    • Rose Hill

      At Stud in PA where he is treated like a king by his owners as well as Penn Ridge Farm !

  • jane raymond

    Now, THAT’s intervention! High-five to those who stepped in!! :)

    • Nancy Hayes

      You can say that again…and again…and again! Please let this type of scenario become the norm with those alarming drops in class. Especially with those horses that have given so much to those owners who rode the high with them in their heyday, but did not follow them should they end up in the claiming ranks.

  • 4Bellwether666

    Pure class and a ton of heart…

  • Roisin

    “The deal is not closed yet”. Hope it closes soon ! I hate to be a skeptic, but what are the real timelines in relation to the Monzante publicity. Please do not misunderstand, I’m very glad to see people who are willing to do the right thing for their athletes and do not mean to detract from that.

  • RedShoesGirl

    now what is needed is some way to follow connvocation’ life. to see if he really is retired well and retrained into a trail horse. it isn’t as if i don’t believe the owner it is just sometimes these horses fall off the radar and the next thing you don’t know is they are on their way to the slaughter house.

    • DixieCat

      I know the owner personally and I can assure you that he will have a great retirement life!

      • LaraHa

        thanks!

  • Steve

    Good for them,unfortunately Suffolk is a terrible place to watch horseracing.

  • Jamie Coughlin

    This is awesome news.

  • RayPaulick

    Addendum to this story: Even as Don Little Jr. and Centennial Farms were in contact with the owners to buy Convocation, so, too, was the Final Furlong, a retirement organization that Niall and Stephanie Brennan established to track and care for graduates of Niall Brennan Stables. Convocation was sold by Niall Brenna as a 2-year-old in training. For more on Final Furlong: http://niallbrennan.com/images/niallbrennan.com/default.aspx?contentName=Final%20Furlong%20%20Horse%20Retirement&horselistview=1&horsetype=show%20horse&thumbsize=_small&gallery=1&galleryid=123

    • Knowitall

      Maybe the sad Monzante story – and the wonderful tale of Convocation – can highlight all those that have reaped the benefits of these animals giving back, and encourage others to do the same next time they have a chance to do so. The culture of the sport has to change and new owners need to understand the many ways they can succeed at providing their horses with a better retirement, and the inherent moral obligation they have to do so.

  • Suzanne

    Way to go! Now we need more of this. Alot more!

  • Holly H

    I wish Penn National had an Elliot at its helm and vets that really would represent/ look out for the horses. Saw a very lame horse go out onto the track past the vet for a race, she let him run then tagged him AFTER the race for the watch list. I played dumb and went up and talked to her after that and she said ‘Oh, we check all horses out carefully, blah blah blah…

  • ziggiepop

    Let us not forget to keep our eyes on Porfido. 11 years old and has already ran 7 times this year and two reported works since June. 66 starts.

  • monika mccomb

    TB racing is nothing but an exploitation of the animals, 9o% of the race horses are being discarded at auctions for meat. The race track produces more unwanted horses than anybody would ever know……………………Animal lovers dont support Racing at all <3

    • monica horn

      “Animal lovers don’t support racing at all”
      <
      Now, how exactly does that help the race horses?

  • Convene

    Now that’s the way it should be done.

    I don’t know what the answers are but it always bothers me – those real cheap claiming races. It’s just too easy for horses to end up there when they should be out eating grass or enjoying the woods and trails with someone who thinks they’re champions.
    Congratulations and blessings for all the good people who did the right thing and made sure Convocation would not become another Monzante – or Ferdinand …

  • monica horn

    Thanks for the “Feel-Good” story of the week! Unfortunately, THIS will not not be spread around the media by animal activists and others who hate racing as are the stories about the “dark side” of the sport!

  • Tonto

    Some horses like being racehorses better than any other job you can find for them. Why assume that hauling some rider around the woods is a big deal when you have spent your life as a pro athlete in a bedded box stall with ‘staff’ ?????

  • Dan

    Nice story

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