It was on August 2, 2012 that Alysse Jacobs first heard his name. She was working in Horsemen's Relations for the New York Racing Association (NYRA) when a name on the entry list caught her eye. Making his first start was a Todd Pletcher trainee by the name of Notacatbutallama.
“The name was so ridiculous that I had to go to the paddock to see him,” said Jacobs. “When I first laid eyes on him, he was just as cute as his name would suggest, and from there the love affair took flight.”
Jacobs followed “Llama” as he came to be known around the barn and in the racing office. Jacobs visited the Pletcher barn frequently and asked Pletcher and owner Mike Repole how the horse was doing every time their paths crossed.
“Mike and Todd realized how much I loved the horse and were great about letting me come see him whenever I wanted to,” said Jacobs. “I'd just peek into Todd's office window and point at Llama's stall. Todd would roll his eyes, smile and nod to let me know I could go see him and give him some treats.”
While his name might have been Llama, he ran like a racehorse. Breaking his maiden in his second start, he was graded stakes-placed by his fourth start and won the Incurable Optimist S. in his fifth start.
Through his four-year racing career, Llama became a multiple stakes and graded stakes winner, with his biggest wins coming in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame S. (G3) and Hill Prince S. (G3). He also became a champion, not only in the eyes of Jacobs, but in the history books, earning top honors as Champion New York-Bred 3-Year-Old Male in 2013.
“Mike knew how much I loved the horse and had offered early on that I could have him when he retired, but he was a graded stakes-winning in-tact colt so I figured he would go off to stud when he retired,” said Jacobs. “Then after getting the winter off, he came back to the track with a major equipment change. He was a gelding, and it started becoming very real that one day he could actually be mine.”
He ran throughout his 5-year-old season and well into his 6-year-old year, but his form began to wane. By August of 2016 he was at a crossroads. No longer competitive at the stakes level, it was time for his connections to decide if they wanted to continue racing him at a lower level or make other plans for him.
“The beginning of October the horses were leaving the paddock at Belmont for a race. As I was walking out, Mike passed me and nudged me on the shoulder and so completely casually said, ‘The Llama's retired. Let me know when you're picking him up,' and then vanished,” said Jacobs. “I was in shock. I stood there for a second, then started chasing after Todd asking, ‘Wait! What?!'”
Jacobs found a stable that was familiar with letting horses down after racing and transitioning them to non-racing life and for the last year the two have been getting to know each other in an entirely new way.
“The first ride was surreal, but at the same time I was aware I was getting on a fresh-off-the-track OTTB,” said Jacobs. “I've taken it slow. I wanted him to have good experiences and learn at his own pace. I've ridden a lot of off-track Thoroughbreds and a lot of them can get heated up easily and frazzled, so I was cognizant of not wanting to overwhelm him with new information.”
Like many fresh-off-the-track racehorses, Llama could take a hold of the bit and get strong. To counter that tendency, Jacobs worked on educating him about other aids besides rein aids, including legs, seat and body weight.
“When I began riding him, he could walk, trot and gallop. Cantering was hard for him. One of the things I'm most proud of with him is that I can now get him from a trot to a halt without using my hands,” said Jacobs. “But we've also had our moments, like taking five stride lines [to a jump] in three galloping strides. It's a process.”
Going forward, Jacobs would like to broaden her horse's horizons by introducing him to the show ring, but she admits that showing might not be her forte.
“He really is a nice athlete and a beautiful mover. I love riding him and I'd like to see him in the show ring, but given my work schedule and the fact that I'm really not that keen on showing myself, I'm probably not that person,” said Jacobs. “I would love to find a kid who wants to show to half lease him. I want to hear him go into the ring at a show and hear the announcer say, “Now entering the ring,' and then take a pause to double-check the name and then announce the name ‘Notacatbutallama, owned by Alysse Jacobs.' That's my dream.”
Born: May 9, 2010
Color: Dark Bay
Sire: Harlan's Holiday
Dam: Self Rising
Sale History: Sold at Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga Sale for $50,000
Race Record: 39-8-7-8
Race Earnings: $739,359
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She holds board affiliations with the Make a Wish Foundation, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Retired Racehorse Project, among others. While she currently has no plans to build an ark, she is the go-to food source for two dogs, two cats and two off-track Thoroughbreds.
Email Jen your story ideas at [email protected] or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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