It was in 2009 at the Fasig-Tipton October Yearling Sale that bloodstock agent Mike McMahon first laid eyes on a dark bay colt that would eventually be named Believe In You. McMahon had formed a partnership with well-regarded 2-year-old conditioner Eddie Woods, and under the banner of Saratoga Stables, the pair were shopping for a few prospects they could pinhook (purchase as yearlings; get them properly prepared for their racing careers; and sell as 2-year-olds, hopefully for a profit). His keen eye led him to the son of Congrats, whose first crop were yearlings that year.
The purchase was a solid investment, as Congrats' offspring shot him to the top of the freshman sires list the following year. Even with the economy on unsure footing at the time, McMahon and Woods got a solid return on their investment, selling their $25,000 purchase for $100,000 just five months later at the OBS March Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale (where, just this past year, a daughter of Congrats topped the sale with a final bid of $1.7 million, further validating the confidence the pair had in the stallion back before his runners had ever looked through a bridle).
The men wished the new owners well with their purchase, and as he was led from their barn on the sales grounds to a van waiting to take him to his new stable, McMahon and Woods likely expected it would be the last time they would cross paths with Believe in You. Little did McMahon know that nearly a decade later, Believe in You would need someone to believe in him, and McMahon and his wife would rise to the occasion.
After selling in March of 2009, Believe in You was given a bit of time to refresh before pointing to his first start at Saratoga. Unfortunately, also in the starting gate that day was Uncle Mo, who annihilated the field by 14 ¼ lengths en route to becoming that year's 2-Year-Old Eclipse Champion. Believe in You finishing second to last in his debut. The second verse was the same as the first; in his next start he was up against eventual Derby contender and multiple grades stakes winner Pants on Fire, who won by 7 lengths, with Believe in You bringing up the rear and finishing last.
After a few more efforts it became clear that, like many horses, Believe in You was going to need a lower caliber of competition to excel. Sold to a Pennsylvania-based trainer, Believe in You found his niche, winning his first time out at Penn National and racing quite competitively in the claiming ranks at tracks like Parx Racing, Penn National and Charles Town.
While Believe in You never achieved celebrity racehorse status like Uncle Mo or Pants on Fire, he paid the bills. As many claiming horses do, he changed hands several times throughout his career, often owned by the trainers for whom he raced.
It was in 2017 that McMahon and his wife, Dr. Natanya Nieman, the resident veterinarian at WinStar Farm, received a call about Believe in You, who had been retired from racing but had not landed softly.
“He'd been sold to a horse dealer to get him out of the barn, and Diana Baker [a Lexington-based equine aftercare advocate] had heard about him and that he needed help and contacted us,” said Nieman, who grew up riding eventers and competed in the Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover in 2016 in the show jumping division. “We bought him off the dealer and he went to a rehabilitation facility in Pennsylvania, and Brookledge shipped him home for free.”
Believe in You arrived at McMahon and Neiman's Spruce Lane Farm in September of 2017 in serious need of additional rehabilitation.
“When he arrived at our farm his heels were so run down that they were bloody, and he was very sore to walk,” said Nieman. “We treated those and got him on turnout, which he has been on since. Now he's turned out with my event horse.”
Thanks to the conscientious care provided by McMahon and Nieman, Believe in You (who they nicknamed Levi) has made steady progress. His feet are much-improved, he's fully let down from racetrack life, and as of December, he has started retraining to be a riding horse.
“I got on him in early December and have tried to ride him one to two times a week since then, as the weather and my schedule permits,” said Nieman. “He's very sweet, wants to be petted and loves to be handled. He stood in a stall without a rope for me to pull his mane and he's quiet to ride.”
Nieman has done flat work with the gelding, honing his transitions between the walk, trot and canter, and has introduced him to trotting poles and small jumps in recent weeks.
“He popped over a few 2-foot fences and he never looked at anything. He bends in both directions, has a nice mouth, knows both leads and will be easy to put in a frame and on the bit,” said Nieman. “I think with him, or with any off-track Thoroughbred, it's important to be consistent with them and don't over-face them. Let them learn at their own speed with lots of encouragement and praise. We've been working on the basics, like transitions, accepting the bridle, bending and balance.”
With a demanding job at WinStar Farm, Nieman isn't in the position to keep Believe in You as her personal horse. Instead, she's hoping to find him the perfect home with a junior or adult amateur who would enjoy bringing a recently retired Thoroughbred along through his training.
“I would love to keep him and compete with him myself in the Thoroughbred Makeover, but with my kids, a full-time job, my own horses and our farm, which currently has 26 horses between our broodmares, yearlings and rehabs, I just don't have the time to dedicate to him. It wouldn't be fair for him,” she said, noting that she hopes to sell him for $2,000 in order to recuperate the expenses on his rehabilitation. “I love riding him and I know he would be an easy and fun horse for someone to train.”
Until she finds the right home for him, Nieman will continue to put training and miles on Believe in You, focusing on flat work, jumping and dressage.
For inquiries about Believe in You, please contact [email protected] and I will put you in contact with Natanya Neiman.
Name: Believe in You (a.k.a. “Levi”)
Born: March 14, 2008
Color: Dark Bay
Dam: Sister Greeley, by Mr. Greeley
Sale History: Sold as a yrlg at FTOCT for $25,000; sold as a 2YO at OBSMAR for $100,000
Race Record: 55-4-5-6
Race Earnings: $81,548
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. She is the go-to food source for one dog, 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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