This summer as Chip Tuttle watches the last horses race around the Suffolk Downs oval, he will likely be reminded of a gutsy gelding that left the Suffolk Downs backside long ago, and who was and still is a true war horse in every sense of the word. The track, which is scheduled to cease operations at the conclusion of its summer race meet, was home to I Testify, a strapping gray gelding with 16 wins out of 126 starts, for the final four years of his career. It's also where Tuttle first laid eyes on the horse, as he strode through the paddock before each race with a cool confidence and always gave his best on the track.
Tuttle, who serves as the COO for Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, LLC, the former ownership group behind Suffolk Downs that is now leasing it from McClellan Highway Development Co. [learn more about Suffolk Downs' 2017 sale here], is a staunch supporter of aftercare in the racing industry. When the track transitioned from offering racing throughout the year to a boutique meet with just a few racing dates a year, Tuttle was in the thick of efforts in coordination with CANTER New England and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation to ensure the horses being displaced by the drastic reduction in operations had soft landings.
“I live in a house of animal lovers and environmentalists, so it's made me pay much closer attention to aftercare and issues surrounding the well-being of our equine athletes,” said Tuttle, who is also a partner at Conover, Tuttle and Pace, an advertising, public relations and integration firm whose client roster includes the Breeders' Cup, Boston Red Sox and Pinehurst Golf Course.
So, after so many years of watching I Testify compete and seeing that he might not have the edge he once did, Tuttle took a walk through the track's stabling area to the barn of trainer John Bangs and asked if his favorite racehorse might be for sale.
“He'd been toiling in the lower claiming ranks for some time and I just thought he deserved a retirement one start early than one start too late,” said Tuttle. “Both of my kids had become fairly accomplished riders and my wife was interested in getting into riding. We'd been discussing here and there the idea of getting a family horse off and on for some time at that stage. So, I purchased him privately from his trainer. I basically came home that day and told them, ‘guys, we have a horse.'”
In the seven years since then, I Testify (or Sebastian, as he's known these days) has transitioned well beyond being “a horse” to being a beloved member of the family.
“We kept him at a great facility called Pine Tree Equestrian back then. The first six months or so were a little dicey as he went through the process of letting down and transition,” said Tuttle. “His veterinarian, Dr. Rise Sheehan, helped us through the transition and with his vet work and helpful advice for the few years after.”
After I Testify had the better part of the year to let down, Tuttle's daughter, Annie, who has a background in dressage and other riding disciplines, began taking him for hacks out in the hunt country, trail rides and teaching him basic flatwork exercises. Soon after, Tuttle's wife, Leslie, began riding him as well. Before long, the Tuttles had a true family horse.
“He just became such a fun horse for us all. My son, William, plays polo and gets along with him great, and Annie and Leslie put a lot of miles and fundamentals on him too,” said Tuttle, whose third child, Libby, lives in Costa Rica and works as a teacher. “He's done dressage lessons, some jumping, hill-topped with the hunt, schooled cross country and trail ridden extensively. My family are all much better riders than I am, but Sebastian [I Testify] indulges me when I join my wife for a trail ride every few months.”
Today, the Tuttles have a second horse and live on Peaks Island in Casco Bay, Maine, where they keep their horses for most of the year, moving them to Breezy Meadows Stable in Saco, Maine for the winter. Tuttle and his wife enjoy taking their horses on long trail rides through Acadia National Park and Crane Beach.
“He gets ridden five days a week and has an incredible work ethic. He just loves to have a routine and a job. He can be a bit of a knucklehead, but he's a very gentle soul,” said Tuttle. “Every day he's a reminder to me of the responsibility that we as an industry bear for the animals in our care. He reminds me every day how good horse racing has been to me, and to my family, over the years and how important it is to take care of these animals.”
Name: I Testify (a.k.a. “Sebastian”)
Born: January 23, 2000
Sire: Lit de Justice
Dam: Hollywood Gold
Sale History: Sold as a yearling at the ONTSEP sale for $12,824
Race Record: 126-16-15-13
Race Earnings: $334,769
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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