There's no doubt about it, Brookline was bred for greatness. Out of the iconic broodmare Cara Rafaela, a Grade 1 winner herself who produced the likes of superstar sire Bernardini, Brookline had some big shoes to fill.
It was at Margaux Farm, a Thoroughbred training center located in Midway, Ky., that farm trainer Dermot Littlefield first took a liking to him. A strong, nice-moving, good-looking son of Tapit, Brookline was bred and owned by Godolphin and trained by Mike Stidham, first at Fair Grounds and then throughout the East Coast. Their plan, once he broke his maiden in the U. S., was to send him to Dubai to continue his racing career as a member of Godolphin Racing.
Charged with keeping the 16.2-hand Brookline in training and fit during his quarantine period for his pending trip, Littlefield couldn't help but admire the horse. But having had hundreds of horses pass through his stable on their way to racing careers elsewhere, Littlefield hadn't even considered the possibility of doing anything else with Brookline other than keeping him conditioned, preparing him for his departure oversees and appreciating the horse while he was in his care.
As anyone with horses will attest, things don't always go as planned, and while Brookline was intended to continue his racing career abroad with some of his fellow Godolphin runners, he simply never left. Toward the end of his 3-year-old year, it became obvious he wouldn't achieve the Grade 1 glory several of his relatives had, and the decision was made to retire the big dapple gray.
Godolphin has long been a staunch supporter of responsible aftercare throughout the industry. Its Lifetime Care initiative was created as a best-practices approach to insure Godolphin horses received the highest standard of care before, during and after their racing careers, and any horse that retires from the Godolphin racing stable either joins the farm's broodmare band or is rehomed through the company's comprehensive aftercare protocol.
The newly-gelded Brookline was obviously not a candidate to be the newest member of the farm's broodmare herd, which meant he would soon be up for adoption. Familiar with the farm's aftercare process, Littlefield put in his application to adopt Brookline, hoping to use him as a stable pony and possibly do a bit of foxhunting with the local hunt clubs.
To help Brookline get a solid foundation of retraining for his new job, Littlefield sent him to Sarah MacHarg's Passport Sport Horses in Lexington, Ky. MacHarg works with all breeds for training and showing, but considers restarting Thoroughbreds as riding and sport horses as one of her key specialties, thanks to the combination of her equestrian background paired with seven years spent working as an exercise rider at the track.
“Dermot sent Brookline to me earlier this year to get him restarted after he'd given him some time off to let down and be a horse. His goal was just to make him into a hack-around horse – something he could pony horses to and from the track on, ride around the farm or on trails, maybe take hunting occasionally. His goal for him was to be a horse that he and his family could enjoy,” said MacHarg. “Once I started working with him, it became obvious he had some serious talent. He was a horse that wanted to work and be challenged.”
Talent in Thoroughbreds doesn't always come in the form of speed. While Bernardini and several of Brookline's other siblings found their calling on the track, Brookline himself quickly began displaying his athletic ability on the flat and over small fences. He also soon gave MacHarg the impression that a slow-paced life was not going to be an environment in which he thrived.
“Earlier this summer, after I'd done what'd I'd been asked to do with him, I'd sent him back to Dermot to start using him on the farm. We had a serious conversation about what I thought his ability might be as a sport horse and also what workload and environment I thought he'd do best,” said MacHarg. “Once he got back to the farm, Dermot and his wife each rode him a few times and agreed the life they wanted to offer him may not be enough for him. He's super-talented, likes to jump and thrives in a one-on-one work environment.”
As much as they liked the horse, the Littlefields made the difficult decision to return the horse to MacHarg for more formal training with the goal of selling him as an upper-level sport horse prospect, clearing the decision with Godolphin.
“I've had some of the girls here ride him and they all love him. He's got a bit of an intense personality, like many of the Tapits do. I think that's a big part of what makes them such good racehorses – they're keen, gritty and tough. What makes a horse well-suited for one job, though, can often make them ill-suited for something else,” said MacHarg. “I personally think he could be an FEI prospect for eventing, but he's a nice enough mover that he could be a straight dressage horse as well.”
For now, Brookline is back with MacHarg at Bryan Station Farm, the base of operations for Passport Sport Horses. He is in training and being offered for sale, though MacHarg says he's the type of horse that will suit a rider focused on long term goals.
“He's sensitive without being reactive, intense about work and rideable. It takes him a while to become a master of something, but once he gets it, you don't have to go back and deal with it again. He's not the kind of horse that needs to be pushed. He'll push himself,” she said. “His is a personality that's going to take a bit of a horseman, but for the right person, I think he has a very promising future ahead of him.”
To learn more about Brookline, PassportSportHorses.com.
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky and was recently named the Executive Director of the Retired Racehorse Project. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. 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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