This past weekend it was time once again for one of my favorite Lexington traditions, the High Hope Steeplechase. Held each May at the Kentucky Horse Park, tailgaters line the track, cheer on the horses as they thunder past and enjoy what always seems to be a more elevated version of tailgate food (and maybe a few libations) throughout the afternoon.
We were a bit late arriving this year, so we missed the start of the first race. As my friends and I walked up from our car we came upon a small, but mighty winner's circle celebration.
“Oh, that's Des! He won!” exclaimed one of my friends, referring to trainer Desmond Fogarty, with whom she rides in the mornings at the track.
There were high-fives, back-slaps, hugs and more from competitors and friends alike, and there were also heaps of pats, head rubs and genuine adoration given to the horse that had just made it happen. It was everything a proper celebration should be — especially when it is those whose own bodies and souls have put in all the hard work, planning and training — are reaping the rewards.
So, who was the horse at the center of the celebration? A son of the great A. P. Indy who is making steeplechase dreams come true, and loving every minute of it.
Indy's Legacy was meant to be just what his name suggests. Sold as a $600,000 yearling, he is a half-brother to near-million dollar-earner Cool Coal Man and has more than his fair share of black type in his pedigree, but after just two starts on the flat, it was clear that flat racing and the atmosphere that comes with it was not for Indy's Legacy.
“He was very difficult. In the mornings he would refuse to train, which is obviously problematic. He is very high-energy, but hard-headed, and it doesn't take much to set him off,” said Fogarty, who is Indy's Legacy's current trainer, groom, exercise rider and co-owner, along with fellow owners Tim and Vicki Shaw of Thistledown Farm. “They got two races into him [on the flat], but he was very difficult – his brain was getting in the way of his success.”
The horse was sent to a farm for a mental break and seemed to enjoy long gallops in the fields exponentially more than around a busy racetrack, and his rider, who was friends with Fogarty, suggested the horse might be better suited to steeplechasing or timber racing.
Fogarty acquired the horse and began introducing him to a new life, which included schooling over jumps, hacks through the fields and trail riding.
“Jump training is a completely different experience than a racehorse at a racetrack. They get daily turnout and they gallop two to three miles everyday. When transitioning them from the track to jump racing, I teach them to free jump in a round pen, then school them over cross country jumps and whatnot.”
Once they have jumped in races and seem to understand what is being asked of them, Fogarty says he trains horses mostly in pastures and fields on the flat, jumping just once or twice between races.
“Initially you do a lot of schooling over jumps to let them practice and get comfortable with everything, but once they get it, I don't want to over-school them and make them sour,” he explained. “It's like teaching a horse about the starting gate. You teach them slowly and get them used to it with repetition at first, but once they get it, they get it and you don't have to keep teaching the same lesson again and again, unless a problem arises or they have a bad experience. Then you want to go back and remind them how it's supposed to be done or work through an issue.”
Fogarty's insight into training horses, especially difficult ones, has come about through years of experience and literally thousands of rides. While he earned a degree in civil engineering in his native Ireland, horses were always on his mind and, try as he might, he could not find a profession using his degree that seemed nearly as appealing as one with horses.
“I grew up foxhunting a lot at home and horses were always my hobby. I came to America in 1999 to gallop at Keeneland and eventually went to California to get a job that related to my degree, but I couldn't stand not being around horses and got bitten by the bug all over again,” said Fogarty.
Fogarty's day typically begins at Keeneland, where he gallops racehorses for Godolphin. When training hours conclude, he makes the ten-minute trek out to Blackwood Stables, where he starts young horses under saddle and also rides those coming off of a layup. From there he heads to his own farm where he keeps his steeplechasers – usually about two or three at a time – in training, traveling to steeplechase meets in Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and elsewhere on race weekends.
Fogarty usually comes about the horses he has (and has had) in training for jump racing the same way his friend came about Indy's Legacy.
“Often when you're galloping at the track, you could be on a horse who couldn't win for a nickel on the flat or mentally can't handle the environment, but the way he gallops in the morning gives you the feel that he might make a good jumper,” he said.
The plan for Indy's Legacy, whose win on Sunday was his second in three starts this year, is to get a rest for the summer and come back this fall to run three or four more times.
“I'll give him a month off and just turn him out so he can enjoy being a horse with his buddies. Before I start riding him again later this summer,” he said. “That's the thing about steeplechase horses. They only run a few times a year and get time off. That's why they have such longevity and are typically quite sound. We don't push them and over-train them.”
It is also why, according to Fogarty, they are typically easy to rehome as riding horses once their racing careers are over. Like many of the other horses he has had, Indy's Legacy could easily be rehomed as a foxhunter for a “third career” when his second career of steeplechasing comes to a close.
“Many of the horses I've trained have gone onto hunting careers when they're done racing. The lifestyle of a steeplechase horse makes them much more laid back than a flat racehorse. Combine that with already knowing how to jump, hack out in fields and on trails and it's easy to find spots for them,” he said. “Indy is a quirky horse for sure, but steeplechasing has been great for him. He gets to see and do different things every day and, like most horses, loves to jump. When his jump racing career comes to an end, he'll have a great foundation to go onto the next phase of his life.”
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 arc, 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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