If you're a horse racing fan who's active on Twitter, there's a good chance you know Gator Kitten (@GatorKitten), the sassy tabby in residence at Woodbine trainer Mark Frostad's barn. Gator Kitten (a cat, not a gator) belongs to assistant Sarah Ritchie, who took him in after he was found wandering the backstretch at Calder, crying from hunger.
“Fortunately for both of us [the lady who runs the tack shop there] picked him up and contacted a friend hoping to rehome him. I got him the next day and it was love at first sight,” said Ritchie.
Gator is now two years old and has traveled with Ritchie and Frostad's string for a year and a half. His distinctive personality and unique looks (his name is taken from his often half-shut, gator-shaped eyes) were so expressive to Ritchie, she started his Twitter account as a fun side project. Gator now has a distinct “voice” on social media which is somewhere between a preschooler and a barn foreman, and it has drawn in over 1,000 followers, including a few cat product companies that have mailed him free swag. He has charmed a number of turf writers into publicly conversing with a cat on Twitter and entertains visits from jockeys Emma-Jayne Wilson and Alan Garcia after training hours.
“It started as something fun to do but it's taken off more than I ever thought it would,” said Ritchie. “When you meet Gator, you can't imagine him talking any other way. He has such a vibrant personality and is so full of sass, love, and a little stink eye.”
Ritchie recently claimed 5-year-old mare Splashy Gizmo at Woodbine and plans to feature Gator's likeness prominently on the silks the horse will run under.
Since Gator is so well-known for his voice (and his training prowess, of course), we thought it only right that this week's Barn Buddies be in the style of a Q&A with him. Ritchie encourages Woodbine fans to come visit Gator (and the horses) on the backstretch. Just tweet him, and he'll add you to his appointment book.
Gator, you're obviously a big attraction on the backstretch. Who would you say is the most famous racing person to come visit you?Well, I has lots of peoples that comes to visits but maybe Ray Paulick and [Daily Racing Form photographer] Barbara Livingston is the most famous. We has to has one talks about Ray not givings GATOR any pets or treats. Dis is punishables by whips! Barbaras I meets this winters and she was too sweets to me and takes my pictures. Momma goes crazys because I looks too cutes in them. She even helps to looks for my collar I loses! They is both inviteds to Woodbines. See GATOR. Barn 28
I know you keep very busy in the barn–tweeting, hunting, training, instructing riders. Could you walk us through your typical day?
Well firsts thing in the mornings I has to do a securitys perimeter checks. When Momma gets here I has my morning cuddles and treats and then I goes huntings. I checks back in to makes sure my ponys gets out on times and to gives the jockeys instructions on breeze days. At the end of the mornings I sits down with Frosty to instructs him on how to trains my ponys for the next day.
Now I gets him gallopings good. Gets up there pony! pic.twitter.com/UaPDLGhJIo
— Gator Kitten (@Gatorkitten) July 22, 2016
I hear you have your own horse now; what's your training plan going forward with this one?
Oh yes Momma claims me one! Firsts, I gives her lots of treats to makes sure she knows everybody loves her here. Because she is 5 years old, she already knows lots so I just has to keeps her healthy and happys and then hopes she runs to fast for me!
Do you have a training philosophy with your horses generally?
I think the most importants thing is your ponys is happy and healthys. They runs fast that way. You has to remembers that they is all very special so you has to trains them all differents so they can be the best race pony possibles
Do you have especially close relationships with any of the horses in your barn?
I likes Freitag and Cheerios, my barn ponys. I had one grey Tapit pony in Floridas that needed extra trainings so I sits on his back a lot in the stall to whispers in his ear. He likes it and stays calm even when I helps Momma do him up. I loves my new pony too, and sits by Momma to make sure she takes care of her goods after trainings everyday!
Which would you rather catch for your mother–mice, birds, or snakes?
Mices! She doesn't touches my snakes but she trys to steals my birds and sets them free when I brings them in.
Do you think Mark Frosted minds being a bit upstaged by the resident barn cat as far as attention?
He takes a little bit to gets used to it but now he knows. You can't escapes GATOR.
It seems from your Twitter account like you have a lot of outfits—collars, bowties, shirts. Do you have a favorite?
Momma buys me one gentlemans coat for the winters when it gets cold. I loves it because I can still hunts mices in it!
I saw at one point you got some freebies from one of the cat food companies. Are you an official ambassador or product tester now?
Purina One sends me one nice bowl and a letter. I asks Temptations (cat treats) if they needs one spokescat but they said not rights now. They doesn't know what they is missing!
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