Like many racing fans, Dan Tordjman was filled with anger after reading about the demise of Monzante, the former Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap winner who was euthanized after breaking down in a $4,000 claiming race.
While scanning Twitter, Tordjman got the idea to donate a week's profits from his handicapping website, Danonymous Racing, to a horse rescue in Monzante's name. He asked his followers for suggestions of where would be the best place to send a check. Overwhelmed with votes for a range of organizations, he eventually launched a Monzante Memorial Fundraising Challenge.
“I'm extremely, extremely proud of it,” said Tordjman, who said the challenge was advertised strictly via social media, especially Twitter. “You think about the money we raised—about $7,600 in ten days, all through social media—I didn't even know if we were going to get $50 total. It was pretty amazing that so many people cared.”
One anonymous man donated his entire paycheck for the week to Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue, which generated the most funds during the challenge. The Maryland-based group collected $2,030 in ten days, which was far more than co-founder and executive director Beverly Strauss had anticipated.
“It blew me away. I said, 'You're kidding!'” recalled Strauss. “It was totally unexpected money, and it was very heartening because it came from racing fans, who really love racing and really care about the horses.”
Strauss knew of one horse in particular who could use those funds.
Ten-year-old gelding Irish Majesty was preparing for his 102nd career start at Penn National–in a race for $4,000 claimers. In his younger days, Irish Majesty hit the board in a few starter handicaps and finished fifth in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby in 2006. He hadn't reached the same caliber of competition as Monzante, but both struck Strauss as “war horses.”
“I thought, 'Wow, this horse has done his time,'” she said. “He had earned his retirement.”
After he completed his 102nd race, beating just one horse, Strauss and Sue Smith of CANTER Pennsylvania convinced owner/trainer Allan Shuchman to let them purchase Irish Majesty and ship him to Maryland. Strauss said that with the exception of a callous on his right hind, Irish Majesty is sound and after some downtime, can probably go on to a second career.
“I think he's the type of horse who's going to want to do something,” said Strauss. “He's got a great personality. He's extremely classy. I can't wait to sit on him, really. He just looks like a lot of fun.”
CANTER's California division, which finished second in the fundraising challenge with $1,878, has already retired three horses with the funds.
“As a lifelong racing fan – this was very special to me,” said Reena Rosskopf, the CANTER volunteer who organized a CANTER team for the Monzante Memorial Fundraising Challenge. “The outpouring of support from Industry Professionals (i.e. Gram Motion), Professional Handicappers (i.e. Danonymous Racing), and fans was inspirational … The Monzante Challenge was a beautiful silver lining to a very dark cloud – a lovely tribute that, in my mind, showed the true spirit of the racing community.”
CANTER California is currently on the hunt for a fourth horse, preferably a former stakes runner-turned-claimer that the group can purchase with the remainder of the funds from the challenge.
Representatives from both rescues say that the willingness of owners and trainers to retire horses at the right time is critical to what they do.
Strauss was alerted to Irish Majesty's case via CANTER Pennsylvania and said an unofficial network is in place among East Coast rescues to share information and keep an eye on horses that may be “at risk.” Some 10-year-olds, she said, really are sound and happy with their jobs on the racetrack. It's the unsound, unhappy ones that she worries about.
“We have the oversight but it's got to come from the industry as well,” Strauss said. “I really think that the owners and trainers need to be aware that there are opportunities to retire these horses and if they can retire them while they are still sound and they can have a post-race career, there are people who want these horses,” she said.
Ali Dacher, CANTER California executive director, echoed those sentiments. She said the group, which works primarily with Golden Gate Fields, sees a number of horses that ran in stakes company at the start of their careers and have fallen through the ranks.
“If your horse has done his job, retire him. Treat him like the athlete he is and retire him,” said Decher.
Strauss said that although the retirement of Irish Majesty seemed a fitting tribute to fellow “war horse” Monzante, she doesn't need a reason to go looking for a veteran former stakes runner.
Other Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue graduates have included Pensylvaniaexpress, who placed third in the 2008 Lil E. Tee Handicap and ran against Irish Majesty in several of his 62 starts; Native Heir, who won the Grade 3 Deputy Minister Handicap and collected ten stakes victories; and Strauss' own retiree What's Your Wish, who was graded stakes-placed and was briefly on the Triple Crown trail early in his career.
“My heart is with the war horses, but we get what we can and help who we can,” said Strauss.
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