Howard Walton's French Quarter is scheduled to make his 15th lifetime start and fifth at Gulfstream Park in Saturday's 11th race, a six-furlong optional claimer for older horses on the main track.
No matter what happens, the 4-year-old gelding is already a success story. A three-time winner, he is the last foal out of the Storm Bird mare Cent Nouvelles, who was one of nearly two dozen horses saved from desperate circumstances on a Central Florida farm five years ago.
The rescue effort was spearheaded by Kathy Taylor, owner and operator of the equine advertising agency Capstone Enterprises, after receiving a frantic phone call from her daughter regarding Thoroughbreds that were starving and dying at a farm not far from their five-acre spread in Ocala.
“I'm retired. I had just sold my last show horse when my daughter called me. I had just gotten out of the horse business and now all of a sudden I'm taking on 22 rescues,” Taylor said. “It was a couple years and it cost me a lot of money to do this but almost all of these horses I would say either went back to owners that had them before that adopted them back and rehabilitated them, or they went on to be sold and trained.”
According to Taylor, some 60 horses died before they could be rescued, making Cent Nouvelles one of the lucky ones. She and the mare Do I Make Ya Randi were among the nine horses Taylor brought to her farm and gradually brought back to health.
“Everybody said, 'Have you lost your mind?' All together there were 22 horses. I didn't have them all here on my small farm, but it was quite an endeavor. These horses were in really, really bad shape. Half of them had no hair. It was coming off a really hard winter and they were all starved. You could count all of her ribs. She (Cent Nouvelles) was in really bad shape,” Taylor said.
“It's just amazing how she bounced back. French Quarter was foaled the year after we rescued her. The thing people don't understand is we start feeding them gradually and got them in good shape and then about a month later we bred them. It was amazing. They all put on a couple hundred pounds. Mares get in foal when they're really low in weight. The whole idea was to take these horses and instead of destroying them, put them back into the racing industry because there were so many of them.”
Soon after she arrived, Cent Nouvelles was bred to Shakespeare, a multiple Grade 1 winner on turf. French Quarter was foaled on April 11, 2011, when Cent Nouvelles was 19 years old.
“He was foaled here on my farm,” Taylor said. “I'm not really in the Thoroughbred business so I sold him privately, because I wanted to know where he was going. He actually went through the sale at OBS and I bought him back for $24,000. I wasn't going to let him go for $6,000 or $7,000 or $8,000. If he brought more money, fine, because I knew he would have somebody that was investing in a horse to take care of him. I brought him home and my consignor found a home for him with the owners that have him now and they've had him ever since he was a yearling. He ended up with a great home.”
Based most of the year in Canada with trainer John Mattine, French Quarter winters at Gulfstream Park, where he won a 6 ½-furlong claiming event last March by 4 ¼ lengths under jockey Joel Rosario. Jesus Rios is named to ride on Saturday from Post 7 in the 14-horse field.
“I've just watched him on TV. Because I'm on deadline all the time, it's really hard for me to get down there,” Taylor said. “I have pictures of when he was a January yearling and he looked like a 2-year-old. I think his owner and trainer have a lot of faith in this horse. He doesn't like to be on the rail. When he was a baby he hated small spaces and didn't like to be cornered in anywhere. The seven post is a great spot for him.”
Cent Nouvelles died in 2012 at the age of 20. One of the 2-year-olds Taylor rescued, now a 7-year-old gelding named Ifoundmy Mojo, went on to win 13 races and more than $215,000.
“It's just very rewarding to hear about and follow these horses,” Taylor said. “Cent Nouvelles was such a kind mare. She was atrophied in her shoulder when I got her and I was like, 'This mare isn't going anywhere except my farm.' French Quarter was her last foal and she just loved him to death. It was just so good to see her come back.”
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