This is the blog of CANTER New England. The blog will provide Thoroughbred lovers with:
• Information on retirement, and transitioning horses to life post-racing
• Details on assisting with horse welfare efforts
• Information on common questions from prospective adopters
• Success stories (and success stories that are waiting to happen!)
First, there’s his nose. Hands down it’s the cutest nose I’ve seen in a long time, so this CANTER horse, ready for adoption, will win you over immediately!
Then there’s the fact that he’s tall (probably around 16.1), dark and handsome. Sheldon is an elegant horse who looks like the successful racehorse he was. His good conformation helped keep him sound during a successful career during which he earned nearly $100,000. Just look at his legs – still clean and tight!
Now factor in his kind eye. Sheldon doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He has impeccable ground manners, stands for the farrier, lets me clip him without an issue, is well mannered for the vet and plays well with other horses. We’ve turned him out with mares and with a gelding. He loves the company and is the low horse on the totem pole. Okay, he makes some wicked faces when he’s fed, but it’s all posturing.
Sheldon is a Cadillac ride. He’s got a great, ground covering canter and a smooth even trot. He’s working well under saddle and thrives on routine. He lunges and ground drives. He’s learning to enjoy trails but does best with a steady Eddy friend to lead the way or pony off from. He trots over ground poles but we haven’t tried him over fences yet. He is a tolerant horse that has done well with several riders.
When Sheldon gets nervous or anxious, his response is to stop. Sometimes it can be a bit hard to get him moving again but he’s getting better about it. He doesn’t buck or bolt – stopping is not a problem! He tries very hard to please and generally calms down and tries something within a few minutes even when he originally objected. I taught him how to long line in about 20 minutes without any help.
I’ve been riding Sheldon in a bitless bridle because he is more comfortable with it and it encourages him to move forward. I prefer a side-pull style bridle rather than the Dr. Cook’s. I’ve tried a number of bits with him but he gets busy in his mouth and grinds his teeth. He’s gotten better over time, so this behavior may disappear completely when he’s more comfortable with his new job. Among the bits I’ve tried he does best in a nathe loose ring snaffle.
Sheldon is a bit girthy. I use a double-sided elastic girth and make sure to tighten it gradually. He gets agitated if you girth him up too quickly but he’s fine if you take your time.
Sheldon would be a great horse to have in your barn. He’s coming along nicely and would thrive if he had his own human.
The Kentucky Derby is almost upon us, and as usual many of the top contenders possess the bluest of blue blood – pedigrees that reflect the top echelon of the Thoroughbred breeding industry. You might not expect to see some of those bloodlines in the horses available for adoption (or recently adopted) from CANTER, but there are some remarkable similarities in the pedigrees of a few horses this year.
Dotpower Is Available for Adoption
Take Dotpower. A lovely six-year-old mare, she boasts a regal pedigree as a granddaughter of the great Sunday Silence with the super-sire Danzig also in her lineage. She has pedigree similarities to Verrazano, the unbeaten colt who may be the Derby favorite. Both horses have Halo as their tail-male third-generation sire, and both have Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer on their broodmare side.
Dotpower’s ancestors also appear prominently in the pedigree of Itsmyluckyday, another colt well-fancied for the Derby. Both have the champion racehorse and sire Seattle Slew in their third generation. Additionally, Dotpower is out of a Langfuhr mare, while Itsmyluckyday’s sire Lawyer Ron is also by that Canadian champion.
Dewamere, a CANTER-owned mare with special needs, is similarly bred to Palace Malice, a nice colt who keeps knocking on the door of a big win. Dewamere is by Graeme Hall, a stakes winner with Mr. Prospector and Deputy Minister in his pedigree. Those two horses are also prominent in the pedigree of Palace Malice’s sire Curlin. And both the Derby candidate and Dewamere have Hail to Reason in the fifth generation of their female line.
And Sheldon, CANTER’s featured horse for April, shares a tail-male line with top Derby candidate Overanalyze. Both are great-grandsons of the incomparable Northern Dancer – Overanalyze through Dixie Union and Dixieland Band; Sheldon through Pine Bluff and Danzig.
You can find pedigree similarities in recent trainer listings as well. Take Modern Girl for example. A flashy chestnut mare, she has Seattle Slew twice on her female side – her dam Thnkhvnforltlgirls is by a son of Seattle Slew, and is out of a mare who is a granddaughter of the Triple Crown champion. Normandy Invasion, on many experts’ top five Derby lists, also has Seattle Slew twice in his pedigree, through his sire Tapit and his dam Boston Lady.
Modern Girl is sired by Newfoundland, a son of Storm Cat. Other Derby candidates with Storm Cat on the male side and Seattle Slew on the female side include Frac Daddy and Falling Sky. And top contender Revolutionary is out of a granddaughter of Seattle Slew, as is Modern Girl.
So if you have a horse acquired through CANTER, either adopted directly or from trainer listings, check that pedigree! You may have something to brag about come the first Saturday in May!
Suffolk Showcase is THIS Sunday, October 14, from 8:30 am to noon on the Suffolk Downs Backstretch, Revere, MA. We have several wonderful prospects for sale and it’s shaping up to be a great day.
We’ve already told you why you should come to Showcase, and we’ve even given you some tips to make the most out of your day. But there are a few more details to share that should make Showcase day spectacular!
Although it’s impossible for us to make and accurate catalog in advance of the Showcase—more often than not we are still taking entries the day before—the good news is that you CAN see who’s going to be there by going to our trainer listings and taking a look. While not every horse listed will participate the chances are good that over 90 percent of the horses WILL be there—and if the horse isn’t in Showcase you can still go see it in its stall. So, go there and make your list! And keep checking back—we’re updating constantly this time of year to ensure that information is as accurate as possible.
For directions to Suffolk Downs please visit their website. There is ample parking available for trailers—just drive past the grandstand and you’ll see a large parking lot to your right with trailers and vans parked in it across from the Wendy’s. Park there, then walk down the road (parallel to the shopping center) down the red fence line to the stable gate.
Please plan to arrive at 8:30—getting there early will enable you to pick up a catalog to look through, get a good spot to view the horses, and ensure that you see ALL of the horses we have to offer—all good things!
Friend us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter—we’ll be announcing there when listings are updated and other information and announcements. And if you’re not able to attend (Why? Come! It’s fun!) you’ll be able to see what’s going on as it happens.
A Guest Post by Corrine Ashton
There is no breed more beautiful, athletic, intelligent, tolerant and forgiving as a thoroughbred, well perhaps I am a little biased! But when you think about what the majority of those young, very young, creatures endure on the track, both in training and running, and yet they are still willing to be re routed, re trained, re thought, they definitely need to be rewarded!
For a long time their silent peril has gone unacknowledged, slowly they have had some dedicated allies who have championed their cause, and finally the world is listening. In this last year we have seen a huge increase in the media coverage of the OTTB, retired racehorse etc. We are moving in the right direction but let us not rest on our laurels there are still way too many on that one way hell ride to Mexico, and that is unacceptable!
But I digress! So what of the actually training involved for a new life away from the track?
First, let’s look at the pluses of track life for our training. Your young horse has already been introduced to many, many things at an early age: saddles, bridles, weight on their backs, farriers, hot walkers (metal bars that do not give in no matter how hard you pull), large, noisy machinery and, if at Suffolk Downs, low-flying aircraft and lots and lots of pigeons!!
The downside to their early life experience may be that some of the more classic training techniques have been missed and that the only incentive they had was to run as fast as they possibly could in one direction, or rather the disincentive was not so appealing!
Thoroughbreds are bred to run fast and rarely lack enough “get up and go” for other disciplines so we are usually glad to hear the trainer say he wasn’t fast enough or was too lazy, well that’s assuming he wasn’t being slowed down by some “other” factor (tendon injury, knee chip etc) So yes a thorough vetting is a good investment before rehoming an OTTB. Alas, there really are some that would be better off euthanized when injuries are too limiting, but a hole needs to be dug not a one-way ticket sold.
I believe that most of these creatures are also born athletes, and it is their temperament that is key to their future success elsewhere. Tune into that very carefully, you need to look past the buckets of grain that they are fed and that they live in a tiny stall 23hrs of the day, can you reach out to them, can they hear you or have their minds gone? Don’t be afraid to ask for help on that one (and not the race horse trainer!)
So, they need to be “let down” for a period of time, how long depends on the horse and his situation, or perhaps a change is as good as a rest! I am a huge believe in what people call “natural horsemanship”, which is basically using your common sense, reaching out to the horse and trying to think of things in terms that make sense to him. It needs to be his choice to do something because you’ve explained it very simply and made the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard, but baby steps. Ground work is how you easily teach them to move away from pressure, to respect your space and you. Think about the herd situation, if a horse gets too close to another, one higher in the hierarchy, he will double barrel him, or similar, and the first horse never gets too close again! It was v simple for him to understand! Do the same, you are the boss (have to be as horse is many, many times bigger and stronger than you although don’t ever tell him that!!) and you need to explain v quickly and obviously what you want, do not nag and pester him (save that for your 2 legged family!) Be sensitive him too, they have a natural fright and flight mechanism that doesn’t work so well for our arena training!! Invest time, energy and money into learning such training methods from worthwhile professionals.
When you get on their backs they already understand about moving from pressure, your hand and your leg are therefore easy to explain! So now we are ready to jump surely? It can never be too early to learn how to move those feet, legs and body such that you don’t make contact with a rail!! Like everything in life the younger you are the easier it is to learn.
For all ages and sizes, and temperaments, learning to jump, or negotiate obstacles, is best done without an interfering body on your back!! Free schooling or jumping on the end of a rope is the way to go. Again, invest in this training, it is paramount. You can also lead them over rails and tarps to inspire confidence. Start small, little and often is the mantra here. I never fail to be amazed at how happily a young un will pop over a jump on the end of a line with just a cluck or two. It really is very easy for them to jump, it is us trying to help them on their backs that causes problems!!
When you do get up there to either jump, or go potentially scary places–woods, streams, ditches, banks, etc.–go with a buddy, a horse buddy, that is! If his friend tells him every thing is hunk dory he is good with that and will usually happily follow.
Remember, most of these creatures are a clean slate away from the race track, never having had any prior experience over jumps etc in or out of the arena, make their first experiences good ones and you will reap the benefits. Trying to undo bad habits and negative experiences is time consuming and not always successful. We all learn bad habits much easier than good and they are harder to break!!
Thoroughbreds are quick learners and they love, love to run and jump that means you are more than half way there in the event world! Thoroughbreds, however, are not all born with big floaty, moving trots like those pondering warmblood types. That is, of course, why they can be so agile and cat like–but by the same token they can learn to move their bodies in a pleasing (better scoring) way, but their temperament here is again key.
Also, depending on conformation, some have more suspension than others in their paces naturally, put that on your check list as you shop at the track but remember what you see will change as they relax and their backs swing, so not something to get too caught up on. Temperament is still top of the list.
And then you’ve got Dobbin soon to be the first born and bred US, never mind TB, CCI**** event horse to do GP dressage and get me my USDF gold medal!
Alright so he never raced, which is too bad for his breeder as he would have been very, very fast!
But if we come back down to earth with my real OTTBs they all happily, and easily, took to eventing, most of them were competing competitively at the preliminary level by age six. Not all stayed in the program that long, but found other suitable homes before then. I do have two “residual” OTTBs that my dear daughters refuse to let me sell but that is another story…..
Corinne Ashton, CCI**** eventer and 2007 Advanced AEC Champion on her famous partner Dobbin who she partnered to 2008 USEA Horse of the Year amongst many other victories! Short listed for US team and invited to participate in training sessions and staunch believer in all TBs! There may be another Dobbin out there. www.corinneashton.com
Suffolk Showcase is rapidly approaching. Join us on Sunday, October 14, starting at 8:30 am to see several horses all for sale at Suffolk Downs. And please spread the word by distributing and posting our flier.
Fall means Suffolk Showcase, and for many of our CANTER supporters it’s a date that’s marked on their calendars year after year. They know that it’s a great way to get together and celebrate Thoroughbred retirement efforts at Suffolk Downs, but more importantly it’s a great opportunity to find your next horse! If you’ve attended Showcase or this is your first time there are a few tips that can help you make the most of the day, and ensure that you’ll take home the horse that’s the best fit for you!
Make a list.
Although we can’t provide you with the catalog ahead of time we have good news—almost all of the horses on our website generally participate in Showcase. So start browsing! This is the perfect time to find the horses that you’re most interested in seeing; when you get to Showcase you can note them in the program and see what time frame they’ll be shown in. There are so many horses that it can be overwhelming—starting with a list will help!
Know what you’re looking for.
Seeing over 60 horses in one day can be great—but it can also make the picture of what you like a little muddled! It’s best to come to the track with an idea of what you’d like in your next horse. Consider things like gender, size, temperament, and potential and know your non-negotiables. Review these criteria with someone you trust (like your trainer), someone who not only knows horses, but who is familiar with your skills and ability as well.
Ask the right questions.
When you do take a look at a horse be sure to ask the trainer direct questions that can help you form a better picture of the history of the horse and help you determine if the horse will be right for you. Specific questions about behavior, any past injuries, and current care are the best way to make sure you get exactly what you’re looking for. As always, CANTER strongly suggests a pre-purchase exam by a veterinarian—purchasing a horse from the trainer listings is a private sale and should be treated as such.
Bring the right supplies.
Of course you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes and clothes that match the weather—but beyond that there are a few things that should make taking a horse home easier! Bring a pen and your list of horses you’d like to see; a camera is helpful to get pictures and take video in case you want to wait, evaluate horses at home, and make your decision later. We also strongly suggest bringing a good amount of cash; putting a deposit on a horse you’re 99% certain you’d like to buy will ensure that someone else doesn’t snap them up; and if you’re 110% ready to buy it’ll make sure that horse is definitely yours to take home. And arriving with a trailer in tow will let you take your horse home right away so you can get started with his next career!
CANTER volunteers are here to help.
Have questions about specific horses? Want to talk to a trainer but not sure where to start? Interested in learning more about the trainer listings program and how they work? CANTER volunteers are here to help you! Volunteers will be at the track, we’ll be sure to point ourselves out, and we are happy to help with anything you may need from start to finish throughout the entire process. Just ask!
This is, of course, the most important tip. Showcase is a great way to see horses you’re interested in, but it’s also possible to have your head turned in person by a horse you’d never considered online. Keep an open mind, and enjoy the show! Showcase brings together Thoroughbred enthusiasts from all over New England to help find horses homes at the time they need it the most. And that is something we can all celebrate!
Mark your calendars for the 7th Annual Suffolk Showcase on Sunday, October 14, 8:30 AM – Noon.
Looking for a new horse? Want to see approximately 80 horses all in one place at one time? Join us on the backstretch of Suffolk Downs for Suffolk Showcase! The Suffolk Downs racing meet ends on October 31, so the need to find new homes comes much earlier than in years past.
By attending Suffolk Showcase you will:
See the horses on the direct trainer listings in the flesh
Get a catalog of horses available for sale with information on the horse
Have the opportunity to speak with trainers or owners directly
Be able to visit the horses in their barns
Be wowed by a horse you hadn’t even considered on the website
Have fun viewing several amazing Thoroughbreds ready for their next career!
CANTER volunteers will be available to assist buyers throughout the day. There really is something for everyone!
Not convinced you should attend? Check out our coverage from last year’s Showcase here!
And if this doesn’t convince you, then you may just be on the wrong site!
So, spread the word, make plans to come on October 14, bring lots of people with you, and don’t forget some cash and a horse trailer to take home your newest pony!
In today’s post, Patricia McQueen shares the story of a very special mare True, and her owner Kelly Butterworth.
Many people believe things happen for a reason. But no matter what you believe, the story of True will convince you that sometimes, things are indeed meant to be.
A Thoroughbred mare named Tap Rabbit was waiting for a new home at Suffolk Downs. The daughter of Ide, a graded stakes winner by champion Forty Niner, had shown class early in her racing career, winning three races at Monmouth Park. But she ran her last race at Suffolk on October 27, 2008, and it was time for a new career.
Anne Hezzey was at Suffolk to pick up a horse she had acquired from a trainer with help from CANTER, and she was persuaded to take home Tap Rabbit free as an added bonus. Anne figured she could find a home for the nice chestnut mare. Well, she had no takers, and that would prove to be a good thing.
The mare, now named True, was leased for breeding and produced a bay filly in 2010. After the foal was weaned, True was returned to Anne. Enter Kelly Butterworth, back in Massachusetts after living out of state for a few years. The veterinarian wasn’t looking for a horse, hadn’t even ridden one much since vet school, but then Anne showed her True. It was love at first sight, an instant kinship, a cosmic connection.
“The immediate connection I felt with her was something I can’t really put into words,” recalled Kelly. “Even though I hadn’t ridden her before, there was never that feeling of not knowing her, or wondering what she would do. I jumped on her bareback one morning, shortly after meeting her, and walked her up and down the hill. I did it without a thought, or concern, or a minute of wondering whether it was a good idea. I knew she was my friend and I could trust her right from the beginning. I felt like I had known her forever.”
Kelly and True became inseparable. They often went to the beach – True loved to play in the waves, “like she’s been waiting to see the ocean all her life,” said Kelly. In fact, back at the farm the water troughs had to be put outside the paddocks because True kept playing with the water and knocking them over.
The mare learned lessons in dressage from Lucy Schreuer, who “took her from a green horse that couldn’t canter to a dressage superstar in just a few months.” True also was learning to jump.
There was actually a third member of the team, Kelly’s dog Bishop. A pit bull rescued from a fighting ring in Georgia, Bishop was a little worse for wear physically but proved to be a great judge of character. He and True bonded immediately. “True really loved him, she was totally devoted to him,” said Kelly. She would put her nose on his rear and follow him around like she was the puppy dog. And Bishop returned the adoration. “He would lay right under her belly when I groomed True, and would be right between her back legs when I would ride her.”
It all seemed so surreal – True, Kelly and Bishop as soul mates. Then reality struck, and struck hard. One morning last January, Kelly went to the stall and found True with a badly fractured hind leg. Just a freak stall accident during the night. There was no hope, and as quickly as True came into Kelly’s life, she was gone.
If that was the end of the story, it would still be touching tale of a woman and her horse, however brief the relationship. But even in death, True kept on giving.
True and her foal Vera
With True gone, Anne contacted the breeder of her one and only foal, looking for photos of the two together. She was told that the filly, then 16 months old, was scheduled to be put down in just a couple of weeks because of a hind end problem that would perhaps keep her from growing strong enough for a normal life. Anne quickly arranged to acquire the filly from the breeder on Kelly’s behalf. “I didn’t want another heartbreak, so I thought it all through,” said Kelly. But she decided she wanted the opportunity to have her and get to know her, and if nothing else it would be a chance to bury the two horses together.
In a strange coincidence, the breeder had named the filly Kelly. To avoid confusion, the human Kelly gave her a new name – Vera. The word’s Latin origin means genuine, real or true/truth. A more fitting name would never be found. “There are certain things about Vera that are much like True – she’s very brave and not particularly nervous or spooky. She has her own personality, quite different from True, but I love her just as much,” said Kelly.
So the unique team of pitbull, horse and human is together again, even if one member isn’t the original. And it looks like this will be a long-term relationship, fates permitting. Vera is doing well. She continues to have some “stickiness” in her hind end, with some mild locking-up problems with her stifles. “I’m just giving her time to grow up and get stronger,” said Kelly. “I’ll let her grow up, play with her, and see what she wants to do. I feel like I’m part of a bigger story, along for the ride rather than writing the script.”
While True is gone, her death gave her daughter a new chance to live. One life for another. Fate. “Losing True was devastating, but it was like it was supposed to happen, because everything about the mare was perfect and meant to be from the moment I had her,” said Kelly. And now, Vera has a new lease on life, a life she can enjoy with her best friends Kelly and Bishop, thanks to her mother True.
A picture of the chestnut mare True and her foal hangs on Vera’s stall door, and Kelly is positive that “the filly continues to be watched over by the ex-racehorse who had an extraordinary life, filled with purpose and meaning following her racing career.”
CANTER adoptive horse Joshie Man is a “solid citizen” in more ways than one…she has a very solid, athletic build and a great brain. We just got an update from her foster Mom that we wanted to share:
So I’m not the best blogger/writer… but here is a little on Josie so far. Hopefully we can find her a good home, she has been really great!
How best to describe ‘Josie’ (Joshie Man) involves also describing the farm we board at a little. I’d describe Josie as a solid citizen with a good work ethic.
So what does this mean? Well like I said a little about the farm; it is a working farm in the terms of we have cows, goat, pigs
and plenty of machinery on the property. Josie being a solid citizen has taken all of these new things like an old pro, without spooking or over reacting. Her work ethic is wonderful. On the lunge even on a windy day she is attentive to your voice and for riding when you ask of her, she makes an effort to do. She also has been great for all things on the ground; stands for the farrier quietly and got on the trailer without a fuss.
We have been working her on the lunge with side reins and W-T-C under tack. She goes out of the ring in the fields alone without and questions.
We’re thrilled to feature the final installment of a two part series on Patricia McQueen’s Triple Crown experience this year. To see a full gallery of all her photos from the trail, please click here.
After the Kentucky Derby, the show moves to Baltimore, to Pimlico for the Preakness. As much as we want to see a Triple Crown winner, many of us secretly hope the Derby winner will lose the Preakness. After all, our lives change if there is Triple Crown on the line and emotions run particularly high. We’ve been through the wringer too many times.
I'll Have Another gallops at Pimlico
Preakness week is much more relaxed than Derby week. There are considerably fewer horses and they are concentrated in two barns with relatively easy access. There are no special training hours – horse traffic is not an issue at Pimlico. And generally speaking, everyone’s emphasis is on the Derby winner – after all, no one else has a chance to win the Triple Crown. There’s plenty of time to photograph everyone, as they head to the track to train throughout the morning. Pimlico also has a nice grazing area, but even fewer trainers take advantage of it there than at Churchill.
I’ll Have Another was stabled in a secondary barn, not the primary stakes barn where the traditional Derby winner’s stall has housed legendary horses of the past. That made it slightly more challenging to get everyone at the right moments, but it was workable. The best photo opportunities of horses training at Pimlico are on the walk down the horse path leading from the barns to the track – there’s beautiful light and a fairly clean background. In contrast, when horses are galloping, our cameras are pointed right into the sun, making photos difficult to say the least. I like to go up into the box seat area to get a downward angle to minimize both the distracting background and the sun.
Back at the barns our luck depends upon which way horses are positioned for their baths. One way, and the photos can be lovely with great light. Another way, and again we are shooting into the sun and it makes things difficult. For photographers, it’s all about light, and we just have to make the best of whatever circumstances we face. After all, we have absolutely no control at the racetrack.
Post time favorite Bodemeister
Given that Bodemeister led until very late in the Derby, and the Preakness is shorter, he went off the betting favorite once again. He set slower fractions this time around, not the same blistering pace of the Derby, and it took every last inch of the stretch for I’ll Have Another to get his head in front at the finish. As exciting as it was, I started thinking immediately about the next three weeks and the Triple Crown watch.
Usually between the Preakness and Belmont, I only make one trip to Belmont Park before the week of the big race. But this year, with a Triple Crown on the line, I made four such trips for morning workouts, documenting I’ll Have Another’s training, before heading there for good on Tuesday of Belmont week. It made for a tiring schedule, to be sure.
But the worst part is that each year there has been a Triple Crown candidate, it gets more difficult for photographers. At Churchill and Pimlico, we are just a few feet from the horses as they get their baths and we can usually pick our spots. For I’ll Have Another at Belmont, we were kept a mile away. Well, not quite, but it seemed like it. We also had to shoot into the sun yet again. Gone were the usual chances of positioning ourselves to get the best light, the best angle and the best head shots of the horse getting a bath. We pulled out our longest telephoto lenses along with our teleconverters in the hopes of getting something even marginally resembling a head shot. It all seemed rather excessive.
After all, most of these horses, I’ll Have Another included, could care less about people around them. While I certainly understand the desire to put some distance between “us” and “them,” I thought it went a bit far this year. I’ve never been forced to take head shots with such long lenses on my cameras. There are certain photographic advantages to doing that, so it wasn’t all bad, but I prefer to have the flexibility to do more, to change angles, to get something different. When we’re all crammed into the same space by rule, it’s hard to be creative.
Following in Churchill Downs’ footsteps, racing officials at Belmont Park set up a special training time for Belmont Stakes horses after a loose horse almost hit I’ll Have Another one morning as he ran back to the barn without a rider. From then on, for 15 minutes after the renovation break at 8:30 a.m., only Belmont horses could be on the track, significantly reducing horse traffic.
When the horses were moved into a special Belmont Stakes security barn the Wednesday before the race (causing a lot of controversy), conditions actually worsened for photographers trying to capture I’ll Have Another getting his bath. Basically, what we got of I’ll Have Another at the old barn was all we were going to get. Fortunately, there were plenty of photo opportunities on the horse path to the track and on the track itself for his morning gallops. He was a lovely horse to photograph and went through his strong gallops in eager fashion with his ears pricked.
Of course, all this preparation, all this effort to photograph the horse that could be a Triple Crown winner, ended up for naught when the he was diagnosed with tendonitis on Friday morning before the race and retired from racing. It hit us hard – we never expected this. Perhaps he would lose the race, as 11 other candidates have since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978, but to not even make the starting gate was quite unusual. It was back to the 1930s that a Derby-Preakness winner didn’t run in the Belmont.
The Belmont Stakes seemed anti-climactic, but at least now I could root for my old favorite, Union Rags, without going against possible history being made. When he strutted off the van at Belmont Park on Wednesday morning before the race, he looked amazing and ready to run. And he was – slipping through on the rail to edge the pacesetting Paynter, another Bob Baffert trainee. Poor Baffert – he finished second in all three Triple Crown races with two different horses, each running their hearts out and leading most of the way, only to be caught at the end.
Union Rags wins the Belmont
One fun thing about mornings at Belmont was the chance to enjoy Lava Man. The $5.2 million earner, a California racing hero from a few years back, serves as the stable pony for trainer Doug O’Neill, and he accompanied I’ll Have Another to the track every morning. After training was done, he was turned loose into a fenced-in area at the barn and allowed to wander freely and graze. Once, he came over to say hello to me and he let me rub his nose for a few seconds before moving on. But he is a tricky sort, and several times tried to escape through a narrow gap between the fence and an outbuilding. He made it once, but he was caught before he got too far past the other side.
I'll Have Another and Lava Man
Some way, somehow, we got through another Triple Crown season. In previous years, there was heartbreak as the Derby-Preakness winner just came up short in the Belmont. This year, it was a different kind of emotion entirely. I really thought I’ll Have Another had an excellent chance to place his name alongside industry greats. Now he’s just another horse who shone brightly for a few starts, having raced only seven times. Unfortunately that is all too common these days.
Between the emotional roller coaster and the crazy rules and regulations we face that get even crazier each year, I won’t be disappointed if the 2013 Derby winner doesn’t win the Preakness. In fact, I’ll probably be rooting against the Derby winner, however sacrilegious that sounds. But it means that we can enjoy the horses more, spend more time with them, and be closer to them. For me, that’s what makes it all worth it.