Beyond the Blinkers Guest Blog
By Mary Cage
Lights on Broadway is a very tall, narrow chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail and a head that resembles that of an Arabian. He’s a beautiful sight without a doubt, but if it weren’t for the help of true horse lovers, Lights would not be alive.
Lights on Broadway, photos by Terri Cage
As a 4-year-old in 2001, Lights on Broadway won the Assault Stakes at Lone Star Park, the Chick Lang Jr. Memorial Handicap at Retama Park, and the Star of Texas Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park. With those three black-type scores and many other impressive performances, Lights was crowned 2001 Texas Horse of the Year.
The son of Majestic Light continued competing in stakes and allowance races for several years until he first entered the claiming ranks in 2004. Gradually, he began dropping into lower and lower ranks. Near the end of his racing career, Lights ended up at Fonner Park in Nebraska, where he won for the first time in more than a year in a $2,500 claiming race.
That was the last time Lights would find the winner’s circle. The six-time stakes victor had found himself in the lowest of lows. He came face-to-face with a fate he did not deserve: Lights was sold to a horse broker for a cheap price was loaded onto a trailer bound for a slaughterhouse.
Lights must have had a guardian angel looking out for him. When the trailer driver made a stop at a café, he met Gregg Sanders, an Oklahoma-based Quarter Horse trainer. The two began talking and the driver informed Sanders he had a racehorse on the trailer that had several wins listed on his papers. Sanders recognized Lights on Broadway’s name and impressive race record. In that moment, he decided to buy Lights to keep him from going to slaughter.
Sanders and his young daughter gave Lights some much-needed TLC and the gelding returned to the races four months after his previous start. Lights on Broadway raced two times before he made his final start Aug. 3, 2008, finishing seventh in a field of nine. He exited racing with a career record of 15-13-14 from 83 starts, for earnings of $572,445.
Meanwhile, Alex Brown, author of "Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and His Legacy," had been tracking Lights’ career and knew the gelding had reached the bottom claiming ranks. With the help of Daily Racing Form, Brown started a project called the Top Bunk List that focused on racehorses that had earned at least $500,000 and were currently running for $5,000 maximum.
“Because he had last run at Fonner Park and that meet had closed a few months before the project started, I was nervous he had been shipped to slaughter,” Brown said. “When he reappeared in a workout, I was relieved and we started communicating with his new trainer.”
Fans of Barbaro, a group honoring Barbaro’s legacy by improving the well-being of horses and horsemen, began a nationwide effort to raise money to purchase Lights. With help from the Fans of Barbaro, Alex Brown, and other racing fans, including an especially generous anonymous donor, Lights was purchased from Sanders for $3,000.
Both LOPE Texas, a non-profit that helps re-home ex-racehorses, and Lights on Broadway’s breeder, Joe McDermott, offered the gelding a home. But it was Donna Keen, the wife of Lone Star Park trainer Dallas Keen, that was meant to have a forever presence in Lights on Broadway‘s life.
“I saw a flyer for Lights’ rescue and called to see what I could do to help,” Keen said. “I was told his purchase price had already been raised, but transportation hadn’t been arranged to his breeder’s farm. I talked it over with Dallas and we decided to arrange transportation and donate the retraining of Lights for a new career if it was okay with his breeder.”
It was decided that Lights would go to the Keens’ farm in Burleson, Texas, which is located south of Fort Worth. The Texas Horse of the Year soon made his way to the farm with the support and generosity of many people. Trainer Danny Pish allowed Lights to stay in his stable for a couple of days, after which Thoroughbred Transportation vanned the gelding to the Keens’ farm free of charge.
Donna Keen with Lights on Broadway
“After Lights arrived, I fell in love with him right away,” Keen said. “I just couldn’t understand how he could be thrown away like that. I decided right then and there that more had to be done to save retired racehorses. The Texas Thoroughbred Association had written an article about Lights and his rescue. One of the sections in the article was entitled ‘Remember Me.’ That was it. The name of our Thoroughbred rescue program was decided.”
Lights had inspired Remember Me Rescue, a non-profit foundation that helps rescue, retire, retrain, and re-home ex-racehorses. The Keens had been rescuing and placing horses on a small scale since 2004, but Lights' story had motivated the founding of the non-profit.
Remember Me has since placed more than 80 ex-racehorses. If it wasn’t for Lights and the people that worked to save him, many ex-racehorses–including my own horse, Dexter–that now have loving homes would not have had such bright futures.
The Keens helped Lights recuperate by allowing him to become sociable, put on some much-needed weight, and learn how to ride without a bridle. Donna spent a lot of time with the champion and the two soon became best friends. The gelding was eventually adopted and sent to a new home. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, Lights returned to the Keens’ farm two years later. But this time, he was staying with Donna for good.
“Lights is so special, so intelligent,” Keen said. “He tries very hard to do everything I ask of him. He is kind and compassionate. Our relationship is special because of our mutual respect for each other. I really think he understands what he has been through.”
Lights now lives at Keen Farms and is one of two permanent residents at Remember Me Rescue. He shares a pasture with 28-year-old gelding Yeah Me Do, a winner of more than $70,000. Both horses have become the faces of Remember Me Rescue. You can visit the facility's website at www.teamkeen.com.
I met Lights on Broadway in September of this year. I had heard so much about him from Donna and was very excited to see him in person. When I first caught sight of the golden chestnut, I was blown away by his beauty. He had the dished face of an Arabian, the eyes of a puppy, and the height of a camel. His coloring was like caramel, like that of a red dun.
Mary and Lights on Broadway
That day, though he was a bit antsy, I came to realize just how smart Lights is. As I held his lead rope in my hand and led him around in circles, I couldn’t help but think, “I’m leading a Horse of the Year.” Yet I knew that Lights was more than just a Horse of the Year. He was a survivor, a fighter, and a best friend.
The day before Thanksgiving, I got to visit Lights for the third time. His coat had grown darker since I had first seen him and his muscles were more defined. As Donna rode him around for a bit, I stood watching. Suddenly, she asked me a question that honestly nearly knocked the breath out of me.
“Mary, do you want to ride Lights?”
She really didn’t have to ask. I walked up to the gelding, pulling myself into the Western saddle. Suddenly, I thought, “And I thought Dexter was tall.” Lights is seventeen hands-high. The ground is a long way down from aboard his back.
I began riding Lights around over the lush, green grass. The first thing I realized, other than the fact that he was gigantic, was that he was very smart and willing. He responded to everything I asked him to do, going where I asked him to go and turning when I asked him to turn. I brought him to a stop every now and then, thinking he would want to rest for a bit, but that wasn’t the case. Lights would stop for about two seconds before letting me know he’d had enough of being still.
Riding Lights was similar to when I led him around the first day I met him. I was star struck…by a horse. It’s happened to me many times before, such as when I met Smarty Jones, Blind Luck, Zenyatta, and many others.
Yet Lights is more than just a star—he’s a source of inspiration. He missed death by an inch, but because of the help of racing fans, he was saved. Lights proved it’s possible to overcome lowest of lows and find your way back on top while motivating others along the way.
About the author:
Mary Cage, 15, has been showing and judging 4-H horses for as long as she can remember. She became fascinated with horse racing at age eight when Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and has been enthralled by the sport ever since.
“My love for the sport has just continued to skyrocket, especially after attending the Breeders' Cup in 2010 and 2011,” she said.
Mary lives in a small Texas town about an hour from Lone Star Park, which she visits several times a year. She hopes to soon get involved in the industry as an exercise rider.
“My dream is to become a trainer, but if that does not work out, I will gladly take nearly any career in the racing business,” she said.
Check out Mary's blog at www.pastthegrandstand.blogspot.com.
Thanks for the great guest blog, Mary! Keep dreaming big and extending your passion for the industry to others!