It’s about time El Bomba is able to kick up his heels and graze to his heart’s content—he’s earned it. The 13-year-old was turned out to pasture at Erin and Dan Hall’s Caerindoll Farm near Versailles, Ky. early this spring after making his 101st start, and life couldn’t be better for the son of Signal Tap.
El Bomba’s career hit an especially sweet note when he won his 100th start at Turfway Park Jan. 12, prevailing by a nose in the one-mile claiming contest under jockey Amanda Tamburello.
El Bomba's winner's circle photo after victory No. 100 at Turfway Park
Trainer Jeff Greenhill said he wasn’t even aware of El Bomba’s milestone start until racing analyst Mike Battaglia made a comment while the horses were being led around the paddock before the race.
“I heard Mike saying, ‘A tip of the hat to the old man El Bomba who is making his 100th start as a 13-year-old,’ ” remembered Greenhill. All of a sudden, a race in which Greenhill had hoped for a good showing, became a race he wanted to win more than anything.
Breaking from post 2, El Bomba was last out of the gate, moved up from seventh to be a close fourth after a quarter-mile, and then made a four-wide bid on the turn to lead into the stretch. The veteran gelding dug in to maintain a length's advantage over Teetee’s Tapit at mid-stretch, and then outlasted his rival for a nose victory.
Greenhill said he had no idea who had won the race until El Bomba’s name finally flashed up on the tote board following the photo finish.
“When I found out it was his 100th start, I was especially invested in the race,” said Greenhill. “I would really have loved him to win. When they put his name up on the board, I was like, ‘Yes!’ It was a lot of fun and got me a lot of press which I would have never seen coming, but I guess there aren’t a lot of 13-year-olds that make their 100th start to win it.”
El Bomba's halter reads "El Bomba #101"
Racing in claiming, starter allowance, and allowance races for 95 of his 100 starts, El Bomba retired with 15 wins, nine seconds, and 16 thirds and earnings of $210,775. He made his first start in August 2002, finishing seventh, and broke his maiden in October of that year on his fifth try.
El Bomba was bred in Maryland by Pat Duffy and Rodney Jenkins and is by Signal Tap out of El Gran Senorita, by El Gran Senor. The bay was campaigned in the name of Greenhill’s wife, Sherri.
After driving about 15 minutes through the beautiful Central Kentucky countryside March 22, I happened upon El Bomba’s new home at the 62-acre Caerindoll Farm, a quaint, but picturesque operation on Dry Ridge Road. It wasn’t long before I spotted El Bomba grazing alongside his new 25-year-old buddy, Amotan East, in the pasture closest to the Hall’s residence.
El Bomba and Amotan East
After granting permission from Erin, I entered El Bomba’s paddock and slowly approached the gelding, who is medium in stature and still extremely active considering his age. Splattered with mud from a morning romp in the field, El Bomba’s ears were pricked in curiosity when he first saw my friend Amanda and me walking toward him, and he ambled out to greet us. El Bomba wasn’t too fond of posing for photos; he was much more interested in vigorously eating the lush, spring grass at his feet. But nevertheless, we were able to sneak in a few shots during our visit.
El Bomba and Amotan East coming to say hello
When I asked Greenhill over the phone why he thought El Bomba had stayed so sound for so long, he said there was no way of knowing for sure.
“He had no major conformational faults, other than his parrot mouth,” Greenhill said with a laugh of the horse’s overbite. “I think some horses are born with better synovial fluid. Their joints are just well-lubricated.”
Greenhill said the fact El Bomba was a route horse instead of a sprinter had also worked in his favor.
“Sprinters have to go so fast all the time and he just kind of had one speed, but he could run that speed all day long; that’s the reason he won races up to two miles,” he explained. “The further he went, the better he was.”
Hall plans to eventually make El Bomba into a pleasure riding horse and possibly even a jumper if he is willing. But for now, the gelding is simply enjoying being a horse.
“He’s settled in well…it took him a little while,” said Hall. “He’s very much a creature of habit, so I’m just trying to have a definite program for him as to when he comes in and goes out. It took a few days for him to settle by himself, and then we turned him out with another horse.”
Hanging out with El Bomba
El Bomba’s current paddock buddy, Amotan East, is a retired racehorse and therapy horse that is gentle-natured and blind in one eye, but you would never know it. He follows El Bomba around like a puppy.
Hall said she would probably wait until sometime in April to start riding El Bomba.
“He’s still putting on weight,” she explained. “He’s a good eater, but he’s very active. He’s just been kind of hanging out and eating. I’m hoping he likes to jump, because he appears to be very athletic and competitive. My plan is to eventually ride him and turn him into a jumper or an event horse.”
Erin Hall aboard another one of her OTTB's, a 3-year-old named Spicer's Mill
Hall, who formerly operated a retired Thoroughbred therapy program for at-risk children, has re-trained and found homes for several other ex-racers.
“We like them to settle in and be happy and figure out what kind of job they want instead of trying to create what we want them to be,” said Hall, whose husband, Dan, is a partner in Hidden Brook Farm near Paris, Ky.
“I think (Thoroughbreds) have given us a lot…I like the way they look, and I like their personalities for the most part. I think they’re highly sensitive and very intuitive.”
Hall said based on her observations of El Bomba so far, his future looks bright.
“He seems to be extremely intelligent,” she said. “I’ve had some (ex-racers) that are frantic when they’re first turned out, but he really studies things. I still think based on what his job was before, it’s going to take him awhile to fill out and settle. But he’s extremely sweet to be around, very smart, and so far he’s been a pleasure to have.”
The 'Old Man' El Bomba and me