Well, it’s that time of year again! Once again, I will be turning the attention of my blog to all things Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) after this week as we count down to the first Friday and Saturday in May.
But first I wanted to bring you this touching story about a sweet gelding named Doctor Decherd, who is now enjoying a peaceful retirement in Texas thanks to the help of a generous group of racing fans.
Once on the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) trail, the 9-year-old son of Louis Quatorze won the 2006 Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He ran up front early, but faded to sixth behind Barbaro in that year’s Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) at the Florida track. Doctor Decherd didn’t have enough earnings to make it to the starting gate for the Run for the Roses, but he continued to race in several other stakes before dropping down to the claiming ranks.
During the fall of his 5-year-old season, Doctor Decherd was running as a mere $4,000 claimer at Lone Star Park. After suffering a career ending injury, a group of fans that had been following his progress decided to take the steps to help the gelding have a safe retirement.
Following is a question and answer session I had with Barbara Lively, a member of the group Friends of Barbaro, who played a hand in Doctor Dechard’s fate. Barbara is such a rockstar that she even wrote a book about the gelding’s story and is donating the proceeds to aid in his care. Called Front Runner, the non-fiction work just recently hit the shelves. Click here to order your copy!
Barbara, hanging out with Doctor Decherd
EM: How did you discover Doctor Decherd’s whereabouts?
BL: In 2006 while Barbaro was being treated at New Bolton, people that were following his story on www.alexbrownracing.com also started to search out anything and anyone Barbaro related.
People became interested in some of the other horses in Barbaro's generation still competing. One of those enthusiasts was a lady living outside of San Antonio, Texas named Linda Hulett. She has been an avid race fan since childhood.
Doctor Decherd caught her eye because she admired his tenacious challenge of Barbaro in the Holy Bull Stakes. She put him in her virtual stable, and started to keep tabs on him. When he raced at Retama Park near San Antonio, she and her husband went to see him. “DD” ran in his only race on turf, and came out rank at the start. He and the jockey did not get along at all. Linda thought "Oh, that horse raced against Barbaro, he deserves better than this."
In 2007 after Barbaro passed away, a loosely connected group of Texas Fans of Barbaro (who only knew each other on Alex Brown Racing Forum at the time) planned a tribute day at Lone Star Park on the April weekend of Barbaro's birthday. One of the fans, Patty Wilson, attends the races at Lone Star frequently. She organized the gathering and got the track to give us all a tour of the stewards' booth and run a replay of Barbaro's 2006 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) on the infield big screen. We got to sponsor and name a race and be in the winner's circle with the winner.
Linda, Patty and I all met there and clicked right away. We talked at length about Barbaro's legacy and started to discuss how we and other Texas (race fans) could begin to help Thoroughbreds right in our back yard at Lone Star.
EM: What’s special about Doctor Decherd?
BL: I think it started with his connection to Barbaro, but as the story unfolded, DD became part of the larger movement to address some of the ills of Thoroughbred racing.
Thoroughbred rescue became one of my interests, along with horse rescue in general. Some of the Thoroughbreds found at auctions and on slaughter-bound trucks were winners of big purses, champions, and trainees of big-name trainers. We thought it was unacceptable to dispose of such accomplished horses so cruelly. The Top Bunk List was started for this reason. http://alexbrownracing.com/wiki/index.php/Top_Bunk_List
DD was born at Calumet Farm. Sold as a 2-year-old in training for $100,000, he won the 2006 Aventura Stakes in Florida and was pointed to the Kentucky Derby along with Barbaro. To know that two short years later he would be running in the southwest as a $4,000 claimer was just too sad. He was a hard trier, with the same front-running style as his sire, Louis Quatorze. From watching videos of his races, it's apparent that he loved to run.
Doctor Decherd during his racing days
EM: Tell me about the process of getting Doctor Decherd off the track.
BL: In May of 2008, Linda called Patty and told her DD was coming to Dallas to race at Lone Star. Linda asked Patty if she could get in touch with DD’s trainer because she wanted to offer him a retirement home when his career was over.
In April 2008, DD was claimed for $4,000 from owner Mike McCarty. His new owner became Ed Larson’s Big Cigar Racing, and he was sent to the barn of trainer Allen Milligan.
Patty, who never met a stranger, got Milligan’s attention in the paddock before one of DD's races and gave him a note with Linda's phone number. Now mind you, Linda had no land or place to keep a horse. But a lot of Fans of Barbaro were finding resources to help the Thoroughbreds coming off the tracks and I guess Linda thought somehow, if she could get the horse, all that other stuff would work out.
DD raced four more times at Lone Star Park from May-July 2008 for his new connections, scoring a win there in June. He then went to Remington Park in Oklahoma, where he had to be eased in his last race Sept. 14, 2008 due to complications from a stifle injury.
DD’s trainer told the owner it might be time to call that nice lady in San Antonio.
EM: How many people were involved and how much money did you have to raise?
BL: Linda was shocked when she got the call. The owner and trainer were giving her the horse for free, and they wanted her to move him as soon as possible.
Linda Hulett with Doctor Decherd
DD was upset with being left in the barn in the mornings and of course, they wanted to cut the expense of keeping a horse that couldn't race. Linda got in touch with Patty, Alex Brown, and others on the ABR Forum, and told them the situation.
She had to find a way to get the horse from Remington, back down to Retama or Sam Houston while she tried to find him a place to live. Patty and Linda networked at the tracks near them and finally found a generous trainer, Sandy Montgomery, who had stall space at Retama Park. Sandy even donated transport space when she had horses coming from Remington Park down to Texas. DD finally made it to Retama about three weeks later. About a dozen people from all over the country got involved as soon as Linda posted that DD needed transport via the Alex Brown Racing Forum.
One of the forum monitors, Katarina Villanueva, thought that DD might make a jumper prospect. Since she owns and trains jumpers, she offered to board him where she was working (Marble Falls, Texas) if enough supporters donated for him each month. I think only a few hundred dollars needed to be raised to help with transport and his first month's board. People have been very generous with their time, facilities, and money for Doctor Decherd to this day. He amazes me with his ability to bring out the best in people.
In 2008-2009, with the downturn in the economy, support dollars were diminished when people had to cut a lot of their discretionary spending. Katarina had to look for a new job and was offered a position in Colorado the end of September 2009. She had three horses of her own and there just wasn't enough money to take DD with her. By this time, he had been vetted and we knew he could not be ridden again or retrained. The stifle injury was too severe.
I had been following DD’s story on Alex Brown Racing and in conversations with Patty when we went to Churchill Downs in April 2009 for Barbaro's interment and statue dedication. Most of my time and support had been directed to Horse Feathers Equine Rescue in Guthrie, Oklahoma. I had no idea how things were going to change in the next four months.
In June, 2009, I lost my 23-year career in commercial real estate, due to the collapsing economy and downsizing. I had been with the same company for the prior eleven years. In August, Patty called me and told me that DD was going to lose his home and asked if I help find him another place to live.
Patty knew that I had once owned an Arabian show horse and I still knew a few people in the horse business. Having owned a horse, I knew what was involved in maintaining one. I also had the time to devote to DD since I had lost my job.
In a way, DD and I became hard-luck buddies. Working on the project for him took my mind off my own troubles. It got me out of the house and around horse people again. After an intense search for a home in various places around the country, we realized that even if we found such a home, transport costs could be prohibitive, and we would most likely never see Doctor Decherd again.
I went to several local facilities that were either too expensive or not suitable in other ways for a retired race horse. Just by networking in my neighborhood, I found a family who owned a ranch and kept their retired show horses there. It was about 40 miles north of Dallas. I went to see the facility and meet the owners. They agreed to take DD on a trial basis to see if they wanted to adopt him. A friend of mine loaned me her truck (full of fuel) and a trailer and so, Patty and I set out for Marble Falls, Texas near Austin, to pick up DD.
EM: Where is DD located in North Texas and why did you choose that particular facility?
BL: DD was at this ranch for about a month. The owners used the ranch as a weekend home, and although they had a caretaker for the horses, I didn't feel that DD had enough supervision. By now I was getting to know him and found out that he's a high-maintenance kind of guy. So the first week of November 2009, I got in touch with another Texas FOB, Kristi Canovali, who has a home just a few miles from where DD was staying. I went to see her place and she and I felt that DD would do better there. The barn houses six horses, two belong to Kristi, and four are boarders, including us.
Kristi has rehabbed other OTTBs she found at auctions, most notably Gamble Zone, a grandson of Wild Again, who she had re-trained as a jumper.
Kristi’s place is quiet, low-key, and off the main roads. She provides personalized care to each horse, and she and her husband live there. DD has been living there for two and a half years. He's very happy, and we have peace of mind (His home is in Farmersville, Texas, about 35 miles east of McKinney).
We are committed to keeping him safe and comfortable here in Texas for the rest of his natural life. We have had such a grand time getting to know each other and bonding as a group for DD's welfare. We've found that we can accomplish things we only dreamed of. We continue to expand our network to help more off track Thoroughbreds down the road.
EM: Is DD being trained for a second career or is he just hanging out as a pasture pet?
BL: He would have been retrained but his stifle injury was more serious than we knew. He now has degenerative osteo-arthritis in the joint that is treated with periodic stifle injections and oral meds.
EM: Have you seen DD in person?
BL: I see him almost every weekend. I do the fundraising for his support, keep the books, and post photos/videos of him online to keep people interested and up to date. He has a discussion thread on the Alex Brown Racing Forum and a Facebook page. I'm with him for his vet care and farrier work.
Barbara Lively with Doctor Decherd
EM: What are some of his personality traits?
BL: Spirited, big ego, show off, loves ladies, high maintenance/hard keeper. Has to eat a lot to maintain weight, quick metabolism. Very racy.
He would be too much horse for a beginner but has a good heart. Kristi and I work with him--reinforcing ground manners and smoothing out bad habits left over from the track.
Kristi calls him "Big Goober." He has a charisma that keeps people in love with him and following the story.
EM: Anything else to add?
BL: I have written a book telling DD's story from his point of view. The title is "Front Runner" and is available online now (https://www.createspace.com/3658960). The book is appropriate for and directed to children 8 years old and up.
Proceeds from sales will be used for DD’s care. We are also exploring the possibilities of setting up a foundation to benefit DD and other OTTB's here in Texas. This is a fledgling movement along the lines of the new Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance in Kentucky.
Thanks for sharing DD's story with us, Barbara! And thanks especially for all your hard working in finding him a good home. We need more fans like you!
Please let me know if you have your own OTTB story to share. Email me at email@example.com, and your story could be featured in a future Beyond the Blinkers blog. Thanks for reading!