Hello readers! One of our talented West Coast-based correspondents, Tracy Gantz, has written a great guest blog peice about the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. I hope you enjoy! Photos will hopefully be added soon. Have a wonderful weekend!
Stone Cold Angel obviously didn't want to be a racehorse. He started only twice, for a $2,500 claiming tag at Los Alamitos. He beat one horse the first time at odds of 35-1 and finished last at 92-1 in his second. . .well, "attempt" is probably not a very apt word for his lackluster tour of the track.
But thanks to the efforts of many people who are working hard to provide second careers for ex-racehorses, Stone Cold Angel is turning into a very handy jumper. He was one of the stars of the first Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show, held April 20-21 at the Mission Viejo Horse Park in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
Now called Noah, 9-year-old Stone Cold Angel (Slew of Angels--Imagry, by Northern Baby) won the .95-meter jumping division at the show en route to being named The Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Incentive Program's High Point Champion.
Another star of the show, Liberian Freighter, has a considerably loftier resume. When owned by Shawn Dugan, King Edward Racing Stable, and Charles Winner and trained by Hall of Famer Neil Drysdale, he earned $759,090 on the track. His 10 wins included victories in the 2010 Oak Tree Mile Stakes (gr. IIT) and 2011 Arcadia Stakes (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita and the 2011 Inglewood Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Hollywood Park.
Liberian Freighter at Hollywood Park; photo by John Chun
Retrained as a hunter, Liberian Freighter just eight months after his final start won two classes--one over fences and one on the flat--with Kristin Hardin riding.
Hardin enjoyed the experience of the TCHS, an event designed solely for Thoroughbreds. She could tell the people who brought the more than 75 horses in for the inaugural show felt passionately about their animals.
"When you hear people speak of their horse using 'he' or 'she,' it tells a lot about the love they have for their animal," Hardin said.
Liberian Freighter winning over jumps under Kristin Hardin; photo by John Chun
Nicole Schwartz spearheaded the creation of the show, designed as the first of three annual events she hopes will become a major stop on the California show circuit. Schwartz knows about finding second careers for racehorses, as she is the board president of Neigh Savers Foundation, which places former runners.
"Thoroughbreds are smart, sincere, and versatile," said Schwartz. "We wanted to provide a venue that would give these horses an affordable opportunity to get back in the show ring. We wanted to make it accessible for weekend warriors and pleasure riders, but competitive enough for the top trainers."
In creating the show series, Schwartz worked with the California Retirement Management Account. Lucinda Mandella of CARMA held roundtable discussions with many of the retirement organizations to look for ways to help find more second jobs for racehorses.
"Nicole came up with the idea of the horse shows," said Mandella, "and through a generous gift from Mace Siegel in 2008, the Siegel CARMA Foundation is able to be the presenting sponsor."
We all know the difficulties facing all of the wonderful people who want to find homes for ex-racehorses. It's an expensive endeavor, especially if the solution is to truly retire the animal. Horses eat a lot and can live another 20 years after they are done racing. Not many of us can afford to keep a lawn ornament, no matter how pretty and lovable he is.
Couple that with the fact horses generally are happiest when they have a job, and second careers are the way to go. Many organizations such as Neigh Savers strive to place horses with people who want a horse for a purpose. It may be a highly athletic endeavor such as eventing, jumping, or dressage, or they might simply want a weekend trail horse. Former racehorses have helped children with autism and been valued members of therapeutic riding programs.
Of course, not all horses can go on to second careers, and kudos should go to those groups who house these animals with love and care. But as Mandella notes, CARMA can help many more horses if it emphasizes second careers.
Schwartz firmly believes in the value of Thoroughbreds in the show ring. She laments the trend toward warmbloods in the hunter-jumper and eventing disciplines. That's one of the reasons she wanted to feature Thoroughbreds only in this series of shows.
"This series will go a long way toward shifting the way sporthorse trainers and owners view the Thoroughbred," she said, "and open up more opportunities for off-track Thoroughbreds to find second or third careers in new disciplines. That has always been a major goal for us."
The TCHS offered classes in a wide variety of disciplines. In addition to hunter-jumper and dressage events, it included Western classes and even games classes such as a dollar bill class and egg and spoon class.
Schwartz also wanted to acknowledge those dedicated people who have given former racehorses a new home even if the animal has some physical limitations. She created the Spirit of a Champion class for those horses.
"It takes a special person to take on a horse with limitations," said Schwartz. "We wanted to honor and celebrate that with the Spirit of a Champion class."
Owners nominated their horses by filling out an entry form that included their horse's story. It turned out to be one of the most popular events of the show.
Susie Harris and her horse Blaze N Waggin epitomized what the Spirit of a Champion was about. Blaze is a 2005 gelding by Cherokee Run--Checkerspot, by Affirmed. He raced seven times, but a fractured sesamoid ended his career. C.T. Grether Inc. owned him, and Howard Zucker and Steve Sherman trained him in Southern California and Northern California, respectively. They made sure he found a good home, but even they couldn't have predicted how successful the match would be.
"I think it's important for people to know that even though he had a severe injury, he was able to be rehabbed slowly and has turned into a wonderful riding horse," Harris wrote about Blaze. "I believe we have also developed a deep bond. Although Blaze will never be a show horse, I don't mind. Just being able to lead him into a ring at a trot is a great accomplishment that might not have been possible if not for his previous owner and wonderful trainer who gave him a chance. I would like to celebrate his overcoming his injury and celebrate finding the horse of my lifetime."
With a series of shows to promote the likes of Blaze N Waggin, Liberian Freighter, and Stone Cold Angel, maybe more second homes will come available for the valiant horses we cheer at the racetracks. And even if you aren't in a position to take on an ex-racehorse, if you live in Southern California, you can come watch them in their new careers.
The next show is scheduled for July 27-28 at the same venue, the Mission Viejo Horse Park. A third one is slated for November, with dates and location still to be determined. You can find more information at www.thoroughbredclassic.org and www.carma4horses.org. Efforts like these should be celebrated and supported.