By: Erin Shea, @BH_EShea
More than 250 off-track Thoroughbreds descended on the Kentucky Horse Park's Rolex Stadium in Lexington Sept. 8-10 as part of the first-ever New Vocations Charity Thoroughbred Show/Thoroughbred Incentive Program Championships.
With 253 competitors from 22 states, the show was up 138 entries from last year's two-day New Vocations show.
"It was amazing. (Entrants) came from everywhere. Last year we had 11 different states and this year we had 22. From as far away as New Mexico, Georgia, Louisiana—they came from everywhere," said Sarah Coleman, director of education and development at New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program.
Coleman added that this year's show was planned in conjunction with the T.I.P. Championships in the hopes that a three-day show—instead of just a one-day championship show—would encourage more participants. Both Coleman and T.I.P coordinator Kristin Werner Leshney were thrilled with the outcome of the show and anticipate a similar format in 2018.
"I think this format worked well," Werner Leshney said. "We are able to provide competitors an experience of coming to the Bluegrass for a long weekend and not only horse show but also enjoy a lot of what the state has to offer.
"Many of my favorite moments happened in the barns when we were delivering carrots and water. Everyone we met was so happy to be there and was so thankful for an opportunity to celebrate the Thoroughbred," she added. "The whole weekend was really just a reminder to me about how far we have come with aftercare and Thoroughbreds as sporthorses since TIP first started in 2012."
In addition to the hunter/jumper classes, the show also honored horses adopted from New Vocations, one horse bred by Mereworth Farm (the new home of New Vocations in Kentucky), and the descendants of Man o' War. Other awards were presented to the highest on-track earner and the horse who had the most career starts. There were also 25 horses who were adopted from Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited organizations, topped by T.I.P. Championships winners Gem Twist (very green hunter under saddle), Meet My Buddy (beginner hunter over fences), and Milord (hopeful jumper).
"In all honesty, standing at the bottom of the Rolex ramp with all of these horses coming in—it was crazy," Coleman said. "Everybody was so happy, they were so excited to be walking into the Rolex. It was really cool. To be able to provide (the competitors) with an affordable opportunity to come into one of the best venues in the country and show the world what these horses can do was awesome."
Horses in Rolex Stadium at the New Vocations Charity Thoroughbred Show/T.I.P. Championships. Photo: Erin Shea
For Caitlyn Giese, showing in the Rolex Stadium and being honored by New Vocations was "a dream come true." Giese's Eureka Springs, an 8-year-old son of English Channel, was bred by Mereworth Farm. So while Giese, her parents Gail and Mikael, and her trainer Tara Climaldi were in town from Virginia for the show, New Vocations invited them out to see the place where Eureka Springs was foaled and to meet his dam, the Dehere mare Cuddle Her.
"It was pretty incredible to see (a place) where the Thoroughbreds retire to. Seeing his mom was pretty incredible," Giese said.
"We had talked about coming here, and when we started talking I was like 'I don't know about this year,'" Caitlyn's mother Gail Giese said, adding that her daughter had just stopped using crutches a week ago after accidentally being kicked near her hip by Eureka Springs in his stall.
"They've just taken off together. It's just so cool. And then going to meet his mom. ... it's (come) full circle," she said.
The award for most money earned went to Twilight Eclipse, a former West Point Thoroughbreds runner who accumulated more than $2.1 million and whose multiple graded stakes triumphs include the Man o' War Stakes (G1T).
Shown and owned by Erin Birkenhauer, the 8-year-old Purim gelding took third in the in-hand War Horse class Friday night. The class, which was for horses who made at least 50 starts or earned more than $100,000, was won by Crushing and Georgia Keogh.
Birkenhauer, West Point's racing manager, said that she was excited for the chance to show Twilight Eclipse in Rolex Stadium and is trying to get him exposed to more horse shows before she starts him in recognized horse trials. Her goal is to get him to more shows, since she knows that he has many fans.
"On a day-to-day basis he's chilled out, but I think just being here and the atmosphere of the ring, brought back the (feelings of the track)," Birkenhauer said. "As soon as he got out of his stall, we saw the steeplechase course and he was like 'oh, clearly I'm here for the Sword Dancer.'"
After his retirement in June, Twilight Eclipse moved to Birkenhauer's home in Bowling Green, Ky., to begin his new career as an eventer.
"He was surprisingly different than I thought. He's kind of soft to ride and he was known (on the track) for being very in the bridle," she said. "But to the jumps he's been great—he's brave and honest. His work ethic is second to none.
"Honestly, he's just part of the family now. I sometimes forget that he's Twilight Eclipse."