By: Erin Shea, @BH_EShea
The 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America had approximately 300 horses compete in 10 different disciplines all in one weekend at one venue. From Oct. 5-Oct. 8, the Kentucky Horse Park was packed with off-track Thoroughbreds and their owners, trainers, and fans from all walks of the equestrian world with the one thing uniting them: their passion for the breed.
Winner of the grand prize, the title of "America's Most Wanted Thoroughbred" and a share of the $100,000 that goes along with it, was Old Tavern, a 3-year-old unraced daughter of Peak Dancer who competed in the polo division. The filly's owner is 17-year-old Charlie Caldwell.
"I've never ridden a Thoroughbred with as good a mind as her. She's incredibly patient and calm about everything," Caldwell said of his mount.
Finishing second overall in the barrel racing competition, completing both runs in less than 20 seconds, were Storm Prospector and trainer Kelly Murphy-Alley. A 4-year-old gelded son of Cat Dreams, Storm Prospector finished unplaced in four starts for owner/trainer Tommy Short. Murphy-Alley said she saw him breezing and immediately knew he would make a good barrel competitor.
"I looked for a (mount for a) long time because I thought about doing (the Makeover) and I finally decided to when I found him because I was looking something small, something compact, something a little more sickle hocked, something to work more under itself," she said.
Kelly Murphy-Alley and Storm Prospector after a barrel run at the Thoroughbred Makeover. Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
The first-year Makeover competitor, who is a professional barrel racer and trainer based in Central Kentucky, was thrilled not only with the performance of her horse but with the entire Makeover competition.
"I've worked with Thoroughbreds but I've never bought my own and trained, so I decided to buy my own and give a whirl this year," she said. "This is my first year. I love it, it's fantastic."
Grade 3 winner and former Team Valor runner Speechify competed in dressage with professional sport horse trainer Sarah Berkowitz, who received the 7-year-old Harlan's Holiday gelding from Team Valor's Briana Mott.
"Bri knows that I'm super particular and anal about the horses so she called me and here he is," Berkowitz said of the gelding, who has an esophageal condition and consumes an all-liquid diet. Although she knows he's a special case, Berkowitz is hoping to find a new home for Speechify.
"He's been pretty good, he has only about two months of formal training," the Kentucky-based trainer added. "He had another surgery done in August so he's only been cantering since Sept. 1. He's a little bit on the green side for competition, but he was really well behaved in the dressage."
One competition that always draws significant attention is freestyle, where participants show off the trainability and talent of their horse in a way that isn't covered in the Makeover's other nine disciplines.
Showcasing their "western dressage" skills were Las Vegas-based trainer Lindy Christensen and Intaxication, a 6-year-old winning Stormello gelding who was retired from racing through Neigh Savers Foundation.
As for her discipline of choice, the trainer said it was a combination of her background of dressage and not wanting to overwhelm the horse, who has only been through four months of training so far after recovering from a bowed tendon.
"We decided to go with (western dressage) because the training to western dressage is so similar to that of traditional dressage that it's not that hard for me to switch over basically just tack," she said. "The lessons that he's learned in western dressage are all lessons that coincide with traditional dressage."
Another first-timer at the Makeover, Christensen enjoyed her trip, although she had a long 2,000-mile journey.
"This is my first year here and it's been a lot of fun," she said. "We've had mountains to climb. He's been a good boy throughout."
Although she didn't have a mount, jockey Megan Fadlovich attended the Makeover to watch the OTTBs that she helped find new homes. With more than $4.7 million in earnings riding mostly at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort, the rider had some time off after being injured in a spill at Presque Isle Downs so she decided to come to Kentucky for the weekend.
Fadlovich works to move retired Thoroughbreds into new homes and said she's seen a change in demand for OTTBs since the creation of the Makeover.
"I think the Makeover has caused a giant increase in people interested in (OTTBs) and wanting to participate in this event," she said. "My only worry is what happens. Are people going to continue getting OTTBs every (year)?"
Her motivation for helping horses comes from her love of the breed.
"I just want more people to enjoy off-the-track Thoroughbreds," she said. "I feel like they all have a purpose, and I feel like racing sometimes isn't it. Let's find something else that they can do."