Category Archives: Media Coverage

Talk Derby to Me. If You Must. I Have No Idea.

I have a co-worker who enthusiastically starts asking me all kinds of questions about the Kentucky Derby the moment he sees me. He’s been doing this for at least a month. He leans in with what he apparently thinks is a suave backstretch-insider smirk and starts talking about works and post position win statistics and how much he’s going to put into his exacta box. And every time I smile really politely and remind him that this year is not a Derby year for me.

I got a media request for an interview regarding this year’s Derby and my thoughts on the dwindling popularity of horse racing for the general public, and I had to politely decline.  (I should’ve just referred the reporter to this guy at work. They might not have gotten the perspective they expected.)

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Me at a racetrack: “Let’s stand by the hoses so we can see the horses get showered off! Best part of the race!”

I’ve been paying absolutely no attention to the Kentucky Derby. Oh, I went to the Tampa Bay Derby and saw one of Saturday’s starters win that day. But I was still so star-struck after seeing champion mare Tepin win, I actually forgot who won the feature race and had to be reminded later it was Destin! Sorry, Destin!

The reason is two-fold: one, I have been really focused on eventing this year, because that’s the subject matter of the novel I just finished, and two, I prefer summer and fall racing. I particularly love the big summer races at Belmont and Saratoga. Maybe it’s just that I really love summer, I don’t know. The Travers Stakes is my derby.

But I know a lot of equestrians get this level of May-Day enthusiasam at work and they never, ever, have anything to say about racing because they just aren’t interested in it. What pleasure rider hasn’t had a picture of her horse pinned to her cubicle wall that garners absolutely zero interest 51 weeks out of the year, but in the first week of May, suddenly finds it has marked her as ground zero for conversations starting with, “So, who do you like in the Derby?”

It’s kind of crazy that the number one event non-equestrian people associate with horses, is probably one of the least popular events for the general population of equestrians. I know I have plenty of readers who don’t like horse racing. Or who don’t mind the concept, but can’t abide with the execution. Or who are completely indifferent. Even if you come to this blog because you love your retired racehorse and you’re proud that your OTTB was once a warrior on the track, I’m aware that probably more than half of you just plain don’t like horse racing.

That’s okay. There are plenty of reasons to not like racing, or just to insist that the industry hold itself to a higher standard and fix itself, for goodness’ sake — just like there are opportunities for any other equestrian sport to do better by its horses and by its people.

I just wish that other sports could grab hold of the American imagination as whole-heartedly as horse-racing, and more to the point, that other single competitions could enter the line-up of great American sporting events, as well as the Kentucky Derby. My big equestrian moment of the year isn’t tomorrow, it was last weekend, and it wasn’t even on television, but live-streamed: Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. For other riders, it might be World Cup show-jumping, or dressage, or reining, or… or… so many disciplines, so little market share.

I love horse racing because I think at its heart, racing is the most pure form of equestrian sport: My horse is faster than your horse.

But at the same time, horse racing isn’t a fair representation of what the horse means to us in America. The Kentucky Derby isn’t the symbol of our collective horsemanship. It’s just one drop in the bucket of all of our love and hard work and passion and drive and sweat and tears. (But hopefully not blood, to quote Grace Wilkinson in her new eventing novel A Perfect Stride.) It’s a part of all of us, whether we like it or not, because we’re horseman and at our core we know only endless labor and endless love can produce good horses. But we all add up to more than fast horses: we add up to strength, endurance, scope, elegance, precision, sensibility as well as speed.

What’s the point of this ramble? I wish horses were more popular, and less insular, I suppose. I wish more kids got to be working students at a barn a bike-ride away from their neighborhood. I wish there was a barn in my town. I wish Pony Club was as normal in a suburban town as soccer or gymnastics. I wish horses were more of a way of life and not mistaken for a status symbol, since I daresay most of the horse-owners in the United States would laugh heartily if you accused them of being rich (or possibly even middle-class).

I wish someone would ask me about who I liked at Badminton this weekend.

(It’s Michael Jung, of course. We all like Michael Jung.)

 

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Ask Questions

keep-calm-and-ask-questions-5Originally posted at: nataliekreinert.com

Recently, tragedy struck twice at an event. Two horses died at The Fork, an upper-level event in South Carolina. Conair following an accident on the cross-country course; Powderhound following his show-jumping round.

Immediately after each horses’ death was announced, social media (generally Facebook, although I’m sure Twitter got involved) was abuzz. Mass messages of sympathy were intermingled with questions about how these deaths could have happened. And admittedly, neither was straightforward: Conair reportedly got up and galloped around after his fall; he collapsed and died after a preliminary vet exam. Powderhound collapsed and died after his show-jumping round, narrowly avoiding injuring his rider.

It looked weird. It looked scary. And people had questions.

Concerns.

Fear.

An urge to twitch back the blinds and make sure their own horses were safe.

As things will do, of course, sympathy and fear divided into factions. Familiar ones, in Eventing: the Long Format vs the Short Format.

Simply put, Short Format Eventing is the current version of the Three Day Event, which does away with the massive endurance requirement once required. It places a greater emphasis on dressage and a more technical cross-country course.

Long Format proponents don’t need much to start talking about Long Format, anyway, so it was only to be expected that this would renew the debate. Questions like: Are the horses still fit enough to compete at high speeds? Are the courses asking the horses questions with solid fences that should only be asked with movable jump poles?

Short Format replies tended to be more succinct: now is not the time to bring this up.

I understand that the Eventing community is close-knit, and that when one horse dies, many horsemen grieve. That’s the way it should be. That’s how communities work.

But here’s what I want to say: it’s okay to ask questions, and it’s going to be done in public, on social media, because that is where people ask questions these days. There isn’t going to be an official period of discreet social media silence. And there shouldn’t be, because in this short-term-memory society, if an incident isn’t discussed within a fairly immediate time period, it won’t be discussed at all. It will be buried by the next story, for better or for worse.

It’s not okay to lay blame, or make assertions without proof, or tout oneself as an expert when one is not, or lay claim to a death as a symbolic martyr of a cause.

But it is okay to ask questions.

Questions, well-worded ones anyway, can lead to conversation amongst people who care about the problem. Conversation amongst people who care about the problem can lead to the answers… sometimes, the answers to questions far removed from the original one.

We should always be asking questions, and exploring the issues that concern us, or hell, scare us. A horse drops dead under a rider — that’s scary. Could it happen to you? Could it happen to me? We need to talk about this. Let’s discuss conditioning techniques. Discuss feeding practices. Share ideas. Share best practices. This, a time of worry and crisis and personal doubt, is when we are most likely to come together and share, instead of hiding away our fears (from shame) and our secrets (with jealousy).

Here’s how I see it: analyzing our own practices is good.

Coming together and sharing ideas is good.

Sometimes it takes a tragic event to start conversations about our own lives.

This argument has absolutely zero to do with making assumptions about the deaths of Conair and Powderhound. It has nothing to do with changing Short Format to Long Format. It’s not a statement about whether the comments section of an article announcing a tragedy is the right place to question the cause. It’s simply about the power crisis holds, that it can inspire us to examine our own practices and to talk more frankly with one another about our thoughts and fears.

And to not be afraid to ask questions.

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Here is a jockey sorting cattle on a retired racehorse

Here’s something not even the capricious Horse Racing Gods could have predicted: Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron sorting cattle, mounted on an OTTB, at Pimlico Racecourse.

Life is strange and full of wonders.

Now for the record, I don’t know how to sort cattle, so I can’t comment too heavily on McCarron’s method, although at a guess I would say he also doesn’t know how to sort cattle. I think he’s a little taut on the reins for this horses’ liking – I think the horses do most of the work in this game and he’s saying “yo dude, let go of my face and I will totally round up this cow for you.” (The horse is from southern California in this particular dream dialogue I am cooking up.)

But I could be wrong. Cattle sorting enthusiasts, set me straight! What’s happening here?

UPDATE: Wonderful commenters gave us the inside scoop, and their details turn this great story into a truly extraordinary one. This horse, named Automobile, is literally fresh off the racetrack, and has less than a half dozen rides under his girth before he found himself sorting cattle. He was a replacement horse when the originally scheduled horse developed a cough. (So feel better, poor guy with a cough!)

So I encourage you to watch this video with fresh eyes, not just an OTTB doing his job, but an OTTB being asked to do something entirely new! And accomplishing it with relative aplomb!

When I think about how many horses I’ve been on who have taken one look at a cow in the far distance and decided it was halfway past time to head for the hills….

This guy is an inspiration!

And so without further ado, straight from the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium to you, Chris McCarron sorting cattle, on an OTTB, at Pimlico Racecourse.

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Filed under Media Coverage, Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, Thoroughbred Horse Shows, Western Thoroughbreds

This weekend: Your Retired Racehorse questions answered at Pimlico

When the Retired Racehorse Training Project announced their Thoroughbred Makeover and Symposium a few months ago, October seemed forever and ever away. Heck, I even thought I might make it to the event. I’d make plans… eventually. Closer to October. Or so I thought.

Photo: Retired Racehorse Training Project

Photo: Retired Racehorse Training Project

Well, now it’s October and I’m getting ready for another business/family trip in the week after the symposium, so I won’t be able to catch a train to Maryland after all. But if you’re in the Mid-Atlantic and you are curious about Retired Racehorses, this is your opportunity to see them in action, hear from experts, and start putting together a cohesive answer to that lurking question: “Is a Retired Racehorse right for me?”

The Makeover is slated to be the star event, when more than twenty riders from across the country and from a variety of disciplines will show off what they’ve accomplished in the past three months with their project horses, all off-track Thoroughbreds with no further training than the races.

And in-between demonstrations there are some pretty unique exhibitions on offer: Chris McCarron’s “Ride Like a Jockey” (something I think all of us should learn how to do), presentations on hunting, show hunters, polo, show jumping, Pony Club, eventing, and dressage; and perhaps the most intriguing/bizarre: Who Let The Cows Out? This event, which ties in with the western presentation, will feature jockeys trying to pen cattle, because of course.

But the symposium forums look especially interesting. I wouldn’t miss these: a session on the business side of Thoroughbred retirement, a trainer’s forum featuring a panel of Thoroughbred experts: Rodney Jenkins, Cathy Wieschoff, and Hillary Simpson, and an open forum on the future of racehorse retirement and the racing industry’s involvement.

There are also sessions on soundness, sales, and healthcare which will doubtless be very informative, especially to the newbies who are looking for their first OTTB.

Here’s the full schedule of events.

It’s going to be a very educational weekend at Pimlico, and I’m definitely jealous of everyone who will be attending! I encourage anyone who wants to share photos or trip reports to email me (natalie @ nataliekreinert dot com) and I’ll post them here at Retired Racehorse with your byline!

Here’s the very compelling promo video:

What are you looking forward to most at the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium?

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Finding Curragh Mon

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that TROT (Thoroughbred Retirement of Tampa) is one of my favorite Thoroughbred rehoming and rehabbing groups. Working directly with Tampa Bay Downs, they have helped many, many Thoroughbreds find new homes, whether it’s a life-time of pasture or a new showing career.

They’ve even been there for Bon Appeal’s half-brother, Mambo Appeal, who shares her squiggle of a stripe and sleek build.

When a couple of my friends from TROT reached out to me about Curragh Mon, it really touched my heart. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to write about OTTBs these days; I am spending most of my time in my cave of an office, writing fiction, and the racetrack in New York is a very expensive train ride away. I’m busy, and it’s hard to keep up. But when someone needs help, I hope I can say I’ve been there for them. Or him. Curragh Mon.

Curragh Mon’s story is living proof that it can happen to anyone (I’m starting to think it does happen to everyone at some point in their fifteen to forty years on the planet — horses just don’t have good luck in our society). It can even happen to tall, well-bred dapple grays: the ones that people are supposed to swoon for, the ones that are supposed to be the most desirable. We all of us, at one point in our horse-crazy lives, have day-dreamed about a tall dapple gray. You have, and I have, and that’s just how it is. There’s something about them.

But that something, and all those daydreams, aren’t enough when the horse is in the wrong hands and falling off the radar. And it’s so, so easy for a horse to fall off the radar. There’s no vetting process for horse owners, or even for horse trainers. Should there be? I’m really starting to think so.

This is Curragh Mon’s story. He was lost, and he’s been found. It took hard work and it took dedication and it took love and compassion. Thanks to TROT for telling me about it and linking me to this impressive press release. Take a read, and take a think, and hug your horse, and if you can share this story, or throw a few bucks Curragh Mon’s way, do so. And maybe, down the road, let’s talk about how we’re going to stop horses from falling off the radar.

The following is a press release from Thoroughbred Retirement of Tampa (TROT):

Curragh Mon is rescued and brought back to TROT

From TROT

CURRAGH MON RETURNS HOME WHERE HIS RACING CAREER STARTED

Arriving with just a halter fit for a pony, this 17 hand Thoroughbred was on his way to a better life. The only memory of his racing days is the one front shoe that remains on his overgrown hooves.  The transport driver said, “He just wants someone to love him”, and he was right.  On Curragh Mon’s first leg of his long, bumpy road to retirement, this gray gelding seems to know his life was worth saving.

Now, Thoroughbred Retirement of Tampa, Inc. (also known as TROT) is appealing to horse lovers and racing fans to assist in funding Curragh Mon’s transition to life away from the track.

Curragh Mon’s racing career began full of promise, when he rallied to finish second in a Tampa Bay Downs maiden special weight race for 3-year-olds in his January 2009 debut. He broke his maiden eleven months later at Tampa Bay Downs and went on to win three more times. The striking gray/roan son of Maria’s Mon — sire of Kentucky Derby winners Monarchos and Super Saver — appeared to have an extremely bright future.

However, the trips to the winner’s circle were few and far between and he changed owners seven times over four years of racing. His last three starts were in March and April of this year at Fonner Park in Grand Island Nebraska. After that, he fell off the radar.

Fortunately for Curragh Mon, organizations such as TROT, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the safe retirement from racing, retraining and rehoming of Tampa’s racing Thoroughbreds, have taken the lead in an effort to ensure that Thoroughbreds have a chance to lead happy and productive lives after their racing careers are over.

After locating Curragh Mon through painstaking diligence, TROT is bringing him back to the Tampa Bay area to begin his well-deserved retirement.

The horse’s former owners contacted TROT board member Vanessa Nye as they were concerned about what happened to the horse. Nye, a Tampa attorney who owns and operates Voodoomon Stable, is a strong advocate of safe retirement and aftercare for Thoroughbreds.

“I believe, and always have, that retiring these horses properly, transitioning them into other careers and supporting the aftercare of these great animals is paramount for the racing industry’s future.”

Nye made scores of telephone calls in her quest, enlisting the aid of numerous horsemen. On May 9, she found out that his last racing owner had given Curragh Mon away. It took another five weeks to finally locate the horse, which had changed hands and for possible use in unregulated match racing.

Finally, they were able to contact the individual possessing Curragh Mon, who agreed to sell him for $2,500, an amount Nye agreed to pay along with shipping costs. Nye said Steve Breen helped with coordinating his return home and the horse’s former owners are chipping in to cover the expenses.

No one can say for certain what Curragh Mon’s fate would have been had not Nye and her contacts put in the hours and diligence to launch the process of tracking him down. “It took me eight weeks and about 400 phone calls, but I was very determined,” she added.

Curragh Mon is scheduled to return by van to TROT’s foster facility in Myakka City in the next few weeks. “Really, TROT is full to capacity, but we don’t want to turn away a horse that has raced at Tampa Bay Downs. We (racing owners) all have to become more conscientious and investigate who we give these horses away to,” Nye said.

TROT estimates it will take at least a month for Curragh Mon to wind down from racing before starting retraining and being available for adoption. TROT is seeking donations to support him and the other fourteen horses currently in the program and available for new careers or as loving companions.

Please consider making a donation to Curragh Mon’s rehabilitation, or to help the other fourteen horses in the program. Use this link to access the PayPal donation link –http://tampatrot.org/how_you_can_help.html.

Check out TROT on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tampatrot  or visit their website at http://www.tampatrot.org.

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Filed under Media Coverage, OTTB Stories, Retirement Options

Racehorse Training: Everything Old is New Again

This week the racing world prepares for the Preakness Stakes. As all the racing journals focus on the stories behind the trainers who are prepping their three-year-olds for the second leg of the Triple Crown, so the sporthorse writers are featuring the human (horse) interest stories in that mysterious racehorse world.

In doing so, an interesting angle has arisen: the old training models of a man lauded as a True Horseman, Shug McGaughey, and the new training methods of a group of dedicated horsepeople who are providing “before-care” for their racehorses.

Circuitous gallops on training track for Mosaic Racing Stable

Mosaic Racing’s Circuitous mid-October 2011. Photo: Fiona Farrell

In The Chronicle of the Horse, there is an article on Mosaic Racing Stable, a small, New York-based operation whose horses aren’t just galloped around a track. They also learn skills that will come in handy in their second career: a laudably lucid forethought in a business where it’s nearly a given that a horse will need a second job by the time he’s just reaching maturity.

If Mosaic Racing Stable is a familiar name, that might be because contributor Fiona Farrell wrote about their unique training style here at Retired Racehorse Blog last March.

In addition to setting aside 15% of a horse’s earnings towards its retirement, the horses from Mosaic are given basic lessons they’ll use later in life — lesson that also make them happier, healthier horses in the meantime. Founding partner Monica Driver explains their practice of sending the horses to Aiken, S.C., for the winter, where they get some turn-out and hop over fences:

“Horses need downtime from any endeavor, I think. They need time off to graze, hang out and be horses, especially when they’re asked to live in a city and do something as physically and mentally demanding and stressful as training and racing,” she adds. “We don’t believe much in 2-year-old racing, and we don’t believe in year-round racing for our horses.”

Horses learn to bend, go over cavelletti, and walk on a loose rein. It’s not such a go-go-go life for them, and they reward Mosaic with performance: their first racehorse, Vicarious, won more than $100,000 at the racetrack.

What seems insanely forward-thinking in a sport like horse racing really might not be lifted straight out of history. The Mosaic method gets nods from trainers like Michael Matz and Rodney Jenkins. Well that makes sense, right? They’re both former show jumpers. But what about veteran Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens? Jimmy Jerkens, Allen’s son, says:

“Years ago at Belmont, my dad used to use a corral where they’d set up jumps [for steeplechase training],” he recalls. “It was a little course inside of a quarter-mile training track. I remember he had a couple of fillies that were kind of sour from doing the same old thing, and they got a kick out of it, and it seemed to turn them around. When you have a horse that’s very sour, you’ve got to try to do things to turn their heads around. Sometimes things like that are a godsend.”

And that brings us to the other story of the week, the connections of Orb, the handsome Kentucky Derby winner who will try to bring home the Woodlawn Vase, the silver trophy awarded to the winner of the Preakness Stakes each year.

There are many articles out there about Shug McGaughey, Odgen Mills Phipps, and Stuart S. Janney III, and I can’t add much to them, only quote them here. I do know what when Orb (not the horse I had money on) came in first in the Derby, I agreed with my husband when he said “Good for Shug!” This is a man you think of as a horseman in the best possible way, not just in the way that there is a horseman’s entrance at the track. A true horseman. 

Why, when there are a lot of fellas in the horse-racing game who have been training for a very long time? Well in McGaughey’s case, just for starters, you have the pristine record. One drug violation in 34 years, and that one, he says, was a veterinarian error that he felt very badly about. “I try to do what’s best for the horse,” McGaughey tells Sports Illustrated.

In this recent Sports Illustrated article, writer Tim Layden explains the good feeling about a “throwback” trainer and horse:

Orb, meanwhile, is a majestic bay colt, 16 hands tall and — McGaughey guesses — something between 1,000 and 1,100 pounds. He is muscular, yet not thick, and lean, yet not slender. “He’s an old-time looking horse,” says McGaughey. “He’s not like those speedier, blockier-type horses that are very popular today. He’s a homebred, with a homebred pedigree on the female side, and I think he’s a throwback to all that.”

Orb was bred by owners Ogden Mills (Dinny) Phipps and Stuart S. Janney III, longtime horsemen with deep roots in the history of the game. Like earlier generations, they breed horses with the primary goal of racing them, hence their emphasis is on steady development, rather than sudden growth for a stunning appearance in the sales ring or while working a fast eighth of a mile at a two-year-old sale.

Good horses, bred to run. Good trainers, training instead of medicating. Good people, teaching horses the skills they’ll need in the future, beyond the racetrack. It’s been an interesting run-up to the Preakness. I’m looking forward to seeing what all of these good folk bring to the table next.

Read more: http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/training-race-horses-tomorrow-today
Read More: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/more/news/20130513/preakness-stakes-orb-shug-mcgaughey/#ixzz2TZTKbdE4

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Thoroughbred Trainers Wanted for National Symposium

Photo: Retired Racehorse Training Project

Photo: Retired Racehorse Training Project

It’s your time to shine! You’re gonna be a star, kid, and I’m gonna take you there…

Well, let’s not go that far. I don’t have time to be your agent. But I’m the one that’s telling you about this awesome opportunity.

The Retired Racehorse Training Project, continuing their grand tradition of producing top-of-the-line Thoroughbred education and showcasing projects, are looking for 26 trainers, who will select and train 26 horses and show them off before a massive adoring crowd and a panel of judges at the RRTP Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium on October 5-6 at Pimlico Racecourse.

That was a long sentence, I apologize.

But here’s the thing — this is the chance for your  OTTB project horse to be seen on a national scale. You know you do good work — your horses know you do good work — the happy smiling people who buy your horses know you do good work — but who else knows? This is an amazing opportunity to showcase not just retired racehorses… but your ability to work with them.

I would have done this in a heartbeat just a few years ago. Can you imagine Final Call in this sort of project? In less than six months he went from racing to winning a hunter pace and we could be famous stars at Pimlico.

Maybe not famous stars. But definitely feeling that way.

Anyway, time is limited, and you need to put in your application by May 17th. The application requires a lot of writing, as you’re going to be asked about your experience in competition, training retired racehorses, training racehorses, what sort of facility you’ll be keeping the horse at, etc. etc. etc. There’s also a request for videos.

Once the trainers are approved, they’ll need to find a racehorse to reschool. The horse has to be just that — a racehorse, who has had no other training. So anyone who is thinking of giving this a shot needs to be well-versed not just in training young horses, but in training racehorses. I can’t help but think that someone who has worked with racehorses is going to have an advantage here. Many people work with OTTBs who have had a leetle bit of retraining first. Just a little. That’s not what the RRTP folks are looking for here.

The presentation at the National Symposium in October does involve a panel of judges who will provide feedback and commentary on the horses, but there will be no winners announced. Everyone who appears at the symposium with a horse will receive a check for $1,000.

I can’t tell you how jealous I am of the lucky folks who are going to get to train a horse for this project. But will one of the 26 come from Retired Racehorse readership? Here’s hoping…

Get the full details at the RRTP website and don’t forget to keep me posted.

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