Thursday, January 24, 2013

THE KING IS DEAD; LONG LIVE THE KING


Guest Blog
by Mark Cramer

In a recent TDN article, race track aficionado Doug Thomson laments that more people are not participating in the competition for most Thoroughbred race courses visited. And now, with this report of a new record-holder, the previous leader Bill Finley, with 86 race tracks visited, may be off on the road tomorrow morning to catch up with Terry Bjork.

Bjork, from Chicago via Montana, is also known as McChump, for his legendary website, The McChump Racing Tour. Terry also publishes the lively Derby List on-line racing exchange.

I was not able to locate Terry Bjork to simply ask him, “How many Tbred tracks have you visited?” (He’s probably on the road somewhere watching $2,500 claimers in Arizona.) So I had some archeological research to do. I combed through the McChump tours, tallying Bjork’s colorful railbird accounts, as well as documenting from his narratives whether or not certain far-off-the-beaten-path tracks on his index had carded Tbred races.

I first met Terry Bjork on a European racing tour, organized by one of the great lovers of racing, the late Art Kaufman, also known as Lee Tominson for his Mudders and Turfers sire research. Terry was there at Brighton when I faced the greatest challenge in my career. A maiden race was named for our group. Track officials asked us to select the best-groomed horse. A 50£ prize would go to the lad (groom) who had done the best job. Art designated me to make the choice.   

It was only a maiden race, with an obscenely low purse, and yet to me, every one of those magnificent racehorses looked like a Breeders’ champion! (I begged for help from the tour companions and together we chose a winner and got our picture taken with the dapper groom.)  

A year later I had a beer with Terry Bjork at the Claiming Crown at Canterbury. There I learned that his McChump Racing Tour was also raising funds for a foundation which helped find homes or new careers for neglected Thoroughbreds. That day, he made a designated $5 bet: if the horse won, the winnings would go to the foundation. His choice wasn’t the favorite, but it won anyway!

So I am honored and humbled to be able to say that I’ve witnessed a small part of Terry Bjork’s amazing race track saga. In order to come up with a final figure for Bjork’s race course appearances, I had to deal with a few tracks for which the link to the McChump play-by-play articles was not working. I researched those bull rings (the asteroid belt of the racing galaxy) to make sure Thoroughbred events were part of their advertised menu. I discovered, for example, that the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show carded not only draft horse races, and not only chariot races, but a Tbred race as well.  

But what if the day that Bjork had visited Eastern Oregon, there were no Thoroughbred races? Because of the doubt, I simply did not add that particular track to Bjork’s score. I also disqualified Anthony Downs in Kansas, because a 3-furlong race it had featured for both Quarterhorses and Thoroughbreds was still primarily a Quarterhorse race.
Bjork's trip to Anthony Downs in Kansas doesn't
count, as the race he witnessed was primarily
a Quarter Horse race.    Hutch Post photo

In the end, I tallied a total of 91 visits to race tracks that carded legitimate Thoroughbred races.

Each McChump episode gives us an on-the-road Kerouac tale of how he got to the track (usually by Chumpmobile, often over a secondary route rather than the freeway), irreverent travel insights, a critical view of grandstand architecture, the all-important at-the-track price of a beer (the true measure of local currency), and here and there a tip on betting horses. For example, at El Comandante in Puerto Rico, Bjork learned “the rule of the encharcada”, coming from the word “charco” (pool). “I simply bet the early speed horses to win in the slop,” he wrote, referring to the bull-ring fair races.

With each race track visit, something quirky is bound to happen. At one track, a blatant foul occurred; the stewards failed file an inquiry and the jockey failed to object, so the trainer stepped in and filed an objection … resulting in a disqualification.

Before risking a visit to Saratoga, Bjork harbored Middle American suspicions about major New York tracks but ended up giving Saratoga his highest two-thumbs-up award. 

At most of the smaller tracks, Bjork was impressed by the apron conviviality. “I could not help feeling sorry for these good folk. Did they not know that the world had passed them by? Did they not know that what they really should have been doing, instead of being out enjoying a beautiful day with friends and neighbors, was to have been staying home practicing their anti-social hermit skills while calling in bets via phone to some out-of-state leech?”

Bjork’s mission seems to defend the existential art of being at the track, in keeping with our mission to find the one human being who has visited the most Thoroughbred race tracks. Terry Bjork is now in the lead, with 91! The McChump Tour lasted for 17 years, ending in 2011. That averages more than five new tracks per year!

Tracks visited

El Comandante (Puerto Rico)

Brighton, Newmarket, Lingfield, Kempton, Salisbury (England)

The Curragh (Ireland)

Longchamp (France)

Thistledown, Beulah Park, River Downs (Ohio)

Hoosier Park (Indiana)

Great Lakes Downs, Detroit, Mt. Pleasant Meadows (Michigan)

Arlington, Sportsman’s Park, Hawthorne, Fairmount (Illinois)

Canterbury Park (Minnesota)

Prairie Meadows (Iowa)

Fonner Park, Lincoln-Nebraska State Fair (Nebraska)

The Woodlands Race Course, Eureka Downs (Kansas)

Keeneland, Turfway Park, Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, Kentucky Downs (Kentucky)

Oaklawn Park (Arkansas)

Louisiana Downs, The Fairgrounds, Evangeline Downs, Delta Downs (Louisiana)

Sam Houston, Lone Star Park, Retama Park, Gillespie County Fairgrounds, Manor Downs (Texas)

Remington Park, Will Rogers Downs, Blue Ribbon Downs, Fair Meadows-Tulsa Fairgrounds (Oklahoma)

Gulfstream, Hialeah (Florida)

Colonial Downs (Virginia)

Laurel, Pimlico (Maryland)

Charles Town, Mountaineer (West Virginia)

Philadelphia, Penn National (Pennsylvania)

Delaware (Delaware)

Monmouth, Garden State, Atlantic City (New Jersey)

Finger Lakes, Belmont, Saratoga (New York)

Rockingham (New Hampshire)

Del Mar, Hollywood Park, Los Alamitos, Santa Anita, Bay Meadows, Golden Gate, Ferndale-Humboldt County Fair (California)

Prescott Downs, Turf Paradise, Rillito Park (Arizona)

Albuquerque, Sunland (New Mexico)

Arapahoe (Colorado)

Fort Erie, Woodbine (Ontario)

Northlands Park (Edmonton), Marquis Downs (Saskatoon), Assiniboia Downs (Winnepeg) Whoop-up Downs (Lethbridge), Stampede Park (Calgary) [Western Canada]

Hastings Park, Emerald Downs (Washington)

Montana State Fairgrounds, Eastern Montana Fairgrounds, Crow Fair, Yellowstone Downs, Northwest Montana Fair (Montana)

Boise-Les Bois Park, Pocatello Downs (Idaho)

Brown County Fair (South Dakota)

    

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: MD Horse World Expo- Day 1

On December 1, 2012, four horses (including one former Eclipse Champion) representing four Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred farms embarked on the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s (RRTP) 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge at Dodon Farm Training Center in Davidsonville, MD. Fans will have the opportunity to see the horses in person at the Maryland Horse World Expo in January and the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo the following month. At the end of their 100-day training period, the horses will be judged on conformation, movement, jumping ability, and trainability by guest riders, judges, and online fans. As the Thoroughbred Challenge unfolds, Sarah Andrew will chronicle the horses’ progress. Please enjoy part 6 of this series. 
Suave Jazz and Ramon Dominguez before the 2008 True North H.
Suave Jazz and Ramon Dominguez at Belmont Park on June 7, 2008 before the GII True North H.
Attendance for the 2013 Maryland Horse World Expo was excellent. Spectators were treated to a dose of mild January weather, and horse lovers from near and far jammed the Timonium parking lot and perched in the bleachers in the Exhibition Hall Arena on Friday to catch their first glimpses of Alluring Punch, Declan's Moon, and Suave Jazz.
Alluring Punch at the MD Horse World Expo
Alluring Punch walks to the Exhibition Hall Arena
Gunport, the gunmetal-grey Mizzen Mast filly, missed all the fun and stayed on the farm for the weekend nursing a sore hock. According to the RRTP blog, it looked like she might have gotten kicked by a pasturemate, but it is healing nicely and she should return to work very soon. Sympathy pain must have been in the air, because Gunport's ace rider, Michelle Warro, also ended up on the sidelines for the weekend with three broken bones in her foot from an unfortunate furniture-moving incident. Warro was in attendance at the Expo, on crutches, gamely supporting the RRTP team.
Alluring Punch and Chiantel Beaumont
Chiantel Beaumont and Alluring Punch
Before the Friday session, I visited the horses in their stalls. The three RRTP geldings sported sleek new body clips, and they greeted the crowd from their stalls like the equine celebrities that they are. People peered through their stall bars and snapped iPhone photos, and they handled it like old pros. Suave Jazz watched the hustle and bustle with quiet interest. Declan's Moon took the longest to settle in to the new environment, and relaxed in a quieter stall before the first event. Alluring Punch, the youngest of the group, actually seemed to like the crowd the best, and curiously nosed adults and children alike. Any jitters he had were calmed by the RRTP team, including Chiantel Beaumont (pictured above). Wide-eyed, he scanned his surroundings as the horses made their way from the barn to the arena. 
Alluring Punch at the MD Horse World Expo
Alluring Punch curiously eyes the equine paparazzi
Past cars, trailers, and dozens of horses, a through a cavernous door, into a dark waiting area, the horses made their way to the exhibition arena. They were on their toes, but walked in a perfect line, like they once did in training sets in their former careers as racehorses heading out to the track in the morning.
Declan's Moon and the RRTP crew at the MD Horse World Expo
Declan's Moon and the RRTP crew head out of the barn to the Friday session
The Expo scene is a lot for a horse to process, but for horses off the track, they were specially schooled for moments just like these. Before their first start, many green racehorses are schooled in the paddock in the afternoon during a race day. They are walked around the paddock, and asked to stand quietly for saddling. Some walking rings are outdoors, some are sunken areas in front of the track, and some are indoors. The walking ring at the track features all the elements that these horses encountered at the Expo: vendors, PA systems with announcers, cheering/applauding crowds, hustle and bustle, bleachers, signs, flags, machinery, and so much more.
Suave Jazz before the 2008 True North H.
Suave Jazz at Belmont Park on June 7, 2008 before the GII True North H.
For a horse like Suave Jazz (pictured above), the Expo was a tiny fraction of what he saw on his biggest racing days. On June 7, 2008, he ran in the Grade 2 True North Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard. This was the year that Big Brown made his bid for Triple Crown glory, and there were almost 95,000 people in attendance on that hot, steamy day. Compared to the roar of an enthusiastic crowd of 95,000 racing fans, the polite clapping of the Horse World Expo audience was small potatoes. I took another look at Suave Jazz's past performances, and I've seen him race in person at least three times: twice at Belmont on two consecutive Belmont Stakes Days, and once at Monmouth Park during Haskell Week.
Declan's Moon at the MD Horse World Expo
Valerie Shepard jogs Declan's Moon for Steuart Pittman
Friday's Expo event was an hour-long session about conformation, movement, and jumping. Adding to the RRTP disabled list on Friday was Declan's Moon, who was a little sore from a slip during from the morning's trailer unloading. Pictured above, Valerie Shepard jogs Declan for RRTP President Steuart Pittman, who looks understandably concerned. By the next day, Declan was sound again, moving perfectly, and ready for under-saddle work.
Suave Jazz at the MD Horse World Expo
Suave Jazz is suave indeed
And then there were two. It was up to Suave Jazz and Alluring Punch to wow the crowd, and that they did. Suave Jazz, "The Professor," must have studied extra hours on Thursday night; he trotted, cantered, and jumped brightly and neatly, flagging his tail in high spirits. His back is tighter and his movement is not as extravagant as his RRTP schoolmates, but I already see nice improvement in his gaits as he transitions from a seven-year racing career to his life as a sporthorse.
Suave Jazz at the MD Horse World Expo
Suave Jazz
His free jumping style is quick and tidy, with less bascule and a little flatter of an arc. He handled the oxer, which was about 3' or 3'3", with ease. Steuart remarked that Suave Jazz could probably make a fine timber racer, with his careful and nimble style. 
Suave Jazz at the MD Horse World Expo
Suave Jazz
Next up was Alluring Punch, "The Kid." He greenly ogled the crowd as he was put through his paces, but impressed the heck out of me with his movement and jumping style. The arena was not very big, but he handled the free jumping chute with the greatest of ease.  The sky is the limit with this horse.
Alluring Punch at the MD Horse World Expo
Alluring Punch
Alluring Punch at the MD Horse World Expo
Alluring Punch
Stay tuned for part 2 of the Maryland Horse World Expo adventure!

- Sarah Andrew



IN OTHER NEWS
Horses and Hope 2013 Calendar
With the help of Gina Keesling of HoofPrints, my 2012 debut calendar raised over $40,000 for One Horse At A Time, helping hundreds of horses in need directly, and untold others indirectly through increased public awareness. Thanks to your generous purchases, the 2013 calendar has already raised over $50,000! We are down to our very last box of calendars- order now before they are all sold out. 100% of the proceeds are donated.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Guest Blog: Players and Owners: Who's the Real Gambler?

Folks who believe that such risk-taking is pathological would call us “co-dependents”

Mark Cramer

I used to think that we horseplayers were keeping owners in business, thanks to the betting handle we provide. But it may be that horse owners, through their own risk-taking, are keeping players in business.

According to “The Utility of Sport and Returns of Ownership: Evidence from Thoroughbred Racing” (Gamrat and Sauer, Clemson University, 2000), “Most analyses of the earnings of thoroughbred racehorses indicate that the average return to ownership of a racehorse is negative.” Other studies echo this opinion. Gennaro (University of Tennesee, 2003) writes that “Previous research demonstrates conclusively that owning thoroughbred racehorses tends to be a losing financial proposition.”

In the Ed Bain past performances, which contain owner statistics, I scanned a few days of racing and extracted one particular owner who seemed to have the best winning percentage. Triangulating with information from the Horse Racing Nation website and Equibase, I checked the records of this owner. From the year 2000 to the present, his stable averaged earnings of $3,234 per start, producing earnings of $2,182,950 for the period of slightly over than 13 years. Subtracting training, vet and other expenses, that looks like a loss to me.

That got me to thinking that without risk-taking owners, we players would not have a life. So maybe we really need each other: players and owners. Folks who believe that such risk-taking is pathological would call us “co-dependents”.

I’ve struggled to come up with some statistic that would show that a player has a better chance to make a little money from this game than an owner. I suspect this is true but I cannot prove it. My evidence is entirely anecdotal.

For the most part, owners and players cross different paths, hardly realizing how much they need each other.

The March-April edition of Harvard Magazine (March-April 2012) features an interview with racing writer, publisher and player, Steven Crist. Journalist Craig Lambert wrote: “People sometimes remark that the one thing [Crist] hasn’t done in the sport is own a racehorse.” But Crist responded: “I own the horse I’m betting on for one minute and 12 seconds, and that’s good enough for me.”

This exemplifies a convergence of betting on and owning a racehorse! My bicycle and betting partner Alan Kennedy goes a step further. Like several of my racing friends, he’s bridged the gap between player and owner.

“As for owning horses,” Alan says, “I don't consider it a gamble, since the odds are so much higher against the owner compared to the 15% betting takeout, so the net result will be a financial loss. However, compared to owning a sports team, the cost of racing a modest horse is a bargain for those who want to go beyond betting on the races.  The thrill of being in the paddock, talking to the trainer and his or her crew, meeting the jockey who is wearing my silks, and maybe even seeing my horse do well in a race - that is a priceless experience.”

 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Suave Jazz

Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Suave Jazz
On December 1, 2012, four horses (including one former Eclipse Champion) representing four Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred farms embarked on the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s (RRTP) 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge at Dodon Farm Training Center in Davidsonville, MD. Fans will have the opportunity to see the horses in person at the Maryland Horse World Expo in January and the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo the following month. At the end of their 100-day training period, the horses will be judged on conformation, movement, jumping ability, and trainability by guest riders, judges, and online fans. As the Thoroughbred Challenge unfolds, Sarah Andrew will chronicle the horses’ progress. Please enjoy part 5 of this series.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Suave Jazz

Suave Jazz 
Representing: Walnut Green Farm 
“The Professor”
Suave Prospect – Cavite Starlet, by Jazzing Around
$24,000 RNA HRA 2005 OBSAPR
70-17-16-12
$651,062
Breeder: Farnsworth Farms (FL)
Owner: New England Stallion Station
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Suave Jazz
It's almost here! On Friday, all four RRTP 100 Day Challenge horses will head to Timonium for the Maryland Horse World Expo. You can click here for directions, schedules, and more information about the Expo, and click here to find out when you can see the RRTP horses.  

Last but certainly not least in my horse profiles is Suave Jazz. In his 70 lifetime starts, Suave Jazz saw a lot. He placed in multiple graded stakes, overcame traffic (click here for video of his win in the Fire Plug S. almost exactly four years ago), and professionally outgamed the field (click here for his last win at Calder) many times. Based on his clean legs and long career, he carries some great genes.

When he arrived at Dodon Farm for training, he was easily the horse with the most experience under saddle. In addition to all the tracks he visited and all the races he ran, think of how many miles he put in during training hours in the morning and how many riders he carried. This is why Steuart was able to take him out with the Marlborough Hunt Club within the first month of training (click here for Week 2's training blog). In addition to his natural intelligence, good nature, and trainability, all the time on the track exposed Suave Jazz to quite a bit, so he handles strange surroundings quite well. The Professor is wise beyond his years.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Suave Jazz
Both in the video (click here) and Training Blog (click here) for his first day of training, it is apparent that the goal for a horse like Suave Jazz is to loosen his topline and help him learn to use different muscle groups from his racing muscles. By Week 2 (video), he is already getting the hang of bending exercises and is learning how to balance himself as a riding horse instead of a racehorse. It will take many hours of stretching and suppling to loosen his back and help him find his "new" trot and canter, but he is well on his way. By Day 30 (video), there is more improvement in his gaits, and his work over little fences is off to a nice start.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Suave Jazz
Over fences, Suave Jazz is willing, clever, and handy. His jump is flatter and not quite as extravagant as the jumps of his classmates Declan's Moon and Alluring Punch, but he has a tidy front end and loads of power in the hind end, indicating that his athletic potential is great. The quality flatwork schooling that he is receiving from Steuart and Michelle will not only improve his way of going on the flat, but will also encourage him to round and bascule over jumps.

One of my favorite things about the selection of horses in this year's challenge is how varied the horses' careers were at the track. The horses all had different campaigns, as well as varying amounts of time off the track. For people who (like myself) who own Thoroughbreds, they can probably see a little of their own horses in each of the 100 Day Challenge horses.

I'm looking forward to seeing the whole gang again at the Expo: The Natural, The Overachiever, The Kid, and The Professor.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Alluring Punch

Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Alluring Punch
On December 1, 2012, four horses (including one former Eclipse Champion) representing four Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred farms embarked on the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s (RRTP) 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge at Dodon Farm Training Center in Davidsonville, MD. Fans will have the opportunity to see the horses in person at the Maryland Horse World Expo in January and the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo the following month. At the end of their 100-day training period, the horses will be judged on conformation, movement, jumping ability, and trainability by guest riders, judges, and online fans. As the Thoroughbred Challenge unfolds, Sarah Andrew will chronicle the horses’ progress. Please enjoy part 4 of this series.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Alluring Punch
Alluring Punch 
Representing: Northview Stallion Station
RRTP's 100 Day TB Challenge Participant
“The Kid”
Two Punch – Alluring Elixir, by Cure The Blues
10-1-2-0
$12,290
Breeder: Barbara Ryan (MD)


Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Alluring Punch
He's "The Kid." Although Alluring Punch and his RRTP classmate Gunport both officially turned four years old on January 1, 2013, he acts his age more frequently than she does. If you look at his conformation photo above, he has all the ingredients to be an elite athlete, from his powerful hind end to his deep chest and lovely shoulder.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Alluring Punch
Under saddle, Alluring Punch is alluring indeed and shows great potential for collection with the ability to coil his loins and step under himself. His canter is powerful, and his trot is fluid. He inherited some of his legendary sire's playful nature, and he appears to have a bit of a sense of humor. He will need some time and skilled schooling while his mind matures and catches up with his body. In the training videos, RRTP President Steuart Pittman compares the first few minutes under saddle on Alluring Punch to "riding a pinball." You can get a good sense of this by watching his win at Charles Town in May 2012 (click here to watch his race video). He wins the race by open lengths, after taking the overland route and going quite wide on the turn to order the proverbial hot dog.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Alluring Punch
From Training Report 1 (video for Day 1) and Training Report 2 (video for Week 2), Alluring Punch is carefully coached to maintain balanced, rhythmic gaits. Less time is spent on suppling exercises and more time is spent on pace and balance. In the third week (video here), the chestnut hits a mental stumbling block, and Steuart is faced with the challenge of moving forward with his talented pupil. He explains his process in Training Report 3:   
 "We want to establish boundaries and consistency with these horses but we must be careful with the mouth and the attitude of a horse like this. For the first few weeks, we sent him forward and matched his strength with leg and rein to keep him on the track of our choosing at the pace and balance that we thought he could handle. That was tough on him in some ways. It was hard work and I don't think he got much pleasure from it. The warning came when I started to feel that he was not connecting well to the bit. He was sucking back slightly and curling to avoid the contact.
This is a common problem with the horses who pull hard. The harder we have to work the less tactful we become, and it doesn't feel any better to the bars of their mouths and neck muscles than it does to our arms and shoulders. All of a sudden they feel light in the bridle and take smaller steps and we think we have made great progress... I had felt poor Punchy sulking a bit, then surging into the bridle, then sulking again. My job then was to look for and find a rhythm and a direction that would make him happy again, and restore his trust in the contact. We found that yesterday in the canter. In that gait he is most rhythmic, straight, and balanced. He becomes happy. It is almost like a mental break for him, after which he does better at the walk and trot."
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Alluring Punch
The reward for thoughtfully schooling a talented, scopey horse like Alluring Punch through the lower levels will reveal itself as he reaches the upper levels of training. You can get a glimpse of his bright future when you watch his free jumping video below. If he is this talented at four, imagine where he will be in a year or two:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Gunport

On December 1, 2012, four horses (including one former Eclipse Champion) representing four Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred farms embarked on the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s (RRTP) 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge at Dodon Farm Training Center in Davidsonville, MD. Fans will have the opportunity to see the horses in person at the Maryland Horse World Expo in January and the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo the following month. At the end of their 100-day training period, the horses will be judged on conformation, movement, jumping ability, and trainability by guest riders, judges, and online fans. As the Thoroughbred Challenge unfolds, Sarah Andrew will chronicle the horses’ progress. Please enjoy part 3 of this series.
Gunport: Retired Racehorse Training Project

Gunport 
 RRTP's 100 Day TB Challenge Participant
“The Perfectionist”
2009 filly
Mizzen Mast – Directive, by Deputy Minister
1-0-0-0
$99
Breeder: Sagamore Farm (MD)
Owner: Sagamore Farm

On June 3, 2012, Gunport made her racing debut at Colonial Downs (click here to watch video). The comment on the race chart describes her performance in one word: "outrun." With this effort, she made it clear that she was not competitive as a racehorse. Her connections at Sagamore recognized the filly's balance and athleticism, and she joined the RRTP team and is now one of the 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge's fantastic four.
Gunport: Retired Racehorse Training Project

Gunport is 16.1 hands, with a short, strong topline, long legs, refined build, and a beautifully-set neck; she is an athlete from every angle. In her 14-day training video, RRTP President Steuart Pittman remarked,"I'm sure Sagamore is not interested in breeding for the show ring, and would rather have had this horse win some races, but they should still be commended. Somebody's got a good eye to create a horse like this, and it reminds us that breeding a racehorse isn't all that different from breeding a sporthorse."
Gunport: Retired Racehorse Training Project
During the first stages of her off-track training, a horse like Gunport is best handled by an experienced trainer like Dodon Farm's Michelle Warro. Of the four horses in the 100 Day Challenge, Gunport has the fewest hours under saddle, and she is also a sensitive ride.  In her first training video (click here to view), she handled the new environment and the new rider willingly but nervously. In the first few minutes of her two-week training video (click here to view), she was on her toes while she settled into a trot. An unskilled rider might be tempted to micromanage a horse like Gunport, but if she feels restricted, she gets quite tense. Michelle keeps her moving, does not fuss with her face, and expertly guides the mare into a nice rhythm at the walk, trot, and canter.
Gunport: Retired Racehorse Training Project
As they work through the gaits during their training sessions, rhythm is key. If the mare goes behind the vertical or becomes unbalanced, she centers herself through the help of her rider. When she relaxes, she stretches long and low, which in turn unlocks her back muscles. If Gunport rushes, Michelle settles her with leg and seat and she regains her tempo. The filly has all the physical ingredients to be a quality performance horse, and these ingredients are skillfully fine-tuned by her rider.  
Gunport: Retired Racehorse Training Project
Truffling. Purring. Chuffing. High blowing. The Thoroughbred Trumpet. That heavenly rhythmic snort that enthusiastic horses make with each canter stride. It's the sound Thoroughbreds make when they are out on the track in the morning, and it's also the sound they make during a bright canter or around a course of jumps. Whatever you call it, Gunport does it during all her canter work. Once she understands her task, she becomes bright and eager to attack it, merrily truffling the entire time.
Gunport: Retired Racehorse Training Project
Gunport's work ethic is outstanding. In the capable hands of her trainer (click here for her 30-day video), her nervous energy quickly turns into verve, and she becomes a game, willing partner. Around the cross country course during our January photo session, Gunport cantered brightly, waiting for Michelle's next cue. As the approached little logs, she handled them neatly and with great style, like the A-plus student that she is.
Gunport: Retired Racehorse Training Project
In week four, Gunport suffered a little setback when she sustained a swollen hock (click here for training update). She is out of training until she is fully healed, and my fingers are crossed that we will hear more about this promising perfectionist very soon.

- Sarah Andrew 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Steuart Pittman

Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Steuart Pittman
Pittman and Alluring Punch
   As a horse owner, a TDN staffer, and an advocate for horses in need, I follow the story of America’s Thoroughbreds in all disciplines with great interest. With all of the debate and negative media that we face each day, it is a delight to meet people who have original ideas and are out there making a positive difference in the horse world; Retired Racehorse Training Project (RRTP) President Steuart Pittman is one of those people. From his tireless promotion of the retired Thoroughbred racehorse as a sporthorse, to the hours he spends in the saddle expertly putting a foundation on greenies, to the positive impact he’s making on the racing world, Pittman walks the walk.

   The mission of the RRTP is to increase demand for retired Thoroughbred racehorses as pleasure and sporthorses through public events, clinics, training publications, videos and internet tools. On December 1, 2012, four horses (including one former Eclipse Champion) representing four Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred farms embarked on the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s (RRTP) 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge at Dodon Farm Training Center in Davidsonville, MD. At the end of their 100-day training period, the horses will be judged by guest riders, judges, and online fans. Please enjoy part 2 of my series about the 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge, an interview with Steuart Pittman.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Steuart Pittman
Pittman (left) aboard Alluring Punch and assistant trainer Michelle Warro (right) aboard Suave Jazz
TDN: You had a very busy 2012. What are some of the things that RRTP has done since last year's Trainer Challenge?
   Pittman: We had a Thoroughbreds For All Kentucky event in collaboration with New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program during the Rolex CCI**** in April. Bruce Davidson and Chris McCarron were the top attractions. We also held the Thoroughbreds For All event at Fair Hill, combining a marketplace of horses with education in collaboration with trainers, vets, exercise riders at Fair Hill Training Center and New Bolton Center. We received our first grants from Thoroughbred Charities of America and Maryland Horse Breeders Foundation. Our website had 310,000 page views, our YouTube Channel had 125,000 views, and we have close to 6,000 Facebook fans. Online databases of Trainers, Sources for Horses, Horse Listings, and Bloodline Brag are growing every month. We’ve been covered some 50 times in racing and equestrian media, as well as TV and print mainstream media.

TDN: What are your goals for the RRTP 100-Day Challenge?
   Pittman: To demonstrate to the public that the Thoroughbred racing industry continues to create outstanding riding horses, and to give equestrians a realistic picture of what it looks like to train and ride Thoroughbreds off the track. We want to continue increasing demand for these horses but also give people the tools that they need to succeed with them.

TDN: How is it different from the 2012 RRTP Trainer Challenge?
   Pittman: The Trainer Challenge focused on the methods used by the trainers. The 100 Day Challenge puts the spotlight on the characteristics and trainability of the horses. It was important for us to have each horse represent a major MD or PA Thoroughbred farm. We want the public to associate these great horses with the farms that produced them. Each of these horses has an amazing background that tells a story about an industry that is incredibly valuable to our states.
   The other difference is that all four horses are in one location being trained by the same staff. That allows the public to see just how unique each horse is, even when given the same opportunities. People stereotype ex-racehorses, but the four in this Challenge remind us how each horse is an individual.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Steuart Pittman
RRTP's newest stars- from left: Suave Jazz, Gunport, Alluring Punch
TDN: What kind of feedback have you received from the racing world and from the sporthorse world about RRTP?
   Pittman: RRTP does not tell racing people what they should do about their retiring horses. It tells equestrians that they should get over the obsession with warmbloods and rediscover Thoroughbreds who have raced. That is a message that has to come from sporthorse trainers, but it has been fantastic that the racing industry is starting to recognize the value of this strategy. We have presented our programs as models at national conferences hosted by NTRA, The Jockey Club, and the University of Arizona's Global Symposium on Racing and Gaming. The Maryland racing industry has very generously supported our work and helped launch this organization.
   Within the sporthorse world, we get excellent media coverage and have obviously attracted huge numbers of people who are passionate about Thoroughbreds. These people have lacked an organization to rally around and the enthusiasm has amazed me.

TDN: What can racehorse owners do to help their horses successfully transition into a second career?
   Pittman: I know enough people struggling to make it on the backsides of Maryland tracks that I would never preach to them about what they should do. At the same time, it is pretty obvious that if a horse can be sold directly into a second career for at least a few thousand dollars, the pressure to keep running them when they've lost the desire or the soundness to win is less. Owners and trainers need better access to buyers outside of racing so that they can be rewarded financially for retiring their horses sound.
   In some cases, I believe that investing in some second career training is a wise move for owners. A couple thousand dollars of training often translates into a sale price of $5,000 to $10,000 more than for a horse straight off the track. It's hard to stomach investing money in a horse who has already broken your bank, but if the horse is sound and sane, the payback is often there. Make sure that it's a good trainer. Try the RRTP Trainer Directory.
   The best of the nonprofit placement organizations are excellent. You can donate the horse for a tax write-off and some of them have access to trainers who can give the horse the help it needs. To some degree these organizations have stepped in where "horse dealers" walked away from Thoroughbreds. There are, however, still thousands of people who buy, train, and sell horses off the track effectively who are independent of any organization. Accessing them is the problem.
Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Steuart Pittman
Pittman at the PA Horse World Expo in 2012
TDN:  What can we expect in 2013 from RRTP?
   Pittman: We expect to bring our Thoroughbreds For All events to some racetracks. They combine education with a marketplace of retiring horses in a way that can benefit horsemen and create goodwill for the tracks. We also expect to announce a new version of the Trainer Challenge that allows for a much larger number of horses and trainers to participate. And finally, we expect to appear at more of the major horse expos in 2013, starting with the Delaware Horse Expo April 6 and 7.

TDN: Have you noticed any recent trends in Thoroughbred sporthorse pedigrees/breeding?
   Pittman: I used to believe that the industry was breeding fewer big-moving, sound sporthorse types than in the past. I thought that the decline in distances and the pressure to breed two year old winners was shifting the product to smaller, quicker horses who would be less successful for jumping and dressage. I have changed my mind. I keep seeing horses coming off the tracks that I wish I could say I bred for sport. Declan's Moon proves the point. He was the champion of his time and if I were looking for a sporthorse sire to replace my Salutely son, I would clone him.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge: Declan's Moon

Declan's Moon: Retired Racehorse Training Project 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge
On December 1, 2012, four horses (including one former Eclipse Champion) representing four Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred farms embarked on the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s (RRTP) 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge at Dodon Farm Training Center in Davidsonville, MD. Fans will have the opportunity to see the horses in person at the Maryland Horse World Expo in January and the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo the following month. At the end of their 100-day training period, the horses will be judged on conformation, movement, jumping ability, and trainability by guest riders, judges, and online fans. As the Thoroughbred Challenge unfolds, Sarah Andrew will chronicle the horses’ progress. Please enjoy part 1 of this series.
Declan's Moon: Retired Racehorse Training Project 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge

Declan’s Moon
RRTP’s 100 Day TB Challenge participant
"The Natural"
2002 gelding
Malibu Moon - Vee Vee Star, by Norquestor
$125,000 yrl ’03 FTMSEP
Breeder: Brice Ridgely (MD)
18-6-2-2
$705,647
2004 Champion Two-Year-Old-Colt
Declan's Moon: Retired Racehorse Training Project 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge
Following an undefeated two-year-old season in 2004, including his GI Hollywood Futurity win over future 2005 Kentucky winner Giacomo, Declan’s Moon was crowned Champion Two-Year-Old-Colt. After a victory in the GII Santa Catalina S. in his only start at three, injury took him off the Triple Crown trail. He returned to the track at four and started 13 more times before owner Samantha Siegel of Jay Em Ess Stable retired him to the Pons family’s Country Life Farm in Maryland. Declan's Moon: Retired Racehorse Training Project 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge
After four and a half years of turnout with two other Malibu Moon champions, Josh Pons approached Ms. Siegel about entering Declan in the challenge. "Declan wouldn't let us catch him when Josh and I went out to his field for a visit," said RRTP President Steuart Pittman, "but he trotted circles around us like a dancer and then galloped to the top of the hill and struck a pose. I could hardly sleep until Josh got word back that Ms. Siegel was enthusiastically on board."

After saying goodbye to his fans at the Country Life/Merryland stallion show, Declan began his training at Dodon Farm. Click here to view his first training session video, and click here to read his Day 1 training report.

Declan's Moon: Retired Racehorse Training Project 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge

As he crosses the wire and when he returns to the winner’s circle in his last career win at Betfair Hollywood Park on July 5, 2007 (click here for video), you can see that he is a spectacular mover for any discipline; he’s a natural, and he moves better than many show horses. He has good-sized feet with nice heels, his back is a little long, and he has an elegant neck that is set perfectly on his shoulders. In addition to his elastic, swingy gaits, Steuart said that he is an extremely comfortable horse.
Declan's Moon: Retired Racehorse Training Project 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge

Declan’s Moon requires a rider to sit deeply in the saddle and put more leg on him than is typical for a Thoroughbred off the track. He willingly accepts contact from his rider’s hands, which Steuart attributes in part to the skilled exercise riders who rode him on the track. The time that Declan spent in his pasture at Country Life allowed his muscles to loosen and he exercised himself in his pasture, so he is not as tightly-muscled as many horses off the track.
Declan's Moon: Retired Racehorse Training Project 100-Day Thoroughbred Challenge
Declan’s big personality matches his good looks, and he was gelded young to help make him more manageable. Now, at age eleven, after a few years of racing and a few years as the king of the farm at Country Life, he is quite a confident horse. During their training sessions, Steuart does a masterful job of teaching this strong-minded horse about the importance of reliably responding to leg and hand without unnecessarily nagging him or interfering with the horse’s natural rhythm. Click here to read Declan’s 30-day training update and click here to view his 30-day training video. Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting project.

- Sarah Andrew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Blog: It Should Be Easy To Market Horse Racing. Four winning arguments, with help from Gary Stevens

by Mark Cramer

The comeback of Gary Stevens, who is nearing the age of 50, should be no surprise. When Stevens accepted the adventure of riding in France in 2004, I had a chance to interview him and I came away with the impression that the meaning of Mr. Stevens’s life has a lot to do with the need for greater challenges along the way. (He finished third in his comeback race this past Sunday.)

In boxing, George Foreman could be considered a statistical anomaly in returning to the ring at the age of 45. In boxing and so many other sports, youth has the great edge over maturity. But of all sports, racing is the least likely to practice age favoritism. Pincay, Shoemaker and Russell Baze are just a few of the riders who continued to win big races after the age of 50.

The age factor
Gary Stevens
In fact, the human aspect of horse racing presents us with four arguments that distinguish it from other sports. First, as I’ve noted above, you can see an 18-year-old rider in the same race as a 52-year old. What other demanding physical sport can match this age diversity?

The gender factor
Second, only in racing (and other equestrian events) do men and women compete in the same arena. Most of us know about Julie Krone’s brilliant career but she’s not alone. Around the racing world we find more than a few women who compete rather successfully with the men. Years ago in Southern California, I had a chance to interview Joy Scott at Clockers’ Corner. I suggested that she could be a leading rider at a smaller racing circuit. At that time, I argued, Lillian Kuykendall was the leading rider at Charles Town. Joy Scott responded that she loved life in Southern California even if her win percentage seriously suffered when having to compete against the McCarrons and Pincays. Considering the fact that the average odds of her mounts was well over 20-1, she was holding her own.

The team factor
Third, racing is a team sport like no other. In tennis or basketball, teammates get to understand each other at the same intellectual level. But in racing, the jockey and horse have rather different thought processes. Therefore, communication needs to be much more nuanced, and when this happens at 40 miles per hour, it can get truly exciting.

So we have a sport in which young men and women compete against people who are old enough to be their fathers or mothers. We have Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland, formerly engaged to be married, meeting up at the finish line of the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2011, with Smith’s Drosselmeyer catching Sutherland’s Game On Dude at the wire. We have an artistic form of non-verbal communication going on between jockey and horse. 

The participatory factor
And finally, thanks to handicapping and betting, racing becomes an intensely participatory experience for the spectators. Sure, you can bet on football, basketball, golf and who knows what other sports. But such sports remain primarily a vicarious pleasure for the majority of spectators. In racing, on the other hand, the usual spectator has an intensely intellectual stake in the outcome.   

If the industry focused on these four factors, racing could break through the subculture barrier and make inroads in the mainstream. Gary Stevens proves this point. The non-racing media has covered his comeback in a way that folks who have never (yet) made a two-dollar bet can catch a glimpse of the wonders of horse racing.