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

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.

No comments: