Olympic gold medalist Phillip Dutton evaluates Strasbourg in front of a crowd of over 500 people.
By Melissa Bauer-Herzog, @mbauerherzog, America’s Best Racing
Spring is the busiest time for horse activities in the Bluegrass with Keeneland’s spring meet kicking off the season. So it was only fitting that as Keeneland came to a close on April 26, ex-racehorses were being celebrated at West Wind Farm.
West Wind Farm, located in Lexington, hosted the Thoroughbreds For All event to bring more attention to off-the-track Thoroughbreds and exceeded organizers’ expectations when the event sold out.
“We had to up the caterer from 400 to 475 [people] knowing there were going to be at least 500,” said Steuart Pittman of the Retired Racehorse Training Project, one of the sponsors of the event. “There were 470 tickets sold and … the [Rolex 3-Day Event] riders and their crews, which was good.”
After a dinner, everyone moved to the indoor arena to start the show. The first order of business was to recognize riders who were on Thoroughbreds during the weekend’s Rolex 3-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park. The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program (TIP) was on hand to recognize the riders and give them gift bags.
The first presentation of the night was given by Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, who hopped aboard Bilan, one of New Vocations horses, to show the crowd how to relax a recently retired racehorse. He started off the presentation with a question: What is the first thing we’re trying to achieve when we get on a horse?
The question was one that received a lot of answers from the crowd but in the end, the answer was simple a simple one, “cooperation.”
MCCARRON RODE BILAN DURING HIS PRESENTATION
During the half-hour McCarron had in the arena, he entertained and educated the crowd. McCarron spent the time getting his nervous mount to relax while explaining what riders need to do to build a horse’s confidence and trust.
“One of the first things I want to do is express confidence in myself,” McCarron said. “I want to let the horse know that I’m confident and therefore in control and in charge. Horses want us to be in charge … even the alphas want leaders.”
The highlight of the event for many spectators was watching Olympic gold medalist Phillip Dutton evaluate eight Thoroughbreds that had recently arrived at New Vocations.
DUTTON SIGNS A BOOK FOR A CONTEST AT THE EVENT
Before evaluating the horses, Dutton talked about a few changes in racehorse breeding that had changed their demand off the track.
“There has been a lot of emphasis over the last fifteen years for more speed. … From my point of view, the smaller, tighter kind of Thoroughbred is not as suitable to me or to the event world … as the older-style Thoroughbred,” Dutton said. “I’m always after [the older-style horse] because I think they have a bit more potential.”
Dutton also talked about the gold mine Americans have with the breed and the attributes he liked while training them.
“We are sitting on a lot of talented, very well-bred horses [with Thoroughbreds]. They are full of heart. One of the best attributes is that it is a very forward thinking… that’s obviously [a plus] in training.”
Dutton looked at the pros and cons of every horse, watching them as they were led around the arena. He explained how some of the faults the horses had wouldn’t work for what he needed while others could be overlooked.
Dutton was accompanied by his veterinarian Kevin Keane in the presentation. Dr. Keane noted that there are very few upper-level riders who would turn down a Thoroughbred.
“I think that if a Thoroughbred can be a good enough mover, a good enough jumper, and have a good enough temperament, I think you‘d find very few upper-level riders that wouldn’t say ‘I’d like to be on that Thoroughbred’ as opposed to other breeds,” Dr. Keane said.
Dr. Keane provided insight on what he noticed in each of the horses shown. The veterinarian treated each evaluation as if Dutton was looking to buy the horse for himself, giving spectators some tips on what to look for and even some perceived faults that he liked in a horse.
While looking at the first horse of the night, Dr. Keane gave an opinion that suits many off-the-track Thoroughbreds looking for a home.
“I like what Anna [Ford of New Vocations] said that he’s only made $6,000 as a racehorse,” Dr. Keane said. “I look at it as a positive. It’s positive because he didn’t run very fast so he probably didn’t hurt himself very much. So I look at it as being somewhat positive if you’re looking to go on to another discipline. It’s wonderful to have a stakes winner but they’ve generally done a lot more in their life.”
While a few of the horses from the evaluation were being tacked up, Three Chimneys’ Jen Roytz took the stage to educate fans on how racehorses are raised in the early years of their lives.
“Everything is geared toward producing a long-term, sound, and mentally stable athlete, Roytz said. “It is an environment where they are outside - they aren’t just in their stalls - they are playing with their buddies.”
Roytz also stressed that aftercare is extremely important for Three Chimneys and talked about their aftercare efforts for every Three Chimneys-connected horse. The presentation wrapped up by inviting the crowd to contact Roytz to get on the farm’s e-mail list for retired racehorses.
Dutton continued to evaluate horses when three of the horses came back to the ring under saddle. Eric Dierks, Daniel Clasing, and Tracey Bienemann were aboard to pilot the horses around the arena.
The spectators were treated to a mini-clinic type of situation when the riders were directed by Dutton to jump the horses. While there were some small issues that come with jumping untrained horses, they served as another educational segment. Dutton explained what sorts of jumping problems he overlooks when evaluating a beginning jumper and some of the traits he likes to see in a promising prospect.
To end the night, two Thoroughbreds that had been shown in front of the crowd the year before made an appearance. Both horses were ridden around a jumping course and updates were given on their progress. One horse, registered as Waiting For May, was a fitting mount with the Kentucky Derby coming up, as he is by More Than Ready, the sire of probable Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano.
In all, Pittman was happy with the response and expects that events like this will help increase Thoroughbred popularity.
“A combination of this and some of the other events we have done and the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program is helping [with Thoroughbred popularity],” Pittman said. “There’s been a lot of activity … and everybody who sells Thoroughbreds or places them as a nonprofit is starting to see that the market is growing. It’s sort of like bring back the V.W. Bug, we’re bringing back the Thoroughbred. It’s what we all grew up on.”
SIGHTS FROM THOROUGHBREDS FOR ALL