Gunport (left) ridden by Michelle Warro, and Suave Jazz with rider Katie Klenk were judged in the 100 Day Challenge at Pennsylvania Horse World Expo. Photo Credit: Sarah Andrew
The Retired Racehorse Training Project's 100 Day Thoroughbred Challenge saw each of the four horses emerging victorious as best suited for at least one of five equestrian disciplines.
The horses began their training on December 1 at Dodon Farm Training Center in Davidsonville, MD, appeared at the Maryland and Pennsylvania Horse World Expos, and concluded with a final appearance and graduation ceremony at Caves Farm in Owings Mills, MD. The horses performed before three judges and a crowd of 2500 at the Pennsylvania Horse World Expo on February 23. The addition of online polling, conducted throughout the 100 days and ending February 23, made it an American Idol for ex-racehorses. In this case, each one emerged a winner.
Declan's Moon, the 2004 Eclipse Award-winning, undefeated two year old by Malibu Moon, was voted in a landslide the horse best suited for dressage. He represents Country Life Farm and is owned by Samantha Siegel of Jay Em Ess Racing. "Declan's Moon's incredible movement shatters the myth that the racing industry no longer produces horses suited for sport at the top levels," said RRTP founder and president Steuart Pittman. "He was not only the fastest horse of his crop, but is also exactly what sport horse breeders are trying to produce for the show ring."
Gunport, a 2009 gray filly by Mizzen Mast who ran only once and finished last, was voted and judged the horse best suited to be a show hunter. She represents Under Armour founder Kevin Plank's Sagamore Racing where she was born and trained. "She has a nervous streak to her, but jumping gives her confidence because she is so good at it," said Dodon Farm assistant trainer Michelle Warro. "The staff at Sagamore did a fantastic job in her early life. She trusts the people around her even when she is terrified of her surroundings."
Suave Jazz, a 2003 gelding by Suave Prospect and winner of $651,000 in 70 starts, was overwhelmingly voted the horse best suited for foxhunting and trail riding. He represents Mark Reid's Walnut Green Farm and is owned by his longtime trainer Tony Dutrow and his wife Kim. "This horse is a saint," said judge Bev Strauss of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue. "He could foxhunt on Sunday, do a dressage show on Monday, an event on Tuesday, and pack your kid around the rest of the week."
Alluring Punch, a 2009 gelding by Two Punch who ran ten races and won once, was voted not only the top prospect for eventing, but also for show jumping. By a slim margin he also polled highest as the horse people would most like to own. "This horse is built for eventing," said judge Donnan Jones (formerly Donnan Plumb), Olympian and longtime dressage coach to many of the country's top three day event riders. "He has the canter and the jump and the attitude. I really like him." Alluring Punch is owned by Barbara Ryan and represents Northview Stallion Station where his sire stood until his death in 2011.
All four horses appeared one last time for a celebration and graduation with their owners, sponsors of the event, and fans on March 9 at Caves Farm in Owings Mills, MD. Proceeds from the event helped support future efforts by RRTP to increase demand for Thoroughbreds off the track.
At the event, each horse had a final performance in the arena. The participation of Declan’s Moon was never about finding him a second career, Pittman said. “As we so often say of great horses, ‘he owes nothing’ to his people, and his people will be there for him as long as he lives. Most horses are not so lucky, which is why we must train them for second careers. He attracted huge amounts of attention to the cause and some minor lameness issues demonstrated that a champion racehorse can also be a magnificent mover and riding horse type. For that he was overwhelmingly voted the horse best suited for dressage.”
Declan performed in the arena at Caves beautifully, popping over a few jumps, lengthening the trot a bit, and turning the canter into a bit of a gallop. “I wanted people to see Declan moving without a rider, so I pulled off his saddle, changed him from a bridle to a halter, and let him go. With a little help from Suave Jazz and his rider Katie Klenk, Declan danced around the arena, galloped a bit, and then even let himself be caught. On Sunday I delivered him to his heaven on earth at Country Life Farm,” Pittman said.
Gunport to Dodon
Dodon Farm’s assistant trainer, Michelle Warro, climbed off her crutches (she dropped a couch on her foot) and onto Gunport's back every day for the final three weeks in clear violation of her doctor's orders, and Gunport never let her down. Gunport was voted best of the four in the show hunter category, and her jumping in her last public performance confirmed this talent. She cantered down to her fences and jumped around each one with perfect form. Her flying changes were clean and consistent.
Sagamore Racing has generously donated Gunport to Dodon Farm, and all of the profits from her eventual sale will be donated to the RRTP. “Our feeling is that she is just settling into her new line of work and that a few more months of training will make her a truly outstanding horse for an amateur or a professional in almost any discipline,” Pittman said. “We will give her that time with Michelle as her rider and see what transpires.”
Suave Jazz Will Fox Hunt
Suave Jazz, ridden by Dodon Farm’s summer working student Katie Klenk, stayed in the arena for the whole session to help the other three horses with their nerves as they performed individually. Suave Jazz even galloped alongside Declan's Moon when he was turned loose in the arena, helped catch him, and then walked calmly on the buckle as soon as the commotion ended.
Suave Jazz’s new home will be with Carol Easter and Joy Crompton, the joint masters of Farmington Hunt near Charlottesville, VA, whose Springhaven Farm is home to a string of Thoroughbred foxhunters. Carol hopes to make Suave Jazz her personal mount, but at age 70 she lets Joy get the horses started.
“We had Katie dismount at the end of her impressive demonstration of flatwork and jumping on Suave Jazz and Joy hopped aboard and took the old guy for a gallop around the arena,” Pittman said. “Joy was grinning from ear to ear, Carol gave the thumbs up, and Suave Jazz was loaded into their trailer that evening for his trip to Virginia hunt country.”
Alluring Punch to Chasing
In his final appearance, former Dodon Farm working student Tracy Bieneman settled Alluring Punch into some beautiful work that just screamed talent to everyone in the bleachers. “It was tempting to set the rails at the top of the five foot standards, but we settled for watching him step over three feet like it was a ground pole and land each time as light as a feather,” Pittman said.
One of the legends of Maryland timber racing, Jay Griswold had watched the horse jump and was convinced that he was the kind of athlete who could gallop around the big timber courses, maybe even the Maryland Hunt Cup. By the time Griswold and owner Barbara Ryan reached the barn where the reception was held, a deal had been struck for him to buy the horse for $15,000.
“Steeplechase racing is a second career for a lot of racehorses,” Pittman said. “The people in that sport are some of the best horsemen in the world and Thoroughbreds love to run across rolling hills in a herd and leap over inviting fences. Jay’s timber horses also foxhunt and their fitness work is what horses love to do: long and slow. Horses race over timber well up into their teens, and because purses are so low nobody is in it for the money. So, Barbara got exactly what she wanted for the horse and Jay made arrangements to pick him up at Caves the next day.”
RRTP now shifts its focus to the Delaware Horse Expo April 6, the Thoroughbreds For All event in Kentucky during Rolex with New Vocations, Phillip Dutton, and Chris McCarron, and an upcoming 26 horse trainer challenge for which applications will be available soon – visit www.retiredracehorsetraining.org or find RRTP on Facebook.