second lives for horses

By Dick Jerardi

Pat Chapman was not quite sure what she was going to see at the Kentucky Horse Park during the first week of October this year.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “It’s unbelievable.”

“It” is the “Thoroughbred Makeover”—recently retired Thoroughbreds from around the country competing in 10 disciplines (dressage, barrel racing, show jumping, etc.) for which they have been retrained. The event lasted three days and had $100,000 in prize money.

This is a perfect explanation of the competition direct from the Retired Racehorse Project, which several years ago “created the Thoroughbred Makeover to showcase the trainability and talent of off-track thoroughbreds. The competition is intended to inspire good trainers to become involved in transitioning these horses to second careers and the National Symposium serves to educate the people involved in the care, training and sale of these horses to responsible owners. This is the only national gathering of the organizations, trainers and farms dedicated to serving these horses when they retire from racing”.

The horses must have 10 months or less of re-training so that it is an equitable competition. Incredibly, there were nearly 500 horses that competed, including 19 from Parx Racing’s Turning for Home program.

“Some of our horses are with their adopters,” said Danielle Montgomery, the TFH Program Administrator. “Some are with the Partner Farms and still looking for adopters.”

She was on her way home from Kentucky on Sunday evening, two daughters sharing the driving, with three horses being hauled through the night. Her younger daughter Megan Montgomery, 16, finished second in barrels with Little Red Rodeo. She was less than a half a second from winning the $5,000 prize.

“If anybody wants to see what you can do with a thoroughbred, they ought to go to that competition,” Chapman said.

Trouble Kid, the Parx Horse of the Year, Champion 3-year-old Male, Outstanding Claim and winner of the G3 Gallant Bob Stakes in 2015, competed in barrel racing.

“A year ago I would’ve laughed in your face if you said I would ride a spicy stakes winner with minimal rides on him in the barrel racing of the Thoroughbred Makeover (which would subsequently be his very first trip off the farm),” adopter Melissa Murray wrote on her Facebook page shortly after their barrel run. “I had had my confidence completely shaken to the point I almost quit riding. But I kept seeing this little bay gelding’s ad and I thought: ‘maybe if I have a real goal to work towards I’ll fight to get my confidence back and I REALLY like the looks of this guy’. So, I adopted Kid from Turning for Home and the rest is history. I’m not the fearless rider I used to be – far from it. But Kid helped me find my passion again. Even when he was hot and rip roaring ready to run he tried to listen to me. I owe this gelding everything in the world. We may have finished 25th out of 28 barrel racers but WE DID IT!”

Other TFH representatives who finished in the top 20 of their divisions were: Hawkins, ridden and owned by Jessi Werner of TFH Partner Farm Phoenix Equine Services – 13th of 113 entries in Dressage; B K’s Angus, ridden by Lauren Lindsay & owned by Lara Anderson of TFH Partner Farm Full Gallop Farm – 13th of 95 entries in Eventing; Prince of Ocala, ridden and owned by adopter Katy Hanlon – 16th of 123 entries in Show Hunter; and Morning Fire, ridden and owned by Cherie Gaebel of TFH Partner Farm Sedgemere Farm – 14th of 97 entries in Show Jumping. Both B K’s Angus and Morning Fire are currently available for adoption, and boast resumes that include major show experience.

A new competition was added this year, a “Team” competition for students. Noble Road was the first TFH horse to win a division. He won the Team Show Hunter division for Southern New Jersey Equestrian @ Chester Croft. He also finished third in the Team Show Jumper competition too. His nickname from the riders is “Superman”.

It was the TFH horses that really inspired Pat Chapman to attend for the first time and follow her own horses.

Homebred Res Judicata won nine races and $489,840 for Chapman’s Someday Farm. His last race was June 24, 2017. He was supposed to compete in this year’s Thoroughbred Makeover, but he had an injury two weeks before the competition. Chapman brought along three trophies from his three stakes wins and gave them to his new owner.

“It made me happy,” Chapman said. “The trophy really belongs with the horse. I couldn’t believe how well that went over.”

Cheyne of Events, a son of Smarty Jones, won only $36,000 on the track in 10 career races. His last race was Nov. 7, 2017.  Chapman, who bred the horse, no longer owned him at the end of his racing career.

When Cheyne of Events won a maiden race called the “Wedgewood Pharmacy” at Monmouth Park on Sept. 17, 2016, a nice trophy came with it. Chapman gave the trophy to new owner Erica Eggert.

“This young girl from New Jersey picked him out last December,” Chapman said. “She’s so in love with him and began working with him. He ended up fourth in the jumper category out of 100 and something horses. I said I feel like I won a stakes race. I felt like I owned the horse and was riding it.”

It was not quite Smarty Jones winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but it was, Chapman said, a real thrill to see her horse succeed in another arena.

“She’s always been a great role model,” Montgomery said of Chapman. “What she did for these girls that are working so hard with these horses for a year. She made them feel so fantastic. It kind of brought everything full circle. It’s a great thing.”

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