After a great run, OTTB blog signs off

Sue Salk

Dear readers and friends:

In November 2016, I made the decision to suspend writing and operations of this blog,

After seven great years, the last two spent in happy partnership with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF,Inc.), I decided to close the blog to concentrate on another blogging venture. (I now tell the stories of successful restaurants for one the nation’s top manufacturers of restaurant products, Boxerbrand.) It’s a change in direction I was honored to make.

But, I want to note that the time spent writing about the successes and obstacles in the OTTB world has been one of my greatest professional endeavors. To all of those who have sat up at night talking with me about their horses, who’ve kept me in the loop on stories large and small, and to those who have trusted me to deliver your OTTB news, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

As they say in horseracing terms, this has been a great run! Good luck everyone with your OTTBs! May you have a great year, free of injuries, full of good hay, and a clear path to success ahead of you!

I am now signing off, my friends.

All the best,

Sue Salk

One man’s ‘trash’ keeps winning the treasure

Three years since her rescue from the slaughter pipeline, Brightly Shining continues to win ribbons and championships.

Three years since her rescue from the slaughter pipeline, Brightly Shining continues to win ribbons and championships.

In only three short years, a filly once so scared she reared and thrashed like a wild animal in her auction-house stall, now dazzles as she prances in show rings and horse shows, winning ribbons, clinching championships, and earning the enduring love of the old-timey horseman who saved her.

“This horse, I don’t know, she’s one in a million,” says Maryland-based owner Mike Keech.

Keech took a chance on Brightly Shining in 2013, stepping up to buy her at the Thurmont Auction when all other auction-goers ran from the whirling dervish kicking up such a fuss. But from the moment Keech threw open the three-year-old filly’s stall housing, and found not flying hooves and gnashing teeth, but a frightened animal looking for a friend.

Brightly Shining
Sire: Posse
Dam: Bright Shining
Foal date: Feb. 14, 2009
Since that fateful meeting, Brightly Shining has gone on to show at Washington International, win Jockey Club and United States Equestrian Federation awards, and help make big dreams of young riders come true.

This year Brightly Shining has carried 16-year-old rider Melissa White to the winner’s circle time and again in the novice equitation division in the Blue and Gray Show Series in Gettysburg, Md.

Having brought a succession of talented riders to impressive victories, Brightly Shining is paired up this summer with 16-year-old Melissa White in the novice equitation shows in Gettysburg, Md. Melissa and Brightly Shining began training with Keech about four months ago, he says. And the pair immediately clicked.

Brightly Shining with Melissa and OTTB Outwit.

Brightly Shining with Melissa and OTTB Outwit.

“Melissa had never shown before, and the very first time I took them to a show at Swan Lake, they won the class and Melissa got her first blue ribbon,” Keech says. “And this past weekend, Melissa’s parents and grandparents came to watch her show at the Blue and Gray Series, and they won the championship!”

It was quite a sight to see, says Joanne Beusch, author of a book about the rags-to-riches show horse titled Brightly Shining: The Horse Nobody Wanted.

“Brightly Shining is something to see. When she gets into the show ring, it’s like she knows exactly where she is, and she goes into a prance. She’s a show horse all the way.”

The pair is set to compete next weekend at the Totally Thoroughbred Show at Pimlico, where Melissa will ride Brightly Shining in the Model and Hack classes, she adds.

Since Keech purchased the unwanted Thoroughbred at auction three years ago, the flashy chestnut has surpassed all expectations. Last year, the mare and former rider Brianna Kenerson amassed a long list of victories, including the USEF Zone 3 Horse of the Year Campion in both the Adult Amateur Younger

Mike Keech found Brightly Shining at a Maryland auction in 2013.

Mike Keech found Brightly Shining at a Maryland auction in 2013.

and the Thoroughbred Hunter Divisions for 2015 and the Jockey Club’s Green OTTB of the Year 2015 Award. Kenerson, who stopped riding Brightly Shining to enter college, amassed so many points that she showed the horse at the fabled Washington International.

And before that, other riders, including Alexa Riddle, piloted Brightly.

The once-terrified mare has come a long way since Keech, 75, walked up to her stall and took a chance on a horse no one else wanted. When he opened her door three years ago, he whispered to the trembling animal, “Don’t worry. I’m going to buy you and take you home.”

And home in Maryland is where the horse will stay, Keech vows. “I’ve kind of fallen in love with her,” he says. “It’s a shame to let her sit in a field when she loves showing so much. But if she ever decides she doesn’t want to show anymore, she has a home with me.”

Kill pen horse set to show in The Sunshine State

Future Kings, 17, is climbing up the hunter/jumper ranks just two years after being rescued from a kill pen. Photo courtesy Marilyn Lee

An aging Thoroughbred gelding who dropped like a stone from his glory days, tumbling far from the rarified auction where he fetched $200,000 as a Yearling only to wind up years later at a livestock auction steps away from slaughter, is set to travel to Florida this winter to compete among rarified show horses.

Two years since he was rescued from the New Holland auction in Pennsylvania, a place where meat buyers fill their trucks with unwanted horses and ship them to slaughterhouses, Future Kings, 17, is on the cusp of rebirth, says his owner Marilyn Lee of Sherwood Farms in Ontario. In February, the talented bay gelding will debut in Florida after spending the past year gaining points on the Ontario baby green hunter/jumper division.

Future Kings
Sire: Desert King
Dam: Stellar Empress, by Star de Naskra
Foal date: April 19, 2000
The beautifully built Thoroughbred, who possessed a kind of star power even when he was caked with dust and discarded at auction, has blossomed as a hunter/jumper in the baby greens under the tutelage of Lee’s talented daughter, Robin Hannah-Carlton.

After competing on the A circuit in the Ontario Hunter/Jumpers last year, the pair finished with a respectable sixth-place in the baby green division, proving they can hold their own against much more valuable and highly trained horses, Lee says.

And in January, Kings will enter the show rings in Ocala, Fla. to compete in the Thoroughbred division of the hunter/jumpers, demonstrating his skill and dispelling myths about ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds.

Future Kings and Marilyn Lee enjoy a visit with Santa recently.

“People always ask me about Kings on the show circuit. They comment about how gorgeous he is. And nobody believes it when I tell them he’s a retired Thoroughbred who came out of the kill pen,” Lee says.

Lee just smiles her knowing smile, for some of her best horses have come from very humble beginnings. Years before opening their barn to Future Kings, the mother/daughter team adopted a chestnut gelding castaway known in Thoroughbred circles as the “Everglades Horse.” This animal had been chained to a cement block and abandoned in a desolate stretch of the Florida Everglades before the Lees adopted him gave him a second shot at life. Starved and severely emaciated, Prodigioso was blind in one eye and required eight months of rehabilitation by the South Florida SPCA before he was fit to be re-homed to Ontario.

Prodigioso jumps in 2-foot-9 green horse show Aug. 10. Photo courtesy Reeds Photography

Lee took him in and in no time, the partly blind ex-racehorse began making a name for himself in the show circuit. And now their newest rags-to-riches racehorse will do the same in the Sunshine state.

“We took Prodigioso to Ocala two years ago to compete in Ocala, and now its time for Kings to have his shot,” Lee says. “He’s so great at what he does … he doesn’t have anything to prove to us, but we just want people to see him. He’s achieved more than we ever could have dreamed of.”

Kings is the Irish-bred grandson of a champion U.S. sprinter Star de Naskra. Two years ago, at age 15, he was rescued from the New Holland auction in a joint effort led by Marlene Murray of R.A.C.E. Fund, Gail Hirt of Beyond the Roses, and purchased with a donation by Texas businessman and philanthropist John Murrell.

Immediately after Lee and Hannah-Carlton learned of Kings’ fate, they stepped up to offer him a permanent home.

“My daughter Robin Hannah-Carlton and I both happened to be looking at Facebook and we both found King’s picture. We weren’t looking at him together, but we both recognized how cute he is. We knew nothing about his story, and there’s still quite a bit of mystery about him. He hasn’t raced since his last race at Thistledown in 2006 and we have no idea where he’s been, or how he wound up there,” Lee says.

But in the end it didn’t matter. He wound up where he was supposed to be, with them, in Ontario, setting the hunter/jumper world on fire.

— Author’s note: It has been a great honor to write nearly full-time about OTTBs in the pages of this blog these past seven years, the past two with the financial backing of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. I have decided to scale back the blogging effort at this time, but will continue to write an occasional article. Thank you to my readers for the social media support, and to the OTTB owners who’ve helped me tell over 1,000 stories. Happy New Year!