When Heather Lemire told her husband the horse she fancied was descended from Secretariat and Seattle Slew, he got worried.
“He kept asking, ‘How much is this horse going to cost?’ And I had to explain she was a $500 adoption case—he just couldn’t understand why she didn’t cost more.”
But Lemire understood that a glamorous lineage didn’t translate into a great future for descendants of super stars: high-octane ancestry doesn’t pay the bills at any racetrack. And when the Suffolk Down racing season ended last year, Weekend Song had only managed two wins in 18 starts.
The lackluster record meant that the filly needed to find a new home.
A track official called CANTER New England Executive Director Ellen O’Brien and volunteer Kim Rigolini. Could they possibly take the horse?
At 9 p.m., on a crisp Autumn night, O’Brien and Rigolini pulled up to the racetrack with a trailer.
Race: Weekend Song
New: Dainty Diva
Barn name: Pea
Sire: Weekend Cruise
Dam: Melodi’s Song
Foal date: March 5, 2005Unsure of how the horse would react to two strangers rousting her from her stall, O’Brien and Rigolini swallowed their fear and approached the filly with determination. They would find her a home befitting her honorable ancestry.
“We were both a bit nervous about how she would handle walking onto a trailer with two strangers, at night,” O’Brien says. “ But she was a total champ.”
Calm and unfazed, Weekend Song came aboard with no fuss, and stood quietly as she was driven 15 miles to a Bedford, Mass. farm. And later, when O’Brien had a chance to look at the 15.1 hand beauty, she saw “genuine star power.”
“When we saw her move for the first time, I was amazed,” O’Brien says. “She has a gorgeous face, big, soft eyes, delicate muzzle and gorgeous color. I cannot wait to see how she does in the show ring!”
The filly had arrived in perfect condition, without a trace of the “track jewelry” so common with ex-racehorses. And though she quickly settled into her barn life in Bedford, in just two months, she was once again loaded onto a trailer and driven away. This time to her “forever home.”
Lemire purchased the horse in early December, after spotting her on CANTER’s website listings.
The sales analyst for EMC in Massachusetts had ridden a Paint and a Quarter Horse up to that point, but wanted to try a beautiful Thoroughbred, and at the same time, give an ex-racehorse a second chance. “I was aware that horses needed new homes at the end of the racing season, and the thought of a horse needing a home tugs at your heart.”
When she got Weekend Song home in December, she started to ride right away. All winter they worked at the walk and trot, and finally, this week, they cantered.
“My coach kept telling me that I’d have to try the canter at some point, so when she was really good on Saturday, I announced I would canter the next day.”
To her amazement, Weekend Song did flying lead changes in both directions!
“She did so well. I just gave her an easy outside leg and she was pretty automatic,” she says. “She hasn’t done anything wrong under saddle.”
Her good manners are also abundant when she is clipped, shoed, and especially when visited by children. “My best friend’s 13-year-old daughter got on her the other day. And she’s only been off the track since September!”
That such a well-bred racehorse could be purchased so inexpensively, and be re-started so willingly, may surprise Lemire’s husband. But for those who show up in the night to collect an unwanted racer, the story is one they’ve heard many times.
O’Brien explains that the difference between a horse like Secretariat and a low-level claimer may literally be “one or two seconds”— the time it takes to win or lose a race.
Of the 35,00 Thoroughbred foals annually registered with the Jockey Club, about half, according to some estimates, ever make it to race training, says O’Brien. The cost is just too steep to continue training a horse who has no inclination to run. And of those who do make it to the track, she adds, if they can’t win in the low-level claimers, trainers can’t afford to keep them.
And while the downside of this scenario is that too many horses need homes at the end of the racing season, Obrien says that “the upside is that there are many, many beautifully bred, athletic, attractive prospects available for short money.”