Lightning glanced across the angry, purple sky as Lil’ Albert strode toward the starting gate.
His bright, bay coat glistened darkly in the downpour, and Holly Taylor, equally soaked, squinted to see through the storm to the first jump.
As horse and rider prepared to surge into the Preliminary cross-country competition at Kentucky’s Flying Cross Farm, the storm unleashed a one-two punch, lightning and thunder so forceful that the competition was momentarily halted.
Horse and rider were sent back to the barn to wait out the storm, shivering wet.
“This happened over and over again,” recalled Taylor, a horse trainer specializing in the re-training of ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds. “We kept going out to the gait to start and we’d get turned back, and asked to go back to the barn.”
Race name: Albert’s Magic
New name: Lil’ Albert
Sire: Albert the Great
Foal date: 2004As the storm ebbed and then built strength, she listened to the wind from the barn, and strongly considered scratching Lil’ Albert from the event. He was very young, only five at the time, and she wondered if the autumn storm and commotion was perhaps too much for him.
But, Lil’ Albert had the genes of greatness running through him. His father was multi-million-dollar stakes winner Albert the Great, an amazing stallion who stood at Three Chimneys Farm. Although the beautifully turned out gelding did not get the racing gene, he knew how to enter a competition with the confidence of a prizefighter.
He was not scared.
With cool equanimity, he stood quietly, soaking, and waited out the September 2009 storm. It was his unflinching attitude and ability to stay calm that convinced Taylor to let him fly.
“He had so much heart,” Taylor says. “It didn’t matter that he wasn’t the fanciest horse, he tried as best he could at everything. So, when I told him we were going cross-country in the blinding rain, he said, ‘Okay, here we go!’ ”
And off they went!
Galloping through the heaviest downpour Taylor had ever competed in, they navigated every obstacle, deftly and decisively. “We had a bounce, a drop to the water, a road crossing, a coffin combination, and a corner,” she says. “We had everything you could ask a young horse to jump!”
When they crossed the finish line, the competition became a defining moment in her relationship with the young Thoroughbred, and one that helped further underscore the inherent capability that this breed has to become successful sport horses.
Taylor and her husband Jeffrey have successfully retrained many ex-racehorses to be competitive in second careers at their Blue Ridge Farmin Ohio. Though admittedly, Lil’ Albert proved to be one of her favorite star pupils.
The couple got Lil’ Albert by breeding to Albert the Great after Jeffrey Taylor had researched the stallion’s impressive race career, and studied his physical conformation.
Their reasoning was: if the sire’s progeny could race, they would be delighted, but, if he inherited his father’s balance and beauty, he’d potentially make a fine show horse prospect, she says.
Lil’ Albert did not disappoint.
After his birth in 2004, he grew into a flashy, scopey gelding who stood 16 hands.
“He was so cute. He had bright-bay coat, two tall white socks behind, and an irregular stripe down his nose,” Taylor says. “He’s very typey looking, with very pretty ears and a compact head.”
And when race-training efforts on their farm indicated he was not destined for stardom on the track, they decided against racing him at all, and put him into training as a sport horse.
It was an easy choice. The couple have had great success retraining ex-racehorses for show careers, and Lil’ Albert was one of their easiest re-training projects yet.
“He went from Novice to Preliminary in one year!” Taylor says. “He was so athletic and so game and brave, we just moved him up.”
And the judges were absolutely charmed.
“He’s just beautiful to look at and he makes a beautiful frame,” she says. “He tries as hard as he can try, and the judges rewarded him for that.”
Although the couple sold Lil’ Albert several years ago, they keep track of his career, and recall with pride how he proved himself so quickly on events fields, rising through the ranks, and rising to the occasion on that windswept and raining day in Kentucky.
“I’ve ridden flashier horses in my career, but, to this day, he remains as one of my favorites,” she says. “He just had so much heart, and he never stopped trying.”