By any measure, onetime Kentucky Derby contender Sam P was a whole lot of horse.
Frequently placing in multiple graded stakes races —3rd in the 2007 Santa Anita Derby and 9th in the Kentucky Derby that same year— the hard knocking chestnut gelding earned close to $400,000 in 31 starts before he was ultimately retired to pursue a hunter/jumper career.
Although he ran into a bit of a tight spot finding his permanent home— at one point he was reportedly offered for sale at $20,000, but there were no takers—all the cards fell into place for him last February, according to Melissa King, manager and trainer at the Lexington, KY facility of New Vocations Racehorse Adoption.
This is when Ohioan Laura Vorwerk, who was heartsick over the loss of her beloved mare to colic, took a peek at Sam on the New Vocations Racehorse Retirement website. And while she swore she’d never own another horse, she took a drive to watch him work under saddle with King and, she says, “The stars aligned.”
Sire: Cat Thief
Dam: Affirmed Legacy, by Affirmed
Foal date: Feb. 27, 2004
Earnings: $399,864“When I saw on the advertisement that Sam had been in the Kentucky Derby, I was a little worried he’d be too much horse for me,” she says. “He has his quirks on the ground, but to ride him, he’s like a dream.”
Working with a dressage coach, Sam, it seems, has found his new calling.
Whereas his hunter training was quite good, he even competed a bit at the 2-foot-6 levels, his forward way of going made him a bit strong, and hard to handle, King says.
But dressage, she says, is perfect for him!
“The biggest part of finding Sam a good home was fitting him with the right person,” King says. “He could intimidate people on the ground, but with her, she’s able to redirect his attention and have fun with him.”
Although Vorwerk hasn’t had him very long, she has already figured out how to charm the aloof character into being a perfect gentleman.
“He knows he’s hot stuff, there’s no getting around it,” Vorwerk says. “He just oozes charisma. But, he also really likes to work, and is on his best behavior when you challenge his brain.”
The need to be kept actively engaged in the lessons, combined with his beautiful, fluid movement, makes him an ideal candidate for dressage, says Vorwerk’s coach.
“My trainer is convinced that he’s built for dressage!” she says. “And he’s such an athlete; I’ve never ridden a horse as athletic as he is.”
Although Vorwerk isn’t much of a horseracing fan, she has seen the Derby from time to time.
But Sam P’s Run for the Roses is one she has watched a time or two on video, and seeing him then, at the peak of his career, has inspired her to step up her own game.
“Riding Sam makes me realize how much more I need to learn. He’s such an athletic, talented horse and deserves a really competent rider who can really help him explore what he can do,” she says. “He makes me want to be the rider he needs me to be.”