Equine author and Thoroughbred owner Kim Gatto has embarked on a book project she hopes will cause OTTB owners everywhere to stand a little taller, and puff out with pride.
In her latest work, due to be published next spring on History Press, Gatto chronicles the stellar careers of OTTBs who have hit the heights, winning Olympic gold, and soaring to greatness with legendary riders.
In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, Gatto names a few of the great off-track Thoroughbreds who will appear in her book, and of her hope that their cache will return at the many horse venues around the nation.
Q: I understand you’re developing a book on Thoroughbred sport horses and success stories. How did this idea come about?
I grew up showing in the hunter world in the 1980s, and, back then, the majority of the show horses were Thoroughbreds. Most of the junior riders had only one horse, so many competed in both the hunter and equitation classes, and some in the jumper ring as well. Many had been race horses before they began their show careers. Others (such as my own show horse, who was purchased as a yearling at Keeneland) never raced, but had been bred for the track.
As a young girl, I loved watching the horses compete in the highest levels of the sport. My trainer at the time had a Thoroughbred who was champion at WEF four years in a row in the hunters, and it was very exciting to watch him in action. Also, my mom used to take me to watch a grand prix that was held in Newport, RI, where we were able to see Olympic riders such as Leslie Burr (now Howard) and Michael Matz tackle demanding courses. Many competed on Thoroughbreds, who cleared these monstrous fences with ease. Of course, one of my greatest childhood thrills was watching the beautiful OTTB, Touch of Class, win not one, but two, Olympic gold medals in show jumping for the U.S.
For years, I have been thinking that I’d love to write a book that looks back at some of these amazingly talented legends of the sport, while also helping to bring awareness to the Thoroughbred as a breed. Having just completed my latest book (a history of Belmont Park), I thought that now would be the perfect time to embark on this new project. I approached the folks at the History Press, which has published several of my books in recent years, and they agreed that the project has merit. We are hoping that it will be ready for release next spring.
Yes, somewhat. I am planning to include chapters on 30 or so of the top Thoroughbred hunters, jumpers, and/or equitation horses that I have selected from the 1930s to the present time. Where possible, I am interviewing each horse’s connections, including many of the legends of the sport, to find interesting anecdotes to include. If the horse raced, I will include information on his/her career starts and PPIs. Each horse’s Jockey Club name and lineage will also be included, along with numerous black and white and color photos. Additionally, I will discuss trends in the show ring at the times in which these horses competed, and how the courses, judging, and other factors have changed, which will help readers to understand “the bigger picture.”
Q: Who are some of the well-known horses you’ll be writing about, and why?
There are so many, including several that have been inducted into the National Hunter Hall of Fame or the Show Jumping Hall of Fame. In addition to Touch of Class, a few of my favorites are Holystone, a dashing son of Man o’ War who was a champion hunter in the 1930s and 40s; the handsome Sandsablaze, who won the AHSA Medal Finals with Buddy Brown and went on to achieve success with Brown in the grand prix jumper ranks; the lovely chestnut Touch the Sun, who won numerous hunter championships with his owner/rider Lisa Castellucci; and the fabulous Jet Run, who earned a gold medal for the Mexican Olympic team before pairing with the legendary Michael Matz.
Oklahoma Land Rush, a star of the 1990s, was originally found at a slaughter auction and went on to dominate at the national level in the junior hunter division with his owner/rider Lauren Schweppe. Others include Whadayasay, Showdown, Kim’s Song, Chase the Clouds, Playing Games, Albany, Snowbound, Cap and Gown, Idle Dice…the list goes on and on. There are so many other amazing horses, and they all have stories to be told. It is difficult to choose just a few!
Q: It seems like a great time to be writing about OTTBs. Is it your sense that OTTBs are making a comeback in popularity?
I truly hope so. When I was showing, the hunter and jumper ranks were dominated by Thoroughbreds. While Thoroughbreds remain popular mounts in eventing, they were replaced in the hunter/jumper rings by Warmbloods, which many believed to be more even-tempered.
Nowadays, there seems to be a movement to bring Thoroughbreds back into the show ring, as many are recognizing that these animals have the grace, athleticism, versatility, and heart to excel at all levels of the sport. In today’s economic climate, they are also more affordable, as folks may purchase a horse off the track relatively inexpensively if they are willing to invest time in the retraining process.
It is my sincere hope that this book will help more folks recognize the greatness of the Thoroughbred. As the legendary George Morris recently told the media, “The American Thoroughbred is the best sport horse in the world.”
* Note: If anyone has a suggestion for a horse that should be included in the book, particularly one that has competed recently, feel free to contact Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org.