Nothing could shake Dry Martini.
Not the dogfights of horse racing, where he won $1.3 million dollars, and certainly not foxhunting and jumping, where he dashed through the wilderness of the Pennsylvania foxhunting territory with the cool-headed aplomb of James Bond.
“When he first came off the track, just about anybody could have sat on him,” says Priscilla Godsoe, who, along with James C. Paxton of River Hills Foxhounds, re-schooled Dry Martini.
“All the credit really goes to the horse. It’s a hard thing to explain unless you’ve ridden a horse like him. I’ve ridden a lot who are special; I’ve ridden a lot with class and talent. But, with Dry Martini was a freaky kind of special.”
Paxton agrees. After acclimating the beautiful white horse to the hounds and the woods, he declares the Thoroughbred to have both the physical agility and strength of mind to try anything.
Sire: Slew Gin Fizz
Dam: John’s Kimberly
Foal date: March 27, 2003
Earnings: $1,344,006“Everyone say Dry Martini is an Iron Horse, but I say he is a Steel Horse,” Paxton says. “He has been put to the test many times, and was not brittle like iron. In mind and body, he is like the best blade steel.”
Ranked as the 51st highest earning racehorse in 2009, training brilliantly under Barclay Tagg, Dry Martini charmed those who worked with him with his calm demeanor and cooperative spirit.
So after he ran his final race in January 2011, it was just those qualities that were described to his future owner, Penny Woolley, a self-deprecating rider who never imagined herself saying yes to a big-time racehorse.
But the longtime horse enthusiast, and wife of race trainer Tim Woolley, was assured that anybody could ride Dry Martini, he was just that good.
“My friend Robin Smullen, who called about Dry Martini, said, ‘I promise you that you can get on him tomorrow and take him cross country.’ My friend knew we had a thousand acres available to ride on and she and the horse’s connections really wanted a good life for him.
“They knew many horses wind up going down in the ranks, and they wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to him.”
After a brief conversation, in which Woolley was asked to take the animal and make a good life for him, she readily agreed; she took him sight unseen.
“I didn’t really need a picture of him. I didn’t know what he looked like. I took her on her word,” Woolley says.
So when she caught up with her new horse in February 2011, four weeks after a fifth-place finish at Gulfstream Park, in what was to be his final race, Woolley was delighted to see the bold, gray gelding disembark with the bearing of a prince, and the kindness of a family pet.
“He’s got such a personality! If you try to take a picture, he poses,” Woolley says. “He shipped right to Priscilla and I was amazed that after making that much money at the track, he was jumping for her a month later.
“It’s not as easy as people think it is to take a horse off the track and take him foxhunting or jumping, and I sent him to Priscilla and Jimmy because I wanted him to learn properly.”
She needn’t have worried, Godsoe says. The great-grandson of Seattle Slew and Alydar needed very little to acclimate to his new life.
“From the moment we got him, he was perfect, absolutely perfect,” Godsoe says. “It’s one thing to hear about a horse who’s nice on the track, and to do as well as Dry Martini did, obviously he was pretty great. But that doesn’t necessarily make them a good riding horse.
“With him, from the very first ride I had, he was the same good-natured horse every time. There aren’t many horses like him.”
He took to jumping easily, and didn’t really need schooling until they got within the four-foot range. “Once we hit four feet, it was like I had to say to him that we’d help him get over them, but that was it,” she says. “I think he could have made a top-top jumper, but he’d already proven himself on the track, so we didn’t need him to prove himself anymore.”
With foxhunting, he was a bit unsure at first. “He didn’t really know what the purpose was,” she says. But once Paxton took him out on a few rides, and acclimated him to the hilly terrain and the hounds, he was golden. “Jimmy really helped him to understand,” Godsoe says. “A lot of horses off the track don’t know where to put their feet when they come off a flat track and are presented with a steep hill, so he had to learn.”
Even more dazzling than his performance in the show ring and out with the hounds is his unflappable nature and his willingness to give everything his best shot, Godsoe says.
“Every single time he went into the ring, he was ready to perform at his peak, whether we went over small jumps or big ones,” Godsoe says. “It’s a freaky thing. Most horses just don’t go do it like this one did.”
Woolley has a place in her home where she keeps Dry Martini’s photos, winnings, and articles; a special place that Godsoe calls a “shrine” to the great gray horse.
And he deserves it, both women agree. Like no other, this horse has that certain 007 quality—calm under fire, accomplished, the best.
Says Woolley, “Dry Martini is a poster child for off-track Thoroughbreds. Sometimes I look out in the field and just watch him and think about how much money he made.
“And I think, oh my gosh, what a lot of heart he has.”
This story was originally published on May 29, 2013.