Scanning the entries at Betfair Hollywood Park’s claiming races last week, John Malone stared in disbelief at a familiar name: Cost of Freedom. The one he calls “an original class horse,” and winner of more than a million dollars, was running for an $8,000 claiming tag at age 10.
“I just felt bad,” Malone says. “He ran third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (in 2009) and won over a million dollars. All I could think was, ‘Why is he still here? Hasn’t he done enough?’ ”
Decades in the horse business himself— as a Thoroughbred trainer in the past and currently presiding as head clocker at Santa Anita and Del Mar, Malone has heard it said often enough that a horse long in the game “just loves to run.”
Cost of Freedom
Sire: Cee’s Tizzy
Dam: Freedom Dance
Foal date: Feb. 24, 2003
Earnings: $1,018,799And while that may be true, Malone insists that if a horse like Cost of Freedom can’t come back and run at his previous high levels, and instead puts in a performance so poor, as he did Dec. 21st at Betfair Hollywood Park, he should be retired.
In that race, Cost of Freedom finished second to last in a gallant effort by the once great racer who finally flagged at the quarter pole. Down the stretch, Malone’s eyes were glued to the television screen, as he silently prayed the old horse would make it across the finish line without injury. And when he crossed over that line, Malone resolved to help the tired animal.
As news of Cost of Freedom’s situation spread across social media channels, and some began calling for the war horse’s retirement, Malone quietly made a phone call to trainer Robertino Diodoro, who had claimed the horse, and planned to run him at Turf Paradise in Arizona.
“I got Mr. Diodoro’s number and told him I’d like to get this horse off the track, and I offered to buy him,” Malone says. “He was really good about it. He said he had to talk with the other owner, and would let me know.”
By Christmas Eve, a deal was struck. Malone purchased Cost of Freedom for $8,650 and Diodoro agreed to keep the champion in his barn until transportation could be arranged to ship him to Malone’s farm, a cost that Diodoro offered to share.
As Malone prepared to make room on his farm for the war horse, social media channels began to light up with discussions about the horse and his future.
But unbeknownst to those on Facebook and Twitter, Malone had by this point already purchase Cost of Freedom.
“I came across a Tweet by Ray Paulick that Cost of Freedom was running for $8,000 and I tweeted back to him and told him he had just been purchased,” he says. “And he wrote the story and tweeted, ‘Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa.’ ”
Malone notes the famous newspaper column about Santa was published on Sept. 21st, which also happens to be his birthday, and that the little coincidence seems to underscore the rightness of his decision to get involved in this particular story, and help a champion racehorse land softly.
Already captivated by the good-natured gelding’s personality, Malone spent an hour with him recently, posing for pictures for a Thoroughbred magazine. At one point in the photo session, Cost of Freedom cocked his head, and placed it on Malone’s shoulder, briefly closing his eyes.
“This horse is so cool,” Malone says. “The day after he raced, I went into his stall and he had his butt facing the door. I hung out in the corner and waited for him to acknowledge me, and once he realized I was no threat, he came right over.
“The next day I went back, and he was a completely different horse, as if he was saying, ‘Hey, what’s up? How’s it going?’ ”
During another visit, Cost of Freedom was standing outside his stall with Malone when suddenly behind him a tractor erupted with a loud commotion.
“He didn’t do anything. He noticed the noise, but he didn’t react. He’s a thinker, and that’s what you want in a riding horse.”
And if all goes well, Cost of Freedom and Malone will go trail riding together in the future.
A longtime race clocker and a longtime racehorse who formed a perfect friendship when it seemed the chips were down.