Orphaned young, ridden hard, a change of fate

Roger (Jockey Club: Secret Formula) had a difficult life after he was orphaned at 3 weeks.

Roger (Jockey Club: Secret Formula) had a difficult life after he was orphaned at 3 weeks.

From the moment he dropped from his mother into the soft, yielding hay, Roger lived the life of a tough-luck horse who somehow managed to stay on his feet.

Orphaned at three weeks after his beautiful mother Formula succumbed to colic, Roger would embark on a life buffeted and knocked down by fate, by other horses, and by racing. But somehow, he always managed to get back up. If he had a rock n’ roll anthem, Tom Petty’s lyric “Even the losers get lucky sometime,” might just sum it up.

The first foal bred by Pennsylvania horseman Bill McCarthy, Roger began his life with an emergency.

Secret Formula
Barn name: Roger
Sire: Ocean Splash
Dam: Formula
Foal date: March 31, 2000
Earnings: $113,757
After his mother’s sudden death in May 2000, the unstable foal was rushed to nearby Justaplain Farm in Pennsylvania where he folded into a herd of other orphans, while receiving specialty care and learning to sip formula from a trough.

But bad lucked followed and later on in his seven-month stay, the plucky animal was once again battling the odds when a herd-wide case of Strangles, if only briefly, got the better of him. “It was pretty hard on him,” recalls Carrie McCarthy, daughter of the breeder. “When we came out to visit, the entire herd was oozing, and he looked terrible.”

But two months later, he was back up. His health restored, he developed into a “magnificent looking” yearling, and was sent to Racing Hall of Fame steeplechase trainer Janet Elliot in South Carolina to be broken and prepped for a race career.

Roger, left, grows up with a herd of other orphans.

Growing up with his herd of orphans

Trouble continued. Playing in a large pasture with another weanling, Roger somehow sustained a fractured jaw, McCarthy recalls. “I don’t remember how they treated him, whether they wired his jaw shut, or what,” she says, but notes that by the time Roger turned 2, he was once again an eye-catching beauty. “He received compliments everywhere he went. He wasn’t the fastest horse, but he tried,” she says.

Roger (Jockey Club name: Secret Formula) ran eight times for the McCarthy family before he was claimed in 2003. And from that point until he ran his 88th and final start, McCarthy kept close tabs on the animal. “My father worked at Philadelphia Park, where Roger raced, and I would help him out in the mornings before I went to work. He’s so striking to look at I would notice him all the time at the track, and it would break my heart that we’d lost him,” she says.

Roger spent most of his racing days on Philadelphia Park.

He spent the bulk of his time in racing on the Philadelphia Park racetrack.

Two other owners in the span of a race career, which earned nearly $114,000, claimed him. Each time Roger got a new owner, McCarthy would make contact, offering to buy the horse at any time.

Forced to run in allowances races that were “over his head,” Roger eventually hit bottom.

“He ran five years with his last owner and never won a race,” she says. “He didn’t want to train anymore. He actually broke someone’s collarbone. They were out on the training track, and Roger spun and the rider fell and broke his collarbone.

“He was a smart horse. He just stopped running. He wouldn’t even try.”

After finishing 8th in a claimer at Philadelphia Park in April 2008, Roger’s owners finally agreed to sell the horse back to McCarthy.

Roger now spends his time in happy pursuit of the good life.

Roger now spends his time in happy pursuit of the good life.

“I was in my car and a friend called me and said, ‘Do you want Secret Formula? They want to get rid of him.’ I tried to be cool and calm as I negotiated for him. I paid $1,500 cash.”

After the deal was struck, McCarthy and her father drove to the barn to collect their horse. He had grown thin, and his head hung low in the corner of his stall.

But as soon as he heard the familiar sound of his family calling, “Hey Roger,” the tired campaigner perked up.

“He picked his head up and looked at me as soon as I said hello, and I just started crying,” she says. With relief welling in her heart, she clipped the lead rope to his halter, and walked him out of there.

Roger was instantly retired and now lives about 20 minutes away from Philadelphia Park, and five minutes from her home.

“I see him a couple times a week, and his (caretakers) at the farm are always sending me pictures of him,” she says. “He was good to us. And it’s right that we be good to him.”

27 responses to “Orphaned young, ridden hard, a change of fate”

  1. Nuala Galbari


    A wonderful report on Roger. How heartwarming that he is back with his family. They are fortunate, too, to have photographs of Roger as a foal, as a weanling and younger horse. I have tried to obtain images of Well Ack Ack (Jack) when he was young, but nothing has turned up. Roger looks strong and healthy now, a happy and calm horse. What a tough chap!
    Absolutely heartwarming story.

    Thank you!


  2. SpotOn

    awesome story!

  3. wendy w

    looking at this beautiful horse put the biggest smile on my face and brighten my day a hole alot.thank you for posting the pics

  4. cheri vaughan

    Even though we may never meet, House of Vaughan loves you, Roger!

  5. Always Nell

    Better late than never. Glad Roger is safe now but, seriously, he could have been claimed back and retired earlier. Just a thought.

  6. fred hart

    I actually owned Formula and campaigned her in the late ’90s , until she got claimed away, and eventually retired when she got hurt. The night at the Meadowlands when she went to her knees as the gate opened, and then circled the field with Julie Krone aboard, to win by a nose, was my most memorable race ever.
    My trainer Bill McCarthy bought her after she got injured and was retired. Bill bred her to Ocean Splash. The result was the baby foal, named Secret Formula, AKA ” Roger”. Unfortunately Formula’s injury was too much for her to overcome after the birth, and she died of colic soon afterward.. . The story continues , as stated in the article. I remember going with Leslie to the Orphan Farm to visit her as a young weanling, and seeing the wonderful work done at the farm and by her surrogate horse. mother . Never will forget that. I last visited Roger at his home near Parx, about 3 years ago. This story has so moved ,me, I am going to ask Bill or Carrie to take me out there for another visit , next time I am at Parx.
    Owning race horses can be a very frustrating and expensive experience. But it also can be very emotionally rewarding to have life experiences such as this, and to have a 25 year relationship with caring people such as my trainer Bill McCarthy and his daughter Carrie. Fred Hart – Jericho, NY

  7. Daryl

    What a very pretty horse he was and sorry he had it tough but he has it good now and they love him, good for all.

  8. David B Magee

    Heart lifting tale. Each and every one of us should be a McCarthy !!!!! Give NOW.

  9. jeanne

    YOU MADE ME CRY! Thank Goodness Roger is safe!

  10. Kathryn

    It IS possible to follow racing Tbreds and to secure them (and repurpose them) when the opportunity arises. I know this to be true. Big thanks to Ms McCarthy for following Roger. May all TB’s be so fortunate.

  11. Jen

    Great story. I too am so glad Roger finally ended up “back home”. But I am curious, not having a racing background, what exactly does “claiming” mean?

  12. Delrene in Carlsbad, Ca.


  13. Lisa Melone

    Nice story with a happy ending–love these! Glad to see another hard luck horse land in a soft place.

  14. Marlaine

    So glad he’s ok now but can’t help thinking what he went thru before his recue.

  15. Patty Hamilton

    Really nice story. Glad to hear that some breeders really do care about the horses they breed. Roger could of made his way to some slaughterhouse if the McCarthys’ were not diligent about his whereabouts. Your persistence paid off and you saved Roger. Thank you.

  16. Michelle Yarber

    Thank God Carrie kept tabs on Roger and never lost sight of him. I am so glad she didn’t give up and was eventually able to get him back. The fact he recognized her and her father spoke volumes about his treatment after he left the safe haven of the McCarthy’s. They most certainly did the right thing by him…if only all breeders were so responsible.

    He looks so gorgeous and proud in his retirement picture.

    And I 100% agree with Canter Michigan…Susan, your writing is superb and I too always feel like I’m right there!

  17. Canter Michigan

    Have to say.. THANKS SUSAN SALK for your terrific writing that brings each story alive for all of us to read. Makes us feel we are right there!

  18. LL

    Thin, head hung low…..and Susan’s comment REALLY, says it all. Put two and two together and you know what kind of life this horse had. So glad he was finally bought back.

  19. LinBro

    Sorry, but they should never have let him go to claiming. Money always speaks. No sympathy from me for humans in this rotten business.

    1. Christy fay

      Are you suggesting they should have kept running him “over his head”? If you are not familiar with thoroughbred racing, they write claiming races for a reason just as there are smaller tracks with smaller purses..for a reason..every thoroughbred needs to be given a chance to shine; regardless of the (race) condition..I commend Carrie McCarthy for what she did, it isnt easy to “hand over” the ones you’ve foaled and raised to someone else’s care not knowing if they are capable of (helping them shine). As a fellow breeder, I feel like it takes more gumption to let them go on with their lives, watch their wins/losses-ride that roller coaster from a far, and as Carrie did, bring them home when they need to be brought home..BTW, LinBro, this is a Thoroughbred Rescue Site, perhaps you should take your uninformed bitching about humans in this rotten business to another web site..I can recommend a few if necessary…

  20. Linda Smith

    There needs to be a place where all horses can be tracked and bought back if in bad situation. Wonderful story and loving owner. Linda

  21. ann fox

    I love it when things finally work out for the best…I wish more people were responsible for these amazingly tough horses…shared & twittered

    1. Susan Salk

      Aw, Ann, thanks for the share and tweet. I agree. It’s always so nice when things turn around for an animal. Carrie actually works full time outside of the horse world (in finance or something), but went to the track regularly to help her Dad. She always kept an eye on this horse, who was special to many family members, some who have since died. There’s often more to the story than what appears here. Suffice it to say, she did a REALLY good thing for this horse.

  22. Janet Holub

    what a heartwarming story…I am glad he was bought back by his former owners…and is safe and happy now…I truly believe God always kept an angel at his side…

  23. TBDancer

    I LOVE stories like this! Every racehorse deserves to live “the good life” after the race career is over. Yay for Roger and thumbs up (lots) for the McCarthys!!

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