With so many OTTBs having made the “long, intricate journey” from racetrack to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day to compete against Olympians and international superstars, the Year of the Horse might just be the Year of the Thoroughbred.
So says Allie Conrad, executive director of Thoroughbred re-homing organization CANTER Mid Atlantic.
“If you stop and think about the fact that Rolex is the only four-star Event in the country, and on average only 60 horses make it to this level. Then consider that we have 20 some odd ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds and purpose-bred Thoroughbreds competing this year—and I think it’s amazing!” Conrad says. “Most horses can’t withstand the pressure at this level.”
But Thoroughbred ex-racehorses such as Anthony Patch, Exponential, Mensa G, Parker, Pirate, and others, combined with purpose-bred Thoroughbreds like Petite Flower will amass raw Thoroughbred power on the hills of the Kentucky grounds like an invading army.
“I’m not looking for world domination here, I’m just happy to see the Thoroughbreds we have doing amazing things,” says Conrad, a Thoroughbred advocate who helps ex-racehorses get into training for new careers.
Judging by the horses who have risen up to the highest level of sport-horse competition, Conrad says she is optimistic that the clout and popularity of the Thoroughbred sport horse will continue to grow.
“Pirate and Meghan O’Donoghue are a prefect example of how far a horse can come if he goes to the right person, gets the right training and is brought along in the right way,” Conrad says of the competitive team who returns to Rolex for a second go at Rolex. “This was not a super fancy horse to begin with, he definitely wasn’t the type that people said, ‘Oh, look at him!’ ”
And yet, look at him. And at Parker, another Thoroughbred ex-racehorse whom Conrad describes this way: “He’s just a good guy who does his test and jumps anything you point him at. He’s a steady, good horse, and James Alliston (his rider) has done a phenomenal job with him.”
Top Eventer Becky Holder, who saw her career take off with now-retired Eventer Courageous Comet, a three-time winner of Rood & Riddle’s Thoroughbred Sport Horse of the Year Award, is scheduled to ride her ex-racehorse Can’t Fire Me, and has a chestnut OTTB in lower-level training, Conrad says.
Anthony Patch, who will be ridden by his owner/rider Lainey Ashker is another very fine example of a team that came up through the ranks by doing it right, she says.
“These are horses that have raced and survived with their joints in tact!” she says. “In order to perform at this level, they can’t have a hint of a problem, they have to be the soundest of the sound.”
Acknowledging that many top-level riders will be jumping around Rolex on other breeds, Conrad is quick to point out that top riders like Buck Davidson will sit himself on a purpose-bred, unraced Thoroughbred, and that there are plenty of very successful riders heading to Rolex on ex-racehorses. And at the lower-levels of horse sport, budding OTTBs like Her Ways OK, a petite, downhill-built mare who Conrad helped re-home, is showing promise.
“Horses who have come through my doors, like Her Ways OK, have all the makings to go on to be a big horse,” she says. “It’s just such a long, intricate process to go from the track to this level. You have to hope the horse is sound throughout the process, that he or she doesn’t get colic, and that when they come out of the race experience, they have the mental and physical soundness so you can develop them.”
Rolex Kentucky Three-Day runs April 24-27. Tune in and root for a Thoroughbred!