As Thoroughbred fans ready to fly their flag over the legendary grounds of the Kentucky Rolex Three Day, a leader in the movement to restore the glory of the Thoroughbred sport horse has a bit of a bounce to his step these days.
Steuart Pittman, creator of the popular Retired Racehorse Project, which remakes Thoroughbred racehorses into sport horses, says that though the war is far from over, Thoroughbreds are gaining ground in the battle to recapture the sport horse world, especially among up-and-coming riders.
“While most of the top professionals have owners who … tend to buy horses bred for the sport, and they’re usually not pure Thoroughbreds … I’m seeing a return of the popularity of the Thoroughbred sport horse at the lower levels, where I think there’s a new group of people out there shopping specifically for Thoroughbreds,” Pittman says. “Over and over I’m meeting people who are coming out specifically for Thoroughbreds because they want to really learn to ride, and prove themselves.”
Seeing this peak in interest at the lower levels gives Pittman a positive feeling going into the 2015 Rolex later this month, which will include 29 Thoroughbreds, 22 of whom raced, battling it out against the finest four-star sport horses out there. And some of the Thoroughbreds are not exactly spring chickens!
Of the Thoroughbreds competing April 23-26, the three standouts in Pittman’s mind are Donner, 12, Anthony Patch, 16, and Parklane Hawk, 15, who won Rolex in 2012 with William Fox-Pitt in the saddle.
Pittman explains his interest in the three:
*Donner: “He was the World Equestrian Games, and though it was not his best weekend, he’s getting better and better. Lynn Symansky (owner/rider) is syndicating him now and they’ll be at the Fork again. They’ve won the fork in the past; he raced in Maryland, and he’s just a neat horse.”
*Anthony Patch: “He’s getting up there in age, and he won the American Eventing Championship in 2013, and came in a close second in 2014. He was scratched from Rolex last year because he had a bruise, but he keeps getting better and better and better in his dressage. And, he’s an unbelievable jumper and on cross-country. I’d love nothing more than to see that horse win. And, it’s not out of the question.
He’s been featured in our Makeover project, and he’s an amazing mover on the flat. His extended trot is really exciting to watch, and Donner’s is too. Anthony Patch can compete against the best though. Lainey Ashker showed him in 4th level dressage and he beat the Warmbloods.”
* Parklane Hawk: “He won Rolex in 2012, and this is a horse that raced. He was in New Zealand, and ran steeplechase and the flat. He wasn’t great as a racehorse, but he ran 19 times. He was a real racehorse and he’s just hanging in there, and he just goes and goes and goes.
Overall, Pittman is well pleased with the number of Thoroughbreds coming to Rolex this year. Though initially concerned their entries were declining, it seems quite the opposite: This is a banner year for Thoroughbred participation, he says.
“It is thrilling to have 2012 Rolex winner Parklane Hawk back from Great Britain with the world’s leading rider William Fox-Pitt,” Pittman says. “American ex-racehorses Anthony Patch and Donner both have a good chance of beating the favored British horse.
“Donner, who raced (under the moniker) Smart Gorky, and his steely-nerved rider Lynn Symansky represented the United States last summer at the World Equestrian Games, and seem primed to put in a lifetime best performance; Anthony Patch, who raced as Alex’s Castledream, is 16 years old this year, but his longtime best friend and rider Lainey Ashker says he just gets better and better. Both Lainey and Lynn have appeared with their celebrity Thoroughbreds at RRP events and we will be cheering them on in a big way.
Pittman notes that the Retired Racehorse Project will host exciting Thoroughbred demonstrations both Friday and Saturday. Those interested in attending are welcome to stop by their booth at the stabling side-entrance to the Trade Fair building.
* For a complete list of Thoroughbreds competing at this year’s Rolex, please visit: http://retiredracehorseproject.org/rrp-news-articles/1031-rolex-27