In the end it didn’t matter how many titles Tubby Time earned, or how many fans were charmed by his endearing flourish to finish his turf races, win or lose, with his tail flared out like a champ.
But after the cheers had faded and the trophies grown dusty, the racehorse immortalized as the 2011 Canterbury Park Horse of the Year had lost the fine trappings of an earlier life to wind up discarded like trash into the slaughter pipeline.
Looking bewildered and unrecognizable from the horse he’d once been, the multiple stakes winner from Minnesota, named for popular basketball coach Tubby Smith, and once so adored by all who knew him—owner, fans and racetrack officials— was discovered in early May in a Pennsylvania kill lot.
Steps away from taking the final ride to the slaughterhouse alongside other frightened horses, it wasn’t his wins, or his fans that mattered. It was a random phone call made by the meat buyer himself, who contacted a Thoroughbred charity volunteer with the words, “I’ve got some Thoroughbreds.”
The news spread fast on social media channels, hitting his former owner Dorene Larsen like a body blow, as her beloved chestnut, now 875 pounds, was rescued by charity Beyond the Roses.
Sire: Devil His Due
Dam: Gentle Princess, by Tejano
Foal date: April 23, 2006
Earnings: $263,515 in 35 starts;
Multiple stakes winnerAs Tubby was put into quarantine and monitored for disease, Larsen grappled with the aftermath. “If this can happen to us, this can happen to anyone,” she says.
“My sister used to say to me that in life we have to face our worst fears. What happened to Tubby was my greatest fear realized.”
Larsen fought tears, recalling the good days when she and her husband Jim reared Tubby from birth. “We took such great care of him. We loved him. And the only reason we let him go was because we were told he was going to a 14-year-old girl who would ride him in the hunter/jumpers. I never would have let him go for something like barrels, because it’s so taxing. But, when I heard that the manager of the farm where we sent him to layup after his last race had found a hunter/jumper family for him, I thought, ‘Oh my God, Tubby would love doing something like that!’ ”
Though it’s still unclear how Tubby wound up emaciated and battered in the kill lot—Jeff Larsen has been making calls to try to get a answers— his old family and racetrack are rallying to his aid.
Canterbury Park Vice President of Racing Eric Halstrom was among the first to reach out and offer financial support for Tubby’s recovery.
“We found out through a fan of Tubby’s what had happened, and after we confirmed that it was Tubby, we knew that the time was right to do what’s right: We paid for 60 days of care, Halstrom says.
“This was a really good horse. He wasn’t necessarily bred for turf, but he just took to it, and in his prime, he was unbeatable. The horse has so many endearing qualities and the fact that he ended up this way … shows that things can go astray through no fault of the people who owned him.”
As Tubby regains his health at Beyond the Roses, Larsen is working closely with founder Gail Hirt to create a soft landing for him. She is weighing the possibility of taking him to her sister’s farm, to retire alongside Tubby’s brother Taconite. But, Hirt has also been in touch with a well-regarded equine attorney, who has also made inquiries about adopting him.
Hirt says Tubby is in no shape to travel quite yet, given his emaciation. However, so far he has remained in relative good health, neither spiking a fever nor showing other serious symptoms.
When she rescued Tubby on May 7 with other Thoroughbreds, Hirt had no idea just how special he was.
“When I found out who he was after researching his tattoo, I just about fell over,” Hirt says. “All of horses are special, but Tubby became a very big deal when his owners and the racetrack starting contacting us to help and tell us about him.”
And there were so many stories, says Larsen, who notes that the spirited chestnut had some real racing glory days.
“Tubby truly had his happiest days on the track. For some reason, he just loved to run,” Larsen says. “It didn’t matter where he finished in a race, he could be mid-pack, and he’d flair his tail out like he’d won the race.”
And in the end, Tubby did win; and one day will flare his tail with pride.