Like royalty wearing rags, Real Gentleman spent his early life cloaked in the dust and sweat of working class racetracks.
Bouncing between Suffolk Downs in East Boston and Finger Lakes Race Track in Farmington, N.Y., the refined and upright gelding, who possessed hidden talents that could make him great, tried to plug himself into the gritty life, where he floundered.
In 41 starts, he had just a single victory in the battle for small purse money, before he finished out his career as the ugly winter of 2012 closed in. With a mere $16,000 in lifetime earnings, his real talents were hidden.
Barn name: Rio
Sire: Gone for Real
Dam: Sunshine Star, by Star de Naskra
Foal date: Feb. 5, 2006But soon he would show he could outperform most Thoroughbreds!
After cooling his heels for two months at a New Hampshire farm, a dressage rider and her top-level equestrian coach came to inspect the bay gelding they’d spotted online in a video, which showed Real Gentleman cantering with the balance of a ballerina.
“We found him on a cold, rotten Sunday at the end of January 2012,” says Ann Seamonds, a longtime dressage rider. While nursing a cold and feeling a bit sorry for herself, she’d surfed the Net and discovered the bay Thoroughbred’s video on Facebook. And she saw in that brief footage a glimpse of talent that never did him any good on the track. “He had the most lovely presence and a lovely balance and a canter to die for. The walk and the canter are the two most important gaits in Dressage. The trot you can improve a little. And I loved his eye—he had a calm eye.”
And his looks matched his temperament.
With snow swirling on the blustery wind, he was expertly put through his paces by trainer and jockey Jackie Falk, says Seamonds, noting, “He never put a foot wrong. She even jumped him over a snow bank.”
It took Seamonds and her coach, Pan Am Games winning dressage rider Mary Howard of Brentwood, N.H. about two minutes to see the regal bearing of an undiscovered star. “My trainer looked at him, then she looked at me and said, ‘He’s coming home with us.’ At this point, I wasn’t thinking of having a show horse to go up the levels with. I just really loved him.”
After shipping him to Five Stars Farm in Brentwood, the pair started training Real Gentleman for the beautiful sport of Dressage with no expectations. And one day, the confusion cleared and something just clicked for the gelding as he found his natural calling. “One day the look in his eye changed and it was like he realized in that moment what he was supposed to do,” Seamonds says. “After that, he never said no.”
And while onlookers might say, “No way!” the well built racehorse charged up the ranks of the Dressage discipline, conquering Levels 1 through 3 to compete and win at Level 4. This year, after winning his first 3rd Level show with a score of 71 percent, he debuted at the 4th Level at the University of New Hampshire earlier this summer with a score just under 63 percent, Seamonds says.
With reins gently held by skilled working student Bethany Larsen, Real Gentleman is expected to crack into Prix St. George next year, once he gradually builds strength. An unsung racehorse with the bearing of nobility is leaving all the racehorses he competed against in the dust as he conquers Dressage levels few horses can attain.
“He is a warhorse who found his true calling as a Dressage horse,” Seamonds says. “He is becoming a real ambassador for the OTTBs in Dressage.”