Looking down upon the Hong Kong paddock from high up in the tiered architectural wonder of the Sha Tin racetrack, John Evans was thunderstruck.
“It was just so beautiful,” recalls the longtime race trainer. “There must have been 300 gardeners and everywhere you looked there were flowers. It was dazzling!”
And the dark bay, nearly black racehorse, Forbidden Apple, equally dazzling, and on whose coattails he had ridden halfway around the world for a shot at glory on the international stage and a $4 million purse, still gives the trainer-turned Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation barn manager something to smile about.
To this day, Evans is convinced that Apple could have won the big race on Dec. 17, 2000, and added to his $1.6 million lifetime earnings, and string of accolades, including three-time Champion Turf Horse and one-time Horse of the Year.
Sire: Pleasant Colony
Dam: North of Eden (IRE), by Northfields
Foal date: May 31, 1995
Earnings: $1.6 million, 31 starts
Class: Multiple graded stakes winner“He was 10 lengths ahead when he went around the backside,” Evans recalls. “But I think his instructions were to be taken back … and it took a lot out of him to be wrestled back to fourth or fifth to save him for a powerful finish.” He finished 4th that day, but in Evans’ heart, Apple was the true winner.
Evans worked with Forbidden Apple for six years, breaking him as a 2-year-old while in the employ of Bridlewood Farm, and overseeing his life at the farm. At age 3, Apple was sent to work with racing trainer Christopher Clement, and in 1998 he began his 31-start career filled with big wins and glory.
“His peak year was 2001. He went out and won the Manhattan Handicap and in the same year he won the Kelso Handicap,” Evans says. “He was champion Turf Horse three years running and Horse of the Year one Year. He had a beautiful stride, and he was really all class. He never gave us a bit of trouble, he never even bucked, and after a month of training he galloped like a pro.”
Evans left Bridlewood Farm to work as a racing steward in Kentucky and Texas before accepting a position as the barn manager of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Ocala, Fla. facility, and a horsemanship instructor for the Lowell Correctional Institution.
In the years that passed, Evans thought less and less about the dark bay racehorse until two years ago, when the memories of the handsome racehorse came flooding back. “I got a call from the (new owners) of Bridlewood. They weren’t breeding Forbidden Apple anymore, and they asked if I’d take him.”
His answer was in the affirmative and was as quick as the great old racehorse had been on the track.
At age 20, Forbidden Apple now has permanent sanctuary with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, under the care of the man who first trained him. “I spend time with him everyday,” Evans says. “I go and pet him on the head and tell him how pretty he is, and that I’m glad he’s here.”