The phones began ringing and the emails started flying shortly after the 3-year-old chestnut finished an astonishing 49 lengths behind the rest of the pack this month at Canterbury Park, says Donna Keen, a racehorse owner who operates Texas-based Thoroughbred charity Remember Me Rescue.
Racing against the clock, the original breeders of failed racehorse filly Kat’s Journey joined in an all-out effort to buy back the beautiful chestnut Thoroughbred and return her back to them, where she was well loved and cared for as if she’d won a great race.
Like all racehorses deserve, say breeders Robin and Carolyn Hoffos of Rockin Robin Racing Stables.
Sire: Good Journey
Dam: Fargo’s Legacy
Foal date: Jan. 29, 2012“My wife helped pull her out of the womb,” says Robin Hoffos. “We’re a small, little contingency out here, but our horses mean a lot to us, and when I saw she had lost by 49 lengths I knew she wasn’t a racehorse. My wife asked if there was anything we could do to get her back, and I picked up the phone and called Peter Lurie” a sports anchor for HRTV and TVG.
The anchor immediately called Keen, a longtime friend, and set the ball in motion.
“This all happened so quickly,” Keen says. “My friend Peter asked me if I could help contact the people who (were her connections in that race) and wanted to know if we could either buy her or claim her. About three days later I saw the trainer (James Donlin) on the racetrack and asked if he’d be interested in selling (Kat’s Journey), and he said he’d have to talk to the owner, his son James Donlin and daughter- in-law.”
After they agreed to sell her for $2,500, the owner cried before handing the horse over to Keen. “When they came to drop her off the wife just cried and cried and cried,” says Keen. “She just loved that horse.”
But no one loved the filly as much as her original breeders, who camped by the foaling stall for two weeks before her late birth in January 2012, and who were ready and willing to take her back after she failed, no questions asked.
Carolyn Hoffos, an Eventer and horseman who has bred six horses in her lifetime, says she always felt a little uneasy about sending Kat’s Journey off for a life as a racehorse. “It just didn’t sit right with me because I didn’t know where she was going or where she’d end up,” she says. “My husband had her in a virtual stable, which is how we found out she did so horribly, and it was then we realized we had to get her back because her future as a racehorse was not looking very good.”
Recalling the two-week vigil that she kept outside Kat’s Journey’s foaling stall in 2012, Carolyn Hoffos says she roomed in a live-in trailer parked right outside the stall. The windows were lined up so she could see inside the foaling stall from her trailer, and night after night, she awakened every few hours to check on Kat’s mother, Fargo’s Legacy.
“She was a stubborn one. She was two weeks late, and she came at 2 a.m.,” she recalls. Toward the end of the routine delivery, the broodmare started to tire, so Carolyn gently reached out and pulled the foal’s legs to guide her from the birth canal to the soft bedding.
“She was adorable! She came out with a big blaze and stood immediately,” she says, noting that she is relieved and happy to welcome the filly back into her life. “I feel that when you breed horses, and I’ve bred a total of six horses, that it’s your responsibility to make sure their life is as good as it can be.”
Once Kat’s Journey arrives at her 70-acre facility, Copper Meadows Equestrian Center in Ramon, Calif., she will be assessed, loved, and possibly prepared for a future career as an Eventer, Carolyn says.
The decision to take Kat’s Journey back wasn’t even a question, says Robin Hoffos. “Obviously we can’t claim them all, but this was the least we can do. These horses run their guts out for people; everybody should step up like this,” he says.
Kat’s Journey will eventually make her way from Donna Keen’s stables at Canterbury Park to Kentucky, and then ship from there back to California. Keen notes that the rapid response by the breeders, and the collaboration to help take this filly home, was a proud moment, a good day made by good people doing what’s right.
“I love it when breeders step up like that and hunt their horses down,” Keen says.