In the waning days of Suffolk Downs, as stalls were emptied of horses, a freshly scrubbed and glistening gelding was just making his way from his shedrow when destiny intervened with a hasty command: “Turn him around!”
Quickly followed by, “He’s sold.”
And before chestnut OTTB Osterville took another step toward the assembled horse buyers on the track’s backside, horseman Larry Mason, uttered an assertive “whoa,” pulling up the horse he loved so much and handed the lead rope over to Renee Babin, a young teen who was about to have the very best birthday.
“It all happened so fast,” says Christina Babin of Massachusetts. “We had seen a bunch of beautiful Thoroughbreds, there were even some being offered for free, and Ottie was one of the last ones we saw. And we couldn’t stop looking at him. My daughter Renee walked over to him and started patting him in his stall, and his trainer looked over at them and said it was like destiny. He kept telling us it was meant to be.”
And it was.
Barn name: Ottie
Foal date: April 30, 2006
Earnings: $101,737 in 46 startsAlmost a year to the date after Christina Babin and her daughter, along with their riding coach Deb Baretto made that trip to Suffolk Downs, (arranged by former racing vice president Sam Elliott and equestrian Heather Withington Ward), Osterville conducted himself like the princely hunter/jumper and equitation horse he was meant be.
“We took him to a first Hopeful Hunter show to try him over a couple of small fences, and he was like a rock star,” Babin says. “He went around and jumped every fence in the ring; it was his first time seeing these fences and he didn’t look at anything. He was so brave!”
Coach Barretto and Withington Ward both say that after traipsing up and down the backside with Sam Elliott in early October last year, and spending hours looking at horses, the bright chestnut with a unique “oil stain” marking on his hind leg was a standout.
So beautifully turned out and cared for, in fact, that Barretto says he looked ready for his first show before he even left the racetrack. And after learning to pick up his right-lead canter, he approached jumping with the slow, steady rhythm of a children’s hunter.
“He lopes around so amazingly. His rhythm is one of the best things about him. And he’s a horse who wants to get to the other side of a jump because he loves it so much,” Barretto says, noting that before they even met the horse, it was his picture she’d circled as a must-see. “It was almost like destiny, like it was meant to be.”
Withington Ward, a friend of Babin’s who was also along on that lucky day, says the sneak peak that Sam Elliott let them have of Osterville sealed the deal. If it weren’t for him, she says, the horse easily could have gone to someone else.
“He spent a good four or five hours showing us all the horses,” she says. “And when he took us to see Osterville, we knew this horse was gold. His conformation, his temperament— everything. His price that day was $4,000, when everyone else was selling for half that, or less.”
And though his price was high, everyone in the group knew it was act now, or watch that price climb higher.
As they all deliberated, Osterville left his shedrow to walk toward the Suffolk Showcase hosted annually by CANTER New England. And they walked a few paces, and Withington Ward leaned in to whisper to Babin: “If he gets to the auction block, you realize he’ll probably go for $5,000 or $6,000,” and soon a halt was called. And Osterville turned around. Sold!
Babin recalls the moments leading up to her decision to buy her daughter’s first horse.
“Sam kept saying to me that he could tell Larry to turn his horse around,” she says. “I just couldn’t stand the thought of someone else having him, and before I knew it, Sam was on the phone” and it was done.
And now horse and rider are aiming for hunter/jumpers and equitation, as another great racehorse from Suffolk Downs embarks on a new chapter.