Jan Kees spent nearly two decades locked in a stall, leaving only to train, race, or accompany other racehorses to the starting gate.
He ground out 101 starts in the 1990s, ending one career and promptly beginning his next as a track pony, without so much as a breather in between.
And yet, despite the toll on his body, which left his knees and ankles the size of grapefruits, Jan Kees was a prize of a horse, a “real gentleman” who entered retirement with Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) board member Leslie Priggen roughly six years ago.
“He was the absolute shining example of the best of what we do … we take horses who don’t have another option, and that’s why I love the TRF,” Priggen says. “What amazed me most about this horse was his attitude. His life, in some ways, represented the worst case. I just couldn’t believe that by the time I adopted him, he was a 17-year-old horse who hadn’t had a life.”
Sire: Broad Brush
Dam: Carrie’s Dream, by Stop the Music
Foal date: May 19, 1989
Earnings: $227,709 in 101 startsIt may not have been much of an existence, but it was during his waning years at Suffolk Downs that he found his strongest ally.
Older exercise rider and pony boy Filipe Sosa, who started off galloping the gelding for owner Michael Gill before eventually acquiring the horse for use as a pony, formed a strong bond with the horse over morning coffee and doughnuts.
When the 72-year-old horseman’s own health deteriorated, he approached Suffolk Downs trainer and Thoroughbred advocate Lorita Lindemann, and begged her to find the horse a home, Lindemann says.
“He came to me crying, with the pony’s lead rope in his hands,” she says. “He said he was sick himself and couldn’t pony anymore, and he knew that Jan Kees had nowhere to go.”
After hearing his story, Priggen was moved to adopt the horse herself. He arrived at her Upstate New York farm on a blustery December night. Unfazed by the travel and the strange location, he calmly walked up the driveway and settled into his stall.
His new home featured a door that opened out onto a paddock. The first time Priggen opened that door to allow him to exit, she had to coax the confused horse with carrots.
“I remember how he looked at the stall door and he looked back at me, and it was as though he said to me: ‘you left that door open you know. You better close it.’ And he did come out … and then he went back in … I told him to go have a run, to go look around.”
When he finally figured it out he took off like a rocket. He galloped up to the fence, circled back to his new guardian, and raced off again.
He lived only three more years after that, dying after developing a nasal tumor. In his final years, he was indulged with warm mash and plain doughnuts and given the freedom to come and go as he pleased.
“The thing about Jan Kees is that he just deserved it so much. He deserved it. I felt so passionately that he should have a really wonderful time at the end of his life,” she says. “And he didn’t have any anger. I’ve seen a lot of horses come in who have real holdover issues from the track, but not him.
“He was just such a cool horse.”
—Off Track Thoroughbreds features occasional stories on the people and horses who make up the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. To read more about this nonprofit charity, please visit: www.trfinc.org.