Sir Prize Birthday, 35, the oldest retired racehorse in the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s (TRF) herd of 900 OTTBs, died this week following a brief and sudden illness.
The stakes-winning racehorse ran 206 times and earned north of $300,000 before retiring on Aug. 1, 1998 to the TRF’s Wallkill Correctional Facility in New York. As the alpha horse in the herd for 17 years, Birthday occupied a prominent position in the herd of Thoroughbreds participating in the flagship Second Chances program, which pairs inmates with racehorses in a mutually beneficial horsemanship program.
Known as a horse “not to be trifled with,” who could not be rushed, and had his own way of doing things, Birthday earned the love and respect of dozens of inmates through the years, including the men who struggled to save his life Dec. 2, said Jim Tremper, manager of the TRF’s Second Chances program.
Sir Prize Birthday
Dam: Prize Du Nord
Foal date: May 25, 1980
Earnings: $308,182 in 206 starts“At one point we had six men trying to get him up” after the senior horse went down in his stall and failed to get up, said Tremper, who added that Birthday was treated by a veterinarian who administered drugs, including a steroid, to try to get the animal back on his feet. “We tried all kinds of things to try to save him. But finally, at 2:25 p.m., the vet euthanized him … he died of the infirmaries of old age.”
In his death, as with his life, Birthday will occupy a special spot at the Wallkill prison. He will be buried in a small cemetery in front of the main barn grounds, where the most special horses have been laid to rest, Tremper said.
“Why was he special? For so many reasons. Just for living as long as he did, and getting to age 35, is an achievement,” Tremper said. “But he was also a horse who had a major impact.”
Since he arrived at Wallkill, Birthday taught the toughest men that on his turf, things happen his way.
“He especially taught them patience, especially when he was younger,” Tremper said. “If you went into his stall too fast, or tried to do the work too quickly and get out, he didn’t do too well with that. He needed people to take their time with him. And they did.”
Over the years, Birthday worked with approximately 30 inmates, a select group who could get along with the fiery Thoroughbred who was once as bold as a prizefighter, Tremper said in an earlier interview.
Right up until the end, Birthday resided with most tenacious horses in the herd. And he showed many tough guys a new way of behaving, Tremper added.
“Sir Prize had a complete intolerance of aggression,” he said. “The best story I remember about Birthday is that we had a fellow who was in for manslaughter, and he had an extremely short fuse. I mean, he was ready to fly off the handle yelling at people and was just very aggressive and impatient.
“He started working with Birthday, and Birthday didn’t respond very well to that. The inmate didn’t get what he wanted from Birthday, and I told him he needed to take it easy and be calm, and that then the horse would work with him.
“And it changed his whole attitude. He started talking with people, which he never used to do, and his hand movements slowed down, his whole demeanor slowed down. Even though he was convicted of this terrible crime, he became a decent individual.”
Sir Prize Birthday was bred in Florida, a son of Singh-Vent Du Nord, by Prize Du Nord. In an interview two years ago, his former trainer, Tim Ritchey, described Sir Birthday as, “a hard-knocking horse. He was all class and earned every penny he made.” Quick Call, and Steel Drum, now both age 31, are now the elder statesmen in the TRF herd.
Diana Pikulski, director of external affairs for the TRF, said the old Thoroughbred will never be forgotten.
“Birthday was a special horse and an iron horse,” she said. “Not many Thoroughbreds ran more than 200 times and hit the board an amazing 109 times. He retired sound and stayed basically sound until the end. We at the TRF were so lucky to have him. He helped countless people just by being himself. It was a sight to see how he managed his herd mates and then welcomed his caretakers into his heart.”