A Parx Racing Horse of the Year, who twice bowed the same tendon scrambling for the finish line, is on the verge of making a comeback in Kentucky— as a show horse.
After extensive rehab, Honorable Judge, Parx Racing’s 2-year-old male Horse of the Year for 2013, has come out the other side of tendon surgery on his left, front leg to emerge as a budding star in a new career.
Though his aspirations of racing greatness were cut short on the track—some thought he might even have the makings of a Derby prospect— everything about him, from his beauty and conformation to his floating natural gaits was preserved in a yeoman’s effort. Starting with his connections, who retired him, and continuing with the help of Parx Racing’s in-house Thoroughbred charity Turning for Home and partner organization After the Races, it all led and culminated with the love and devotion of a new owner.
Barn name: Wyatt
Sire: Afleet Alex
Dam: Lucky Again, by Wild Again
Foal date: Feb. 16, 2011
Earnings: $90,172, five startsHis odyssey began and ended on the Parx racetrack.
After putting in two stellar performances, handily winning a maiden special weight in August 2013, followed by another victory in a November allowance race, Honorable Judge was lauded as the 2 year old Horse of the Year at Parx Racing in 2013. “He won those races really easily. We actually thought he might be a Derby prospect,” says Danielle Montgomery of Parx Racing’s in-house Thoroughbred advocacy organization, Turning for Home. “He even defeated Charleymillionaire, who was another Triple Crown contestant.”
But after Honorable Judge re-bowed his left front tendon in November 2014, following months of rehab, his racing connections leapt at the opportunity to do the right thing for the horse, she says. “When he came into our program, we gelded him, and his owners paid for that, and his trainers paid for his initial care. Then we partnered with After the Races, which rehabs Thoroughbreds, and we decided to ship him to Unionville Equine in Pennsylvania for tendon-splitting surgery.”
The surgery, which helped to drain the site of the tendon injury, helped him heal faster, Montgomery says, noting that the equine facility offered the service at a steep discount because “they want to help us help as many horses as we can.”
And helped, he was.
Before Honorable Judge limped away from his race career and surgery, a persistent new prospective owner emerged.
Kelly Page of Maine says she saw the bay gelding’s handsome face on Facebook and was soon packing up her husband and driving eight-and-a-half hours, through a snowstorm, to see the beautiful animal.
“I’d been looking for an OTTB for about six months when I saw his picture on social media. Turning for Home had posted his picture, and even though he wasn’t for sale yet, I started pestering them,” she says. “I knew I wanted him the second I saw him …I didn’t want to risk somebody else getting the horse.”
When Page and her husband finally pulled into the Pennsylvania barn where the injured horse was rehabbing, the wind was howling, and the snow was piling up rapidly. The ferocity of the storm made the barn atmosphere electric. Honorable Judge reared up and dragged his handler up and down the barn aisle, nearly kicking Page’s husband before the couple jumped out of his way. “We stood in his stall watching him zoom down the aisle,” she says.
Unfazed by his injury and behavior, Page convinced Honorable Judge’s new connections to agree to allow her to rehab the horse at her farm in Maine, provided she agree to provide the horse with all the time and rest he needed to heal completely.
As an experienced equestrian and former exercise rider, Page rehabbed him as though he was still a Derby contender. For 12 months, he underwent a regimen of stall rest, hand walking and frequent ultrasounds. And every step of the way, Page kept the OTTB’s past connections updated with emails, phone calls and photos.
And at home in the barn, the pair bonded over long grooming sessions and very short walks. Until, finally, this week, plans were put in motion for Page to actually ride her new horse.
After getting the green light from her veterinarian to put Honorable Judge into light work, Page plans to ride him for the first time this week, taking a dressage lesson. And if all goes to plan, she will work slowly and steadily with him to prepare for competition at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Lexington, Ky. Thoroughbred Makeover show in October.
When they get there, and enter the show ring, the moment will be one of many rewards after a slow but steady return.
“Not being able to ride him for a year didn’t concern me because he was only 4 when we bought him, and I’m planning to have him for the rest of his life,” she says. “So his injury and rehab is a small blip in our life together.”
And though his bow was career ending on the track, all veterinary evidence indicates that Honorable Judge has only just begun to shine as a future sport horse.