Multiple stakes winner Awakino Cat, 10, was retired from racing this month after knocking in 72 starts and earning north of $600,000.
Eight weeks shy of his 11th birthday, the quirky bay gelding ran one last time at Penn National before he was turned over to his former assistant trainer of six years, Samantha Randazzo, who with the help of Parx Racing Secretary Sam Elliott, brokered a deal with the gelding’s most recent owner/trainer, David Neilson.
All agreed: It was time for Awakino Cat to exit his career as a racehorse.
“It was the right thing to do,” Neilson says. “He’s an old class horse … and I didn’t want him to finish his last year beat up at the bottom. He’s better than that.”
Sire: Stormy Atlantic
Dam: Ski Racer (FR), by Ski Chief
Foal date: May 4, 2005
Earnings: $643,956 in 72 starts
Multiple Stakes winnerWith the announcement of his retirement broadcast by Penn National’s track announcer echoing over the track, Awakino Cat was shipped to Belmont, and will ultimately return to his old stomping grounds in Saratoga to embark on a second career, Randazzo says.
He will relax and let down at a farm in Saratoga with Randazzo’s friend Lexie Marquis, a 7th grade teacher and part-time gallop girl. And this coming spring, he will be assessed for a possible next career as a track pony or a hunter/jumper prospect, Randazzo says.
No matter where his four feet may carry him, Randazzo says she is happy to once again go along for the ride, embarking on another chapter in a journey that began nine years ago.
She first met the horse as a 2 year old, after her boss and trainer Linda Rice purchased Awakino Cat at the May Fasig-Tipton sale. The youngster was shipped to Randazzo for training, and soon after, broke his maiden at Suffolk Downs in Boston. Sidelined after that with an ankle injury, she got to know the quirks and personality of the horse through a rehab after surgery to remove a chip, and a total of six years working at the races.
In that time, Awakino Cat charmed her with his people-loving personality, and puzzled her with his recurrent issues with cramping. “He used to tie up all the time, for any reason or no reason,” she says. “We had to borrow round pens” to send him out in “and we tried everything we knew of to address it. But he was successful” despite these issues.
And he was gentle to all.
“One time we were at Palm Meadows, and I used to graze him at night. So one night we’re standing there and a puppy came running out of nowhere and started to race around his hind legs,” she says. “I was terrified he’d kick and kill the puppy. But he just stood there, leaned down and sniffed the puppy. He’s a very kind horse.”
Though the seasoned horseman has worked with hundreds of Thoroughbreds in her decades-long career, Awakino Cat was the one she never forgot. “I don’t know why, but I got very attached to him. Probably because I spent so much time with him.”
After losing him in a $20,000 claiming race, she kept tabs on him, and when it appeared the gelding was declining in the claiming races, she reached out to Sam Elliott for help. “Last year a few people got a hold of Same Elliott and … asked if he could call the trainer because there was someone interested in the horse when he was done racing.”
Retirement day arrived on March 3, after all concerned agreed that the long-serving racehorse had done enough for them. And it was time give him his due.
“I was really excited to find him a good home,” Neilson says. “He’s sound, but his age was catching up to him. We had him for almost a year. He’s a special horse, a really cool horse to be around, and when Sam told me (his former assistant trainer) wanted him back, it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Elliott says he couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
“It’s nice to see what these horses mean to the people who care for them,” Elliott says. “His first and last trainers obviously cared for him quite a bit.”