When she discovered the “best horse in the world” was for sale, Fran Burns didn’t have the money. But she did have something better than cash.
So she struck a bargain with the seller.
In exchange for selling the beautiful bay gelding Ben for “several thousands less” than the horse’s asking price, she would “make up the difference” in high-quality, lifelong care.
It was an offer Jill Adriani couldn’t refuse. Agreeing to pocket far less for the 14-year-old OTTB than he was worth, she loaded him into a trailer and personally drove him to Burns’ Maryland boarding facility at the time, Bacon Hall Farm.
That was 16 years ago in June.
Barn name: Ben
Dam: Key to the Dynasty, by Key to the Mint
Foal date: April 16, 1987At age 29, Ben is still going strong, racing his pasture pal Clyde, and looking nearly as good as the day he arrived. Though he is fully retired from riding, Burns continues to provide all the best care—regular teeth and farrier and good-quality feed—just like she promised.
“I remember saying to Jill back when I made my offer that I couldn’t afford to give her all that she was asking for the horse. But I promised he would get all the best care until the end of his natural life. I think the story about Ben (JC: Ineluctability) is important because … it shows there are good people and owners who want to do right by their horses. Not everybody ships horses down the river.”
For the beautifully bred gelding who was fathered by Maryland famous sire Horatius, old connections still flock to the old boy. Adriani’s father occasionally drops by his pasture in Boxwood Farm in Monkton, Md., to check on his wellbeing, and Jill Adriani has been known to swing by with a bag of spearmints; his favorites, says Burns.
And every year, Ben’s former race trainer Frannie Campitelli receives a fresh batch of photos and updates on the former racehorse, who managed only a single victory in 32 starts, but who lived on to become known as “the best horse ever” to Burns and others who cross paths with the gentle, kind-eyed bay.
“He’s just one of those horses who everyone loves. Even the dentist when he was here on Monday asked me, ‘Where’s the best horse ever?’ as if that’s his name. And he really is. He has the most amazing ground manners and he gets along with everyone. He’s the one horse in the barn who always does everything right,” Burns says.
Although Ben has been fully retired for a few years now, he was an Eventer with Adriani before Burns rode him lightly for pleasure. “As a riding horse, Ben never missed a trick. We were always the first to go” for any lesson or test “because he was the type who just dove right in,” she says. “Ben used to love to jump, and we had a blast trail riding.”
When a hip injury flared up in his older age, and Burns decided it was time to hang up his saddle, she remembered her old promise.
“When I made my investment many years ago I promised him a life with me. That’s what I’d always been taught; when you invest in an animal, you invest in the animal for his life. I feel so strongly about it that I tell people that if they aren’t going to be responsible owners, don’t buy a horse. Go to a riding facility and lease or rent instead,” Burns says. “I’m often reminded of a quote by Marylou Whitney from a speech she gave many years ago at the Eclipse Awards: ‘ All owners need to be accountable for their horses, from the beginning of their lives to the end. We are their advocates. Together, we must fight to ensure there will never be another horse slaughtered in America.”
Burns adds, “I invested in my horse the way he invested in me.”