Though the international marketplace is carefully producing sport horses specifically bred to compete at the highest levels in Eventing, the OTTB is holding its own against steep competition, says Steuart Pittman, Thoroughbred advocate, trainer and expert.
And nowhere is this more evident than at the upcoming Rolex Three-Day, (April 28-May1), the country’s only four-star Event.
Not only have OTTBs held their ground in terms of sheer numbers at the competition—21 off-track Thoroughbreds and eight purebred Thoroughbreds are set to compete—but the riders who chose to make the scene on the back of an ex-racehorse are truly impressive, says Pittman, founder of the Retired Racehorse Project. He adds that Olympic rider Boyd Martin, who likely had his pick of “horses from around the world,” will compete ex-racehorse Thoroughbred Blackfoot Mystery.
“Although breeders are trying to create the perfect Event horse, their problem is they’re up against the Thoroughbred. And they cant’ seem to do a better job than what the racing industry is doing when it creates a racehorse.”
Which is why, he says, that of all the horses from around the world that Martin could have selected, his team chose a lightly raced 11-year-old chestnut gelding who won the Eventing Showcase at Wellington this year and could possibly be an Olympic contender, he says.
Not to diminish the challenge posed by horses bred to possess the gifts necessary for all three phases of competition, summed up by Pittman as “phenomenal movement on the flat, incredibly careful showjumping and being fast and agile on cross-country,” Pittman says the turnout at Rolex this year proves that the Thoroughbred is mighty among competition horses. (For a complete list, please click this link: http://www.retiredracehorseproject.org/rrp-news-articles/1224-rolex-29).
“Eventing is a growing sport and at the top of the game, people are searching the world for the best horses they can find,” he says, noting that though many riders may start off on Thoroughbreds, often making their career on an OTTB, it’s not unusual for those same riders to compete on different breeds later on. And that the rider’s sponsors often influence choice, he explains.
Those competing this year on OTTBs represent an exciting mix, says Pittman.
Veteran Lainey Ashker will return on Anthony Patch (JC: Alex’s Castledream) for their fifth go at Rolex, and Leah Lang-Gluscic will make a second attempt at it on her $750 OTTB AP Prime.
Rookie Rolex rider Ashley Johnson will compete her OTTB Tactical Maneuver (JC: Shykee’s Thunder) and Lynn Symansky returns with her OTTB Donner (JC: Gorky Park). James Allison returns with Parker (JC: Eastside Park) and Alexandra Knolls brings OTTB Sound Prospect.
As they and other OTTB riders compete against the best sport horses in the world, a secondary battle will also ensue. That competition involves a sustained marketing and promotional effort to continue to drive home the point that there’s a reason some of the best riders in the world ride Thoroughbreds.
“We need to develop a generation of sport horse trainers and riders in this country who develop their career on Thoroughbreds, and who stay connected to the breed,” Pittman says. “We’re trying to create a generation of Thoroughbred people.”