A 2013 pre-Derby favorite, who sold as a yearling for over $400,000, was claimed and retired this summer in an all-out effort backed by Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert and famous trainer Larry Jones.
Baffert wrote a check immediately upon learning his former racehorse War Academy, a stunning mount whose own Kentucky Derby bid was derailed, was now running in a $4,000 claimer.
According to Thoroughbred advocate Dreux Flaherty of Texas, Baffert only needed to hear her words, “I’m calling about War Academy,” before he quickly asked, “Where is he?” And then followed up with the pledge to offer financial assistance to an online, social media effort to retire the horse.
Sire: Giant’s Causeway
Dam: Cabbage Key, by A.P. Indy
Foal date: Feb. 12, 2010
Earnings: $192,000 in 16 startsSays Flaherty, “The whole thing was incredible. Somehow I got the barn number for Bob Baffert and he personally picked up the phone. I told him War Academy was in a $4,000 claimer at Delaware Park, and we need to retire him.”
A few days later, a check from Baffert arrived in the mail to cover a significant portion of claiming costs.
Once Flaherty and a contingency of other War Academy fans heard this news, including Lois Brooks, who lives on a fixed income but donated $1,000 to the cause, the quest to get the horse retired got legs.
And according to Flaherty, the final piece fell into place when none other than famous horseman Larry Jones, trainer of Hard Spun, Eight Belles, and Proud Spell, agreed to claim the horse.
“My friend and trainer Diane Moirci got me the number for Larry Jones. She promised me if he couldn’t do it, she’d drive up and claim him herself. So I called Larry, explained that I was a friend of Diane’s, and I was kind of nervous, so I just kind of blurted out that I was a fan of Hard Spun. He was great. He said he was a fan of Hard Spun too, but what did I need. After I told him War Academy’s story, he said he’d go ahead and claim the horse for us.”
On the day of the race, July 28, there was now a growing group of War Academy fans sitting on pins and needles, says Flaherty, noting that many had given time and money to see this deed done.
“When the day of the race came, there was a huge storm coming in, and I received a text from Larry warning me that racing could be canceled for the day,” Flaherty says. She and her friends and supporters all watched the races unfold on their computers that day, with clouds threatening, and the air electric with the approaching storm. Then, the gate swung open in Race 3, and out barreled War Academy.
The dappled dark bay got the lead early and blazed across the finish line, winning by a neck. After his picture was taken in the winner’s circle, Jones immediately claimed him. “Larry Jones personally walked him to the trailer, and then sent me photos,” says Flaherty, who notes that immediately afterwards, the skies opened up with a hail-driven storm that canceled racing for the rest of the day.
And more than one person said later that day that fate had dealt a good hand to War Academy in the end.
After he was claimed and brought to Machmer Hall Farm in Kentucky, the majestic racehorse was spotted by equestrian Liz Gamble Mras, who happened to be visiting the farm, and adopted him on the spot. The Virginia rider, who fell in love with him on sight, saddled him up six weeks after his last race and told Flaherty after he carried her around like he’d been a pleasure horse all his life.
“It was just incredible how all of this came together. We started off not having enough money to get War Academy claimed, but then we had all these famous people, Bob Baffert and Larry Jones, helping us,” she says. “These people never met me, but they trusted me. All they wanted to know was how they could help this horse.”
— War Academy’s retirement effort was greatly helped by Baffert, Jones, Liz Gamble Mras, Carrie Willwerth Brogden, Lois Brooks, John Cosentino, Lisa Salmon and Caroline Cooper. * This blog is brought to you by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF, Inc.).