A 10-percent share was all Deirdre Barnhart owned of the racehorse, but the racehorse owned every bit of her.
It was a fair exchange; one that began during a casual visit to Hollywood Park. Barnhart had gone to visit a big bay named Diplo, whom she had purchased a small share in, and the animal’s famous trainer Doug O’Neill took the unusual step of pulling the T-bred out of his stall for an inspection before handing the lead rope over to her.
“He said I should take him for a walk. It was very unusual to do, because I wasn’t a big owner. But, I took the rope and walked with him, and right away developed a connection,” she says. “He was super cool and super friendly.”
And super unforgettable.
From that moment on, Barnhart’s off hours were devoted to the horse. Leaving her hectic job at the UCLA Medical Center on a Friday night, she drove home happily planning her Saturday pilgrimage to Hollywood Park. She packed apples and carrots and made the one-hour drive toward her personal Shangri-La.
From her seat at the track, back in 2010, she cheered the beautiful gelding on as he raced, and afterwards, in the quiet of the barn, the plucky little horse would welcome her.
Barn name: Dippy
Sire: Pleasant Tap
Dam: Blackjack Angel
Foal date: Feb. 10, 2007“He would hear my voice as I spoke to his groom Jose, and his head would pop right over the top of his stall, and he’d just whinny and whinny and whinny at me,” she says. “It got to the point where everybody treated me like I was a big owner. People couldn’t believe how this horse responded to me.
He really was hers in everyway but legally; and everyone said so.
But after the last race of the day, on July 18, 2010, Diplo was claimed away. Shaking off her initial shock at losing the fine animal to a claim, Barnhart sadly yet graciously extended her hand to Diplo’s new trainer, Molly Pearson.
In a good turn however, Barnhart was invited to visit the horse at his new barn. “People had warned me about going to see him. You’re not supposed to go into another trainer’s barn. But because I loved the horse so much, I met Molly, and she invited me to see him the next morning,” she says.
Overnight, Diplo took sick from a bad stifle infection. His leg was blown up, and he was tied in his stall to keep him calm. But the second Barnhart entered the barn, he started whinnying and nickering his usual hello.
Pearson witnessed the affectionate exchange, and assiduously kept Barnhart in the informed about the horse’s health as he convalesced during a seven-month layup at owner Tom E. Ramsey’s Arizona farm.
When the determined Thoroughbred finally returned to racing, running at Turf Paradise and doing pretty well, Barnhart watched his races on her computer and texted his connections at the end of each race. “I think I made a real pest of myself,” she says, laughing.
She even managed to finagle a meeting with Ramsey, and told him how much she loved his horse. She offered to take him when his race days were over.
Ramsey never forgot that offer.
In February 2012, after Diplo finished second at Turf Paradise, Ramsey turned to Molly Pearson and said, “Do you still hear from that nice woman from California? I think I’m going to go ahead and give her back her horse.”
Since that momentous occasion, Barnhart has enthusiastically shepherded her ex-racehorse, whom she calls Dippy, into a new career as a competitive Jumper.
Placed in training with well-known trainer Amy Hess, Diplo has slowly adapted to a new career.
In a big way.
Last weekend, pretty Dippy won the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show Jumper Stakes in Los Angeles and was Reserve Champion in the .95 meter division.
“After he won, I thought of something Tom Ramsey said when he gave him to me. Tom doesn’t know a thing about Jumpers, but he said to me, ‘Deirdre, the way this horse jumps around on the track, I think you’re going to have yourself quite a Jumper on your hands.’ Little did he know, he was right!”