From the moment he dropped from his mother into the soft, yielding hay, Roger lived the life of a tough-luck horse who somehow managed to stay on his feet.
Orphaned at three weeks after his beautiful mother Formula succumbed to colic, Roger would embark on a life buffeted and knocked down by fate, by other horses, and by racing. But somehow, he always managed to get back up. If he had a rock n’ roll anthem, Tom Petty’s lyric “Even the losers get lucky sometime,” might just sum it up.
The first foal bred by Pennsylvania horseman Bill McCarthy, Roger began his life with an emergency.
Barn name: Roger
Sire: Ocean Splash
Foal date: March 31, 2000
Earnings: $113,757After his mother’s sudden death in May 2000, the unstable foal was rushed to nearby Justaplain Farm in Pennsylvania where he folded into a herd of other orphans, while receiving specialty care and learning to sip formula from a trough.
But bad lucked followed and later on in his seven-month stay, the plucky animal was once again battling the odds when a herd-wide case of Strangles, if only briefly, got the better of him. “It was pretty hard on him,” recalls Carrie McCarthy, daughter of the breeder. “When we came out to visit, the entire herd was oozing, and he looked terrible.”
But two months later, he was back up. His health restored, he developed into a “magnificent looking” yearling, and was sent to Racing Hall of Fame steeplechase trainer Janet Elliot in South Carolina to be broken and prepped for a race career.
Trouble continued. Playing in a large pasture with another weanling, Roger somehow sustained a fractured jaw, McCarthy recalls. “I don’t remember how they treated him, whether they wired his jaw shut, or what,” she says, but notes that by the time Roger turned 2, he was once again an eye-catching beauty. “He received compliments everywhere he went. He wasn’t the fastest horse, but he tried,” she says.
Roger (Jockey Club name: Secret Formula) ran eight times for the McCarthy family before he was claimed in 2003. And from that point until he ran his 88th and final start, McCarthy kept close tabs on the animal. “My father worked at Philadelphia Park, where Roger raced, and I would help him out in the mornings before I went to work. He’s so striking to look at I would notice him all the time at the track, and it would break my heart that we’d lost him,” she says.
Two other owners in the span of a race career, which earned nearly $114,000, claimed him. Each time Roger got a new owner, McCarthy would make contact, offering to buy the horse at any time.
Forced to run in allowances races that were “over his head,” Roger eventually hit bottom.
“He ran five years with his last owner and never won a race,” she says. “He didn’t want to train anymore. He actually broke someone’s collarbone. They were out on the training track, and Roger spun and the rider fell and broke his collarbone.
“He was a smart horse. He just stopped running. He wouldn’t even try.”
After finishing 8th in a claimer at Philadelphia Park in April 2008, Roger’s owners finally agreed to sell the horse back to McCarthy.
“I was in my car and a friend called me and said, ‘Do you want Secret Formula? They want to get rid of him.’ I tried to be cool and calm as I negotiated for him. I paid $1,500 cash.”
After the deal was struck, McCarthy and her father drove to the barn to collect their horse. He had grown thin, and his head hung low in the corner of his stall.
But as soon as he heard the familiar sound of his family calling, “Hey Roger,” the tired campaigner perked up.
“He picked his head up and looked at me as soon as I said hello, and I just started crying,” she says. With relief welling in her heart, she clipped the lead rope to his halter, and walked him out of there.
Roger was instantly retired and now lives about 20 minutes away from Philadelphia Park, and five minutes from her home.
“I see him a couple times a week, and his (caretakers) at the farm are always sending me pictures of him,” she says. “He was good to us. And it’s right that we be good to him.”