Certifiably Royal hit the Charles Town Race circuit in 2013 with one very nervous guardian angel monitoring his every step.
With four screws holding together a leg that had failed just two years earlier, and the seasoned 8-year-old racing as much as two times a month, Stacy Ferris watched from afar and bit her nails worrying that one wrong step could do in the handsome, goofy, playful chestnut gelding she knew only briefly, but would never forget.
“I knew he had screws in his leg and to see him just running and running and running worried me so much,” says Ferris, who was a farm manager at the Ocala, Fla. layup facility where the OTTB recuperated for six months from a condular fracture in 2011. “Every time he went into the starting gate I worried he’d take a bad step and break down. I’m not anti racing, because racing is my business, but I really started to worry when he started racing so much at Charles Town.”
Barn name: Roy
Dam: Royal Trips
Foal date: Feb. 4, 2005
Earnings: $106,000; 48 startsAnxiety turned to action when Royal shipped from Charles Town to Beullah Park in April 2013 and continued the grueling pace, racing as much as twice a month, even winning three out of his last five races.
When finally she could take it no more, Ferris began to campaign for Royal’s retirement. Enlisting the help of her friend and Thoroughbred advocate Mary Johnson, who helped negotiate with Royal’s trainer and owner, and with donations from well-known advocate and racehorse owner Maggi Moss, and others, Royal was retired after his last race on June 17, 2013. Donors raised $2,500 to buy his freedom, and some peace of mind for Ferris.
“It was hard to acquire him,” Ferris says. “What made it difficult was that the trainer would change is mind. One minute he said we could buy him, but then he’d indicate he might want to run him one more time.” Royal was still winning and in the money, she says, further explaining that he was not an easy racehorse to pull away from the track.
And then, just like that, Royal was in clover.
After bartering for his freedom, Ferris shipped him to Ohio nonprofit Another Chance Equine (ACE) Rescue, where he decompressed from racetrack life and learned to live on a farm.
Then last year, he came onto the radar of charity volunteer Jessica Caraballo, who leapfrogged from grooming him to lessons and ultimately, to welcoming him into her family.
“My husband and I have three boys and we didn’t have the time or money for horses for a very long time. I had a Standardbred growing up though, and the passion for horses never left me,” she says.
She started volunteering at the rescue to rekindle her childhood love for horses, and to introduce her boys to the animals. And in January, after the rescue approached her with the suggestion she adopt Royal, her family and friends all threw in to do a substantial renovation of an old Amish barn and make room for their new Thoroughbred friend.
“He turned out to be the perfect match. I’m still a little shocked he wasn’t adopted out already,” Caraballo says. “I have a deep faith in God and it feels like he orchestrated this for me, because there were a lot of people interested in this horse.”
Knowing that Certifiably Royal is now happily ensconced with a family who loves him, his successful race days behind him, that is the best thing of all, says Ferris. “With all the horses I’ve known, or who have been in my care, I am always watching and following them. You can’t always keep track of them. Sometimes they fall off the radar,” she says. “But Royal was a special horse—I used to call him ‘Big Doofus’ when I was changing his bandages—and I have so much peace now knowing he’s in a loving home and being spoiled rotten.”