To hear Jessica Paquette describe the byplay she shared with What a Trippi at Suffolk Downs a couple years ago, one might be reminded, just a little, of the famous meeting decades earlier between Seabiscuit and trainer Tom Smith.
For it was at Suffolk Downs that Seabiscuit was said to have nodded at Smith, making such an impression that Smith promised himself the two would meet again.
And it was at the same track two years ago that Paquette had her own fateful moment with a short, grumpy racehorse she would vow to own.
The 15.2 hand bay was entering the saddling area when Paquette called over to him.
“I said, ‘Hi Trippi! Hi Cranky!’ and his ears perked up and he tried to drag his groom over to me,” Paquette says. That was quite a show of affection for a horse so prone to biting people that handlers kept an orange cone outside his stall door to warn people away.
Race name: What a Trippi
Dam: Avert Your Eyes, by North Pole
Foal date: March 18, 2004
Earnings: $111,228 in 42 startsAt this point, Paquette had one word flash through her mind: mine.
“I made up my mind that one way or another, someday he would bemine,” she adds. “That (interaction) just validated it. And to me, it made me think he had made up his cranky little mind too. He wasn’t the right horse for everyone but he has always been perfect for me.”
As the Suffolk Downs racing analyst and publicist for the past six years, Paquette has met a lot of horses, but it wasn’t until Trippi passed through that one became her personal mission.
She followed the horse’s progress as he crisscrossed hundreds of miles to race at Finger Lakes and Aqueduct, and along the way, she made contact with the horse’s connections to tell them one thing:
“They would get an email from me saying that if anything goes wrong, I want him,” she says. “I always worried about him. But I always knew that someday I’d get him.”
Then, on Nov. 13, she received a text message from his owner and trainer Mike LeCesse asking, “Do you still want him?”
Responding in the affirmative, she adds, “I alternated between being excited, wanting to throw up and thinking I should be committed.”
She hung up the phone, and the race was on.
Needing to get him from Point A to B during the start of the holidays, Paquette reached out to trainers and horsemen to help move the horse from the Finger Lakes to a barn in Maine, 10 hours away.
This was where the friends she made over the years dug deep and helped Paquette realize her dream. Suffolk trainer Karl Grusmark helped ship him to Belmont in New York, where another friend, Joe Signore, took care of him for a week while she made plans to get him to Maine.
“There were a lot of people helping me with this.”
Finally, on Nov. 28, Trippi made it to Jessica Creighton-Swift’s farm Freer Sone House Stablesof Maine.
“Seeing him for the first time was perfect – he was just sticking his head out of the stall, watching, and was very tolerant of my gushing and hugging,” Paquette says.
The plan is to let him down over the winter while Paquette gets her seat back with riding lessons. Come spring, the goal is to start Trippi on a path to become a pleasure horse. No more competition in his foreseeable future.
Although Trippi had a promising first year in his racing career, once powering his way up the rail to win after appearing hopelessly beaten, he never really did much in subsequent years.
Any comparison with Seabiscuit’s racing career wouldn’t cut it.
But as Paquette’s first horse, he’s perfect.
Like the day Tom Smith met his famous horse, Paquette knew it from the moments his ears perked up and he dragged his groom toward her.
“From that day on, I thought, he’s mine.” — Originally published on Nov. 30, 2010.