‘Thoroughbred people’ come on strong at Rolex

Ashley Johnson will debut Tactical Maneuver (JC: Shykee’s Thunder) at Rolex this month. Photo courtesy Mike McNally

Ashley Johnson will debut Tactical Maneuver (JC: Shykee’s Thunder) at Rolex this month. Photo courtesy Mike McNally

Though the international marketplace is carefully producing sport horses specifically bred to compete at the highest levels in Eventing, the OTTB is holding its own against steep competition, says Steuart Pittman, Thoroughbred advocate, trainer and expert.

And nowhere is this more evident than at the upcoming Rolex Three-Day, (April 28-May1), the country’s only four-star Event.

Not only have OTTBs held their ground in terms of sheer numbers at the competition—21 off-track Thoroughbreds and eight purebred Thoroughbreds are set to compete—but the riders who chose to make the scene on the back of an ex-racehorse are truly impressive, says Pittman, founder of the Retired Racehorse Project. He adds that Olympic rider Boyd Martin, who likely had his pick of “horses from around the world,” will compete ex-racehorse Thoroughbred Blackfoot Mystery.

“Although breeders are trying to create the perfect Event horse, their problem is they’re up against the Thoroughbred. And they cant’ seem to do a better job than what the racing industry is doing when it creates a racehorse.”

Which is why, he says, that of all the horses from around the world that Martin could have selected, his team chose a lightly raced 11-year-old chestnut gelding who won the Eventing Showcase at Wellington this year and could possibly be an Olympic contender, he says.

Boyd Martin will compete OTTB Blackfoot Mystery at Rolex this month. Photo by Jenni Autry

Boyd Martin will compete OTTB Blackfoot Mystery at Rolex this month. Photo courtesy Jenni Autry/Eventing Nation

Not to diminish the challenge posed by horses bred to possess the gifts necessary for all three phases of competition, summed up by Pittman as “phenomenal movement on the flat, incredibly careful showjumping and being fast and agile on cross-country,” Pittman says the turnout at Rolex this year proves that the Thoroughbred is mighty among competition horses. (For a complete list, please click this link: http://www.retiredracehorseproject.org/rrp-news-articles/1224-rolex-29).

“Eventing is a growing sport and at the top of the game, people are searching the world for the best horses they can find,” he says, noting that though many riders may start off on Thoroughbreds, often making their career on an OTTB, it’s not unusual for those same riders to compete on different breeds later on. And that the rider’s sponsors often influence choice, he explains.

Lainey Ashker and Anthony Patch (JC: Alex's Castledream) are seasoned pros and will make their 5th run at Rolex.

Lainey Ashker and Anthony Patch (JC: Alex’s Castledream) are seasoned pros and will make their 5th run at Rolex. Photo courtesy Mike McNally

Those competing this year on OTTBs represent an exciting mix, says Pittman.

Veteran Lainey Ashker will return on Anthony Patch (JC: Alex’s Castledream) for their fifth go at Rolex, and Leah Lang-Gluscic will make a second attempt at it on her $750 OTTB AP Prime.

Rookie Rolex rider Ashley Johnson will compete her OTTB Tactical Maneuver (JC: Shykee’s Thunder) and Lynn Symansky returns with her OTTB Donner (JC: Gorky Park). James Allison returns with Parker (JC: Eastside Park) and Alexandra Knolls brings OTTB Sound Prospect.

As they and other OTTB riders compete against the best sport horses in the world, a secondary battle will also ensue. That competition involves a sustained marketing and promotional effort to continue to drive home the point that there’s a reason some of the best riders in the world ride Thoroughbreds.

“We need to develop a generation of sport horse trainers and riders in this country who develop their career on Thoroughbreds, and who stay connected to the breed,” Pittman says. “We’re trying to create a generation of Thoroughbred people.”

11 responses to “‘Thoroughbred people’ come on strong at Rolex”

  1. Jon

    The TB will always be the best choice for a sport horse. Tough, smart and elegant. The beauty is that we have plenty of them right close to most potential owners homes. No need to support the European breeders. Just take the time and make your horse your self. Get help if you need it. I can say with reasonable certainty, I will never buy a horse from Europe. My horses will always be OTTB’s that I find right here in the mid Atlantic states

  2. Bits & Bytes Farm - Elizabeth Wood

    Thoroughbreds have been used to create and improve the warmblood breeds of the world. They lightened up to cold blooded work horses to make riding horses. Most warmbloods are 3/4 to 7/8 Thoroughbred. Ex-race horses have a leg up on homebred Thoroughbreds. They have a strong work ethic and have developed muscles that they keep throughout their lives. It takes very little effort to get an OTTB fit. Thank goodness for the RRP and people like Steuart Pittman who are promoting the Thoroughbred breed now. Promoting the ex-race horse as a sport horse has been the Mission of Bits & Bytes Farm since 2001. FINALLY Thoroughbreds are being seen as the great athletes they are and not just a cheap alternative to an expensive warmblood. Let’s all keep this message going! Rock on Thoroughbreds!

  3. Morgan Kennedy

    “21 off-track Thoroughbreds and eight purebred Thoroughbreds”…

    Ummm. Off-track Thoroughbreds are purebred Thoroughbreds. Better wording would have been:

    “29 Thoroughbreds are set to compete; 21 of those are off-track”

    Editorial nit-pick aside – YAY!!!!

    1. SunnyD

      I think they mean unraced but performance bred TB’s vs off track TB’s. It is an odd way of identifying them but not all purebreds are bred to race 🙂

    2. Jon

      For example I have 3 OTTB’s. These are horses that raced or trained to race. I have one TB, she never raced and never saw the track. The later is what I think she was referring to.

  4. MarVeena Meek

    This makes my heart so happy! I live with these amazing horses everyday and I know how smart they are, and how athletic!!!

  5. Caroline Betts

    Agree with Suzanne’s comments about the RRP and similar programs. It is crucial to develop a market for them if we’re to prevent ex-racehorses from falling through the cracks. I am however curious about how the numbers/proportion of TBs competing in Rolex has changed over time. That seems to be the relevant statistic in terms of assessing how the breed is doing in this sport.

  6. Suzanne Lindley

    Cannot say enough good things about Pittman and the RRP and similar programs, including TB-only classes and year-end awards, that now have many actively looking for TB prospects for many disciplines and then competing them in open competitions as well. The TB was always capable, but Pittman and others have worked diligently to bring the American TB back into the spotlight. That is a win for everyone, but in particular the horses!

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