Brave OTTB rides from Calif. to Ala.; indomitable

Ray's Storm traveled from California to Alaska in 2013 to retire with an ardent admirer.

Ray’s Storm traveled from California to Alaska in 2013 to retire with an ardent admirer.

The chips were already stacked against Ray’s Storm before he entered the post parade at the California track.

Then his luck got dramatically worse. As the gate sprang open, another horse slammed into him, hard.

He stumbled. He appeared to almost to fall. But rather than quit, like so many horses might have, Ray’s Storm dug deep and fired his “back burners,” recalls Maureen McKenzie.

And just about a minute later the racehorse who’d been a bettor’s long shot that day rocketed across the finish line in first place, winning a little money, and a lifetime place in the heart of an instant fan.

It was in April of 2013 when McKenzie watched an average horse show magnificence. And she fell  in love with the snowy white horse.

Ray’s Storm
Sire: Illinois Storm
Dam: T.H. Heroline, by With Approval
Foal date: March 14, 2007
“I’d been traveling for business and a colleague and I decided to take in a race at Los Alamitos, and I remember sitting there eating when Ray’s Storm went by in the post parade,” McKenzie recalls. “And I turned to my friend and said, ‘Oh look at Number 5! He’s beautiful! He looks just like a horse my Dad got me as a teenager.”

Deciding to place a bet on the long shot, she was “mesmerized” when the gates finally opened and Ray’s Storm looked immediately like he was going down. But he surprised her and everyone in attendance by regaining his composure and powering on to win. Moments later, as Ray stood for his photo in the winner’s circle, a place he visited rarely in a short, unsuccessful career, McKenzie found herself moved to tears.

The OTTB in Alaska is a rare bird in his new land.

The OTTB in Alaska is a rare bird in his new land.

“All I could think about was how much he reminded me of an OTTB my father bought me when I was a kid, and I could imagine my father’s voice telling me to buy that horse,” she says. Before she left the track, she managed to find the horse’s trainer Eric Berman and convince him that if he ever needed to find a new home for Ray, that she had a perfect one in Alaska. “He told me later he thought I was completely crazy,” she says.

Five months passed and as she was taking a ferry in Belgium on a family vacation, her cell phone rang. It was the trainer with a straightforward question: “Lady, do you still want that horse?”

After she burst out “yes!” she and her partner drove 150 miles in the foreign land to find a Western Union office and send the cash. “We got the strangest look. The cashier asked what I was buying, and I said, oh, just a racehorse.”

With the same surprising gusto that Ray pulled off a win that day in California, the beautiful gray gelding toughed out a rough ride from Los Alamitos in California to Homer, Ala. “He traveled for 12 days and lost 200 pounds,” she says. “It was a rough ride. By the time he got to Anchorage, we kept him there to rest for two weeks while we built a barn.”

Ray's Storm and Maureen share a moment after a long journey.

Ray’s Storm and Maureen share a moment after a long journey.

The barn she built was still in progress when he rolled in, but with the threat of snow in the air, a construction crew literally built the barn up around Ray, who stood calmly eating his hay, she says. And when the barn was completed, McKenzie decorated his little shelter with photographs of his great ancestors like Secretariat and Buck Passer.

And while Ray may have been unremarkable in his life on the track, he became a rare bird in the hardy Alaskan countryside.

“Horses like Ray aren’t found up here,” she says. But now friends and the curious flock to visit and to admire his refined, noble looks. And to marvel that a Thoroughbred ex-racehorse took such a long, brave path to find his way home.

15 responses to “Brave OTTB rides from Calif. to Ala.; indomitable”

  1. Bill Hutchison

    He looks a lot like my horse from back in the 50s. Her name was Smokey Buttons because when she was wet, her Appalatian (sp) spots would show up as smokey grey spots, not visible when she was dry. One of my favorite memories of her was riding her in a race walking East, Trotting West, then racing East again. We were a little behind walking, a bit more behind trotting, but after we finally turned the last time, she blew past the others, catching some of the judges by surprise. This caused the race to be run again, with the same results. She was a treasure, for sure.

    1. lexi63

      I wonder what a bale of hay costs in Alaska ? do they have round bales or square bales there ? the price must be out of this world to feed horses there ? just wondering if anyone can answer this questions about hay & feed prices for their beloved pets in such a remote place for a horse .

      1. Maureen

        Locally grown hay is $8-10/bale (~40 lbs). Much is fragrant, certified weed-free timothy. Straw comes from Washington State, so runs about $18-20/ bale (~60 lbs). I also feed Nutrena products that correspond to time of year, how much pasture is available, exercise level, etc. There is a mark-up for shipping and handling, for sure.

      2. Maureen McKenzie

        lexi63, you may be surprised to know that Alaska is not so ‘remote’ for horses as you may think. Our town has a Pony Club and a horse park with an arena, round pen, jumps, etc. There is a show circuit, rodeo/barrel racing, and other horse-related events going on all summer. Two horse veterinarians (one who practiced at Woodbine) and at least two farriers (one of whom owned a son of Alydar) are available to work on our horses.

        1. lexi63

          wow , good to know , thanks for the education. appreciated , i bet you have some good indoor arenas too : ))))

  2. Cheri

    Wow… just WOW. Long Live Ray & Maureen!

  3. Teresa Rice

    Lovely story, I know you will love him for the rest of his days, I groomed horse’s at Woodbine Racetrack in Canada and I know how you can fall in love with certain horses, he is so lucky to have you!

  4. Gary Jay Spaulding

    Thank you Maureen and Jeff, for being you and loving all your animal friends like you do.

  5. Jack Klein

    Thank you so much for your kindness give Ray a hug for me !!!

  6. Mary McLeod

    What a love story!!! The photos are stunning. Thank you, Susan, for sharing this excellent story about the strong bond between a girl and her horse. xoxo to ALL, Mary in Boone

  7. Pat

    Love this story .M
    akes up for the horrible story I read recently about a woman beating her horses hundreds of times.(Sociopath!)

  8. lexi63

    LOVE THIS WOMAN & THIS WONDERFUL LUCKY HORSE , but WOW he lost 200 lbs, omg remind us who not to ship with , he is lucky to be alive after such an ordeal.

  9. R.A.C.E. Fund, Inc.

    Love and commitment can do so much for a horse and a human.

  10. Susan Salk

    Kim, that’s SO nice of you. I realize we’re living in pretty depressing times. I feel lifted up by the people I talk with, and the ones like Maureen, who go out of their way to help a horse. I hope you’re well, meantime. x

  11. Kim Alexander

    Another happy ending.
    Thanks for your stories, Sue. You give hope to circumstances that often seems so hopeless.

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