2013 pre-Derby favorite retired with famous help

Six weeks after his retirement, War Academy and his new owner Liz Gamble Mras enjoy a ride.

Six weeks after his retirement, War Academy and his new owner Liz Gamble Mras enjoy a ride.

A 2013 pre-Derby favorite, who sold as a yearling for over $400,000, was claimed and retired this summer in an all-out effort backed by Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert and famous trainer Larry Jones.

Baffert wrote a check immediately upon learning his former racehorse War Academy, a stunning mount whose own Kentucky Derby bid was derailed, was now running in a $4,000 claimer.

According to Thoroughbred advocate Dreux Flaherty of Texas, Baffert only needed to hear her words, “I’m calling about War Academy,” before he quickly asked, “Where is he?” And then followed up with the pledge to offer financial assistance to an online, social media effort to retire the horse.

War Academy
Sire: Giant’s Causeway
Dam: Cabbage Key, by A.P. Indy
Foal date: Feb. 12, 2010
Earnings: $192,000 in 16 starts
Says Flaherty, “The whole thing was incredible. Somehow I got the barn number for Bob Baffert and he personally picked up the phone. I told him War Academy was in a $4,000 claimer at Delaware Park, and we need to retire him.”

A few days later, a check from Baffert arrived in the mail to cover a significant portion of claiming costs.

Once Flaherty and a contingency of other War Academy fans heard this news, including Lois Brooks, who lives on a fixed income but donated $1,000 to the cause, the quest to get the horse retired got legs.

And according to Flaherty, the final piece fell into place when none other than famous horseman Larry Jones, trainer of Hard Spun, Eight Belles, and Proud Spell, agreed to claim the horse.

War Academy was claimed by famous trainer Larry Jones at Delaware Park, who snapped this photo before personally seeing to it that the gorgeous gelding loaded onto the trailer.

War Academy was claimed by famous trainer Larry Jones at Delaware Park. He snapped this photo before personally seeing to it that the gorgeous gelding loaded onto the trailer.

“My friend and trainer Diane Moirci got me the number for Larry Jones. She promised me if he couldn’t do it, she’d drive up and claim him herself. So I called Larry, explained that I was a friend of Diane’s, and I was kind of nervous, so I just kind of blurted out that I was a fan of Hard Spun. He was great. He said he was a fan of Hard Spun too, but what did I need. After I told him War Academy’s story, he said he’d go ahead and claim the horse for us.”

On the day of the race, July 28, there was now a growing group of War Academy fans sitting on pins and needles, says Flaherty, noting that many had given time and money to see this deed done.

“When the day of the race came, there was a huge storm coming in, and I received a text from Larry warning me that racing could be canceled for the day,” Flaherty says. She and her friends and supporters all watched the races unfold on their computers that day, with clouds threatening, and the air electric with the approaching storm. Then, the gate swung open in Race 3, and out barreled War Academy.

The dappled dark bay got the lead early and blazed across the finish line, winning by a neck. After his picture was taken in the winner’s circle, Jones immediately claimed him. “Larry Jones personally walked him to the trailer, and then sent me photos,” says Flaherty, who notes that immediately afterwards, the skies opened up with a hail-driven storm that canceled racing for the rest of the day.

Gamble-Mras plans to retrain War Academy to compete in OTTB shows.

Gamble-Mras plans to retrain War Academy to compete in OTTB shows.

And more than one person said later that day that fate had dealt a good hand to War Academy in the end.

After he was claimed and brought to Machmer Hall Farm in Kentucky, the majestic racehorse was spotted by equestrian Liz Gamble Mras, who happened to be visiting the farm, and adopted him on the spot. The Virginia rider, who fell in love with him on sight, saddled him up six weeks after his last race and told Flaherty after he carried her around like he’d been a pleasure horse all his life.

“It was just incredible how all of this came together. We started off not having enough money to get War Academy claimed, but then we had all these famous people, Bob Baffert and Larry Jones, helping us,” she says. “These people never met me, but they trusted me. All they wanted to know was how they could help this horse.”

— War Academy’s retirement effort was greatly helped by Baffert, Jones, Liz Gamble Mras, Carrie Willwerth Brogden, Lois Brooks, John Cosentino, Lisa Salmon and Caroline Cooper. * This blog is brought to you by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF, Inc.).

37 responses to “2013 pre-Derby favorite retired with famous help”

  1. Anita Adamski for North American Thoroughbred Society

    Kudos to you Susan, you have somehow started something of a firestorm — and I think it’s great because you have people talking and exploring the challenges of aftercare.

    God gave everyone a talent, and your gift/talent for helping TBs is clear. Godspeed, go well.

    – Anita from North American Thoroughbred Society

  2. Pat

    Why did this feel good story end up with people in an argument? Just let it be and say thank you for the soft landing for this great horse. Period.

  3. Tonya LaFarr

    I am so happy that War Academy is on his journey to a new career.

    The connections who helped him are some really good people for helping a horse before he was sent to a bad home or auction.

  4. Anya

    Why is it that someone on a fixed income has to be the one to fork over a grand to help this horse when there is someone out there who had 400,000 to spend on a horse?!? Sometimes I read these feel good TB rescue stories and thing they are just using soft hearted people to enable the wealthy owners in the racing industry who shirk their responsibility to the horses. I have a pleasure horse (my only horse- I don’t have the ability to own more) that I bought for a hundred times less than horses like the one in the story. He has a strain right now, can’t be ridden, but you know what? He’s not getting dumped at an auction and he gets the care he needs. If I can do that, then so should these high roller owners.

    1. Lori Ann

      So, so so agree with this statement ????????????
      Why is the poorest with the heart putting out the most to save this glorious creature, even when this horse didn’t earn a penny for them?! But the people or person for whom they worked and earned their paycheck, then literally dumps them off on a $4000.00 dollar claims races with the excuse that he loves to run?! I have always been of the conclusion that all horses love to gallop; it is in their genes to move at speed (especially when feeling threatened, endangered or even encouraged ????????????); some are just better at it than others, thus we have racehorses????; so, a horse will run, regardless, some will run fast and furious and really enjoy it; some maybe not ????????????, but overall, they’re giving you their hearts ???????????? and deserve nothing less back ???????????? from their human caregivers ???????????? especially when they’ve earned you a monetary reward for their efforts ????????????????

  5. maggi moss

    I usually dont comment on blogs but know Susan well- most people simply miss the point, once a horse like WAR ACADEMY, a very accomplished horse, starts on this slope down the claiming ladder, he simply deserved more dignity and respect- he does NOT belong running for 4000- if these folks had NOT claimed him, and someone else had, he could continue down this road UNTIL he got into bad hands and disappeared to a tragic ending- a horse of this class and accomplishment simply needed to be retired not running on the bottom claiming level- – to former connections, I respectively disagree;

  6. Mary McLeod

    I think this is a wonderful story about how people can work together for the happiness of an equine athlete. Bon chance to War Academy and Liz: may you be a strong team and enjoy your path together!!!
    Thank you to those of you who worked to make his transition possible. Love to ALL, Mary in Boone

  7. Michelle

    Linds Turcotte
    Please see my comment to Emma…

    1. Linds Turcotte

      Doesn’t change my opinion. I would assume your approach was correct, but that doesn’t obligate them to sell him to you. If a trainer wants to keep a horse, they can. Obviously if they want to keep him, he’s not in any danger.

      Choosing to keep the horse does not make them bad people.

      I have no obligation to sell my horse to someone who walks up and offers me money for him. Carl Hester would have had no obligation to accept an offer from someone who wanted to rehome and retire Valegro at any point in time. A racehorse’s owner/trainer also is not obligated to sell him/her to us just because we want them and/or we want to ensure they have a retirement spot.

      1. Michelle

        I know how the game works. You missed the point though. Tunnel vision….

  8. Michelle


    I DID contact you regarding War Academy for $3500 – my uncle was going to wire the money to me so I could purchase him from Catalano, remember? My last text to you stated the fact that I had the money, and then did not receive any more texts from you! I too, was heartbroken. Several weeks went by, and it wasn’t until social media blew up over the horse, that you decided to text me back apologizing for how “busy” you were and how you forgot to text me back, and that you guys had decided to keep the horse! I was going to give him that good home, using him for only light trail riding and 24/7 turnout – to let him be a horse again. So I guess since you and Catalano acted so shady towards me, the horse you know and loved so well, got CLAIMED.

  9. Ann

    The point of rehoming & retraining OTTB is to offer a 2nd career when the horses have age, lost a step and/or are dropping through the ranks BUT have enough health and soundness to not be a pasture ornament/companion animal
    The run them into the ground & toss them aside mentality is dangerous & nonhorse friendly

    1. Emily Daignault-Salvaggio

      The horse was not ‘run into the ground.’ He’d had an injury and was brought back at a more than reasonable pace. Some who paid attention to his past level of performance became worried that he was in ‘bad’ hands but he wasn’t. That said there are tons of others who were never in graded stakes who are in ‘bad’ hands. But since they were never famous….. it’s not really newsworthy.

      1. Linds Turcotte

        I’m pretty stunned, looking at his stats, that anyone would consider him run into the ground. 16 starts in 4 years? Good god, American Pharoah started 11 times in two!

  10. Maggie Young

    So happy to hear such a great story! He is a lucky horse to have Liz caring for him! ????????????

  11. Lynne Wooddell

    Love this! Nice to see such a classy horse end up with such a loving and careful owner. He hit the jackpot with The Mras family! Thanks to all of you who helped make this happen!

  12. Rob

    Great story….but….the way they write these stories always seems to be a gut punch to the former connections.”Run them where they can win” is certainly a prevailing mindset, especially with the claiming game, and he did, in fact, win the race. There are no mentions about him being unfit for racing, or unsound in any manner, and six weeks later he is back under a saddle. So while they make it sound like he was rescued out of some tragic existence, quite possibly, he was just getting slower as he aged and he was running where he should be….


    1. Kelly

      I largely agree. I think it’s awesome this horse is retired and has a, new job and great owner, but if he was out winning (even at a low level), then I would think he was being well cared for and was happy and healthy. These situations always carry some implication that horses at that level are in some imminent danger or peril, or that the trainers at that level are greedy and using up the horse. And that’s true in some cases, but there are many horses at this level who race happily and soundly and have excellent connections and care about them. Would be nice to have a little shout out for recent connections who have been caring for the horse well, as he seems to be sound and in great shape.

      1. Linds Turcotte


    2. Emma

      Thank you to you, Rob, and Kelly, for your comments.
      I may be throwing myself to the wolves here, but I am (with my boyfriend Mike Catalano), the former connections.
      I’m relieved War Academy is in a good home, and I’m so thankful that he is safe. But I also know that he was happy and healthy with us. He had a retirement home firmly in place (on a 100+ acre farm in Vermont with a small herd of horses and lifelong horsewoman to feed him and enjoy him for the rest of his life) when he decided he didn’t want to run anymore – because if there’s one thing I know about the horse I called “Hippo,” it is that he wouldn’t do ANYTHING he didn’t want to, including leaving the starting gate.
      Sue Salk knows me – she actually wrote a story about my personal OTTB gelding several years ago. I love thoroughbreds, on and off the track, and I am a staunch advocate for their welfare, whatever their current career may be, and I think this is an excellent lesson in being educated and aware of any horse’s true situation before jumping to conclusions. I was distraught to lose War Academy, and couldn’t sleep worrying where he was and if he was ok, especially when the tumors on the backside were that Larry Jones was so impressed by this “rescue” that he was considering running him again.
      It’s easy to say that he shouldn’t have been here at Delaware Park, or in a low-level claiming race, and that may very well be true. But there are plenty of well-bred horses, or horses with glamorous former connections, or horses who were almost spectacular, who don’t live up to the hype – but that doesn’t make them bad horses. War Academy wound up competitive at a low level – sound, healthy, and happy. And I hope that he continues to be that way, and if he ever needs a home, maybe we can help. I NEVER wanted to see him claimed away, and we were fully prepared to buy him back should that eventuality occur, because the idea that he could wind up somewhere he shouldn’t as a result of our actions was unacceptable.
      I would like to add that I made multiple attempts to contact several of the individuals involved in this “rescue effort,” as did friends and acquaintances. I offered to send current photos and videos, explain the plan for War Academy’s retirement when he said he was done with life on the track, and even invited them for a visit on the backside to see him in person. We were ignored, comments deleted, blocked, or attacked. I’m not sure how much more open or transparent we could have been.

      1. Linds Turcotte

        I think this is what bothers me most about a lot of these “rescue” articles. (And yes, I’ll use the word rescue because even though it was never stated in the article, the way it reads firmly implies it).

        Someone unconnected with the horse – who has no participating in his day to day activities or first hand knowledge of his soundness and welfare, decides the horse needs to be retired. They assume the connections are harming the horse, and won’t enter into dialogue with said connections. They move heaven and earth to get the horse, and retire him. Articles are written and everyone feels good.

        But in the meantime, the connections – who may or may not have had the horse’s best interests at heart – are vilified by implication. And I’m relatively certain that a solid majority of connections have the horse’s best interests at heart. (lets face it, there are bad apples in EVERY discipline). And even if they don’t, we won’t get horses out of there by vilifying them. “You get more with honey than vinegar.” Truth.

        So in this case, a horse has been “saved and retired”, who didn’t really need to be. He was sound, happy, and had a secure situation set up for life with connections who truly cared about him. Funds spend could have been spend on one who is not so lucky. But beyond that, the connections who cared about this horse will now look at all of us with a suspicious eye. And honestly? Rightly so.

        It’s hard enough to gain the trust of many trainers and racetrack connections. They are suspicious of outsiders’ motives and this is a good part of why.

        What would be so hard, if someone wanted this horse for themselves, to contact the trainer and say “Hey, I love this horse and would love to give him a home and new career when he’s ready to retire from the track.”

        What’s so hard about giving trainers and owners the same respect we expect them to give their horses? What’s so hard about TRUSTING them if they tell us they have a plan in place and the horse is ok.

        If we don’t, we are going to have a harder and harder time bringing these horses home. And in some cases, that means the horses will lose, but mostly, WE Will lose. We’ll lose these amazing, phenomenal partners we get from the industry. We’ll lose the best horses we could ever own. And that’s a crying shame.

        (And, for what it’s worth, my only “connection” to the racetrack is knowing a few people, and having been lucky enough to bring home some wonderful partners. So no, I’m not from the industry. I did, however, get the best horse I’ll ever, ever, ever own from the industry, and I am eternally grateful.)

    3. Rhonda Serges

      Often they end up in the slaughter pipeline. It is nice to see one gives his life to running then receive a happy ending.

    4. Amanda Smith

      I have no idea what the soundness or status of the horse were like, but here’s what I see. Maybe I’m just perpetuating the problem?

      August 8, 2015 the horse was claimed for $22.5k at DMR, but the claim was voided by the vet. Four months later the horse shows up at AQU with the same owner but now David Jacobson as trainer in a $25k claiming race. He finishes 2nd. Rudy Rodriguez claims the horse for $32k in January from David Jacobson. A month and a half later, mid-March, he puts the horse in for $25k and Jacobson claims him back, and the horse was a DNF. Four months later the horse is dropped into a $4k claimer under some small-time trainer.

      I suspect – and it’s only suspicion, I have no proof – something wasn’t right with the horse. I’m not sure on what grounds a vet can void a claim, but I’m sure there are relatively minor reasons and other not-so-minor reasons. Does this put the horse on the vet’s list, then? I’m not really sure how that works. Perhaps is merely coincidence that the horse ends up clear across the country in 4 months.

      Something had to conspire between Jacobson claiming him in the DNF race and the small-peanuts trainer entering him at the very bottom of the bottom a few months later. I’m don’t know if vets can void a claim in NY like they did in Cali. If not, Jacobson might have been stuck with a pretty broken-down horse and just ate his losses and gave the horse away. It’s certainly possible that the DNF ended up not being related to anything serious and Jacobson was helping out a smaller trainer by giving him a good deal on a clean, sound horse.

  13. Susan

    I never tire of these kinds of stories and outcomes. Wish they all could have this happy “new beginning”! 🙂

  14. Terri Czarski

    Everyone involved just plain is AWESOME.

  15. Greg Jones

    Bravo to ALL that got this done for War Academy! Thank you Bob Baffert, Larry Jones, Liz Gamble Mras, Carrie Willwerth Brogden, Lois Brooks, John Cosentino, Lisa Salmon and Caroline Cooper. Liz, I hope you and War Academy have a wonderful long friendship.

  16. Lucy

    Heartwarming story. It reminds me of how many wonderful racing fans there are who truly care about saving the lives of these wonderful athletes !!!!

  17. Penny Knotts

    Love this story and Liz will give him the best place to live and relax !!!

  18. Vicki Morgan

    Dreux is a great lady with a huge heart!!!

    1. Dreux flaherty

      I learned from you and Donna

  19. Lori Ann

    Bless all your hearts ????????????

  20. Grace Delanoy

    LOVE this story!

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