For the third consecutive year, an ex-racehorse who ran 41 times on low-claimer tracks has won the USDF All-Breeds Championship, this year exceeding all past results by achieving the highest score at the Prix St. Georges level.
Recognized by the North American Thoroughbred Society for earning the median score of 64.737 in four separate tests, OTTB Real Gentleman clinched the top honor as he continues to excel at dressage in a way he never did at the racetrack.
“Out of 41 races, he won one race,” says his owner Ann Seamonds of New Hampshire. “But in his competitive second career, he has had 24 tests. Of those, he’s had 11 wins, five seconds, and three thirds. So he’s been in the money 19 of 24 times!” (Please read earlier story here:Low Claimer with 41 starts rocks Prix St. Georges).
Barn name: Rio
Sire: Gone for Real
Dam: Sunshine Star, by Star de Naskra
Foal date: Feb. 6, 2006As the handsome dark bay prepares to compete next year at an even higher international level,Intermediare-1, which includes full pirouettes and two-tempe canters, Seamonds couldn’t be more impressed with the OTTB she purchased off the track in 2012. She purchased the horse she calls Rio with the modest goal of becoming closer to a horse, and watching the animal find a new path for himself. It wasn’t until she put him in training with Pan Am Games-winning dressage rider Mary Howard of Brentwood, N.H. that his natural talent started to show.
At the time, she would watch his lessons and relish those little moments when the ex-racehorse began to understand his new job, she told Off-Track Thoroughbreds.com in an earlier article. “I would watch his lessons and could feel it when he understood something. That was my biggest joy,” she said.
Now, in only four-and-a-half years the modest OTTB has grown competitive in international dressage, a discipline so challenging few horses ever rise to that level.
“The difficulty is incredible as you rise up the ranks,” she says. “The level of collection required, when they carry more weight behind, really goes up. A horse naturally carries 60-percent of their weight on their front end. In dressage, that needs to be 50-50 in order for them to have the strength to perform. That 10-percent is a big shift when you’re talking about a horse who carries 1,200 pounds.”
With canter pirouettes, a horse at times has full body weight on his hind end, Seamonds says, and only horses with a rare combination of strong physical strength and temperament can do it.
“And with Thoroughbreds, it’s like teaching them a whole new language,” she says, noting that it is that much more impressive that Real Gentleman is competitive against purpose-bred, imported horses who were born to do this work. “Even going around a corner is something an ex-racehorse has to relearn, to rebalance themselves after working with all that real estate (on a racetrack) and going to an indoor arena.”
Crediting coach Howard for her mastery of training a Thoroughbred for the beautiful sport, Seamonds says the coach has always had a roadmap for her horse’s second career. “She has a really clear understanding of everything you need to do at the beginning in training, and how the horse needs to develop gymnastically, to get them really strong to carry the weight of the canter pirouette.”
“I’ll never forget the time I went to see the great Thoroughbred Keen in Hamilton, Mass. I went to see him in a qualifying competition before he went on to the Olympics. He was extraordinary. He was breathtaking. It was like his feet never touched the ground,” Seamonds says. “Seeing a horse like that, and now seeing my own horse rising up the ranks, is an inspiration. It makes me understand it’s possible, and you should dream. Why not dream?” — This blog is sponsored by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, the nation’s oldest and largest Thoroughbred Charity.