A Few Thoughts on Off-Track Thoroughbreds, Take Two

In which I learn a valuable lesson about not saving drafts when using QuickPress.

There has been a sea-change in how people purchase off-track thoroughbreds. Back when we bought my first horse, we did everything wrong. I had read all the right books (Marguerite Henry’s Black Gold, Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion, the entire Saddle Club series to date.  On a side note, as I won’t be out to the barn again until after Christmas, maybe my next blog will be about some of the more obscure horse-crazy titles I’ve scrounged over the years.) I had learned to ride at an Arabian farm, and settled on hunt seat almost by default. Hunt seat was what the riders at the Olympics did (dressage was flat work and boring), and thoroughbreds were the horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby. And the way to buy one of those horses was through a hunter-jumper trainer with ‘connections.’

The trainer had an in on the backside of the old Ladbrooke DRC. She would pick up horses through her connection who were injured, slow, or otherwise unsuited to life even at the claiming levels (a concept unknown to us at the time) and turn them around quickly. Most of her students were children and first-time owners, and her objective was to get them onto the low-level rated circuit as quickly as possible. Doing this required a quick gelding for the males requiring it, and judicious application of the lunge whip, standing martingale, pelham absent a curb rein, and for the real incorrigibles, draw reins and side reins. We had never seen a racehorse off the track. That they would be hot, go inverted, and be jumping after six weeks over a 2’6″ course was normal, if the trainer said so. That putting a twelve-year-old whose prior experience was limited to backyard ponies and Arab school horses on one was responsible and the best way to learn also seemed like a good idea. Besides, how else was one supposed to come by an inexpensive example of the ultimate athlete breed?

With the advent of the internet, access to horses off the racetrack has changed dramatically in the twenty-odd since my last purchase.  Groups like CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses) and the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program.  FLTAP in particular has an interesting story, as their adoption program was created with the cooperation of Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack in Farmington, New York and was the first track-based adoption program.  FLTAP and CANTER have also revolutionized the resale process for OTTBs by offering not just adoption horses but by creating their Trainer Listings programs.   Instead of needing to find someone (a trainer, a broker) with a connection on the “inside”, trainers’ phone numbers and descriptions of the horses they’d like to sell to non-racing homes can be found by anyone with an internet connection.  The Finger Lakes Trainer Listings were where I found Lucky To Cope.

Lucky is what’s known as an ‘old campaigner.’  At seven, he’s had sixty-four starts, almost all in Florida at Calder, Tampa Bay, and Gulfstream Park (where he won an allowance on turf.)  Like most of the track world’s older-statesmen, he worked his way down the levels.  Reasonably competitive on turf, he nevertheless started to run out of conditions.  On dirt, he earned his keep but again kept sliding down into the lower claiming ranks until he was claimed by a local trainer at Finger Lakes.   His trainer couldn’t afford to winter him over to make a track pony out of him, and when the FLTAP listings volunteers came by, he put him up for sale, where I eventually came across his ad.

Why Lucky?  His picture and his description put him on my short list.  I was looking for a horse who could potentially become a field (fox) hunter, and a horse who liked to run on turf, gallop long, and had the brains to be a track pony was a good candidate.  The trainer liked him, and was selling him because of the cost of overwintering, not for unsoundness.  FLTAP volunteers who worked at the track liked him and praised his ‘gentleman’s’ manners.  His price was down to $600.  It was still a tough call between him and my second choice, a five-year-old gelding with nine starts and a temperament described as being for those who liked a little less excitement.

The other ‘internet revolution’ in thoroughbred resales decided me in Lucky’s favor.  That is access to sites like equineline, equibase, brisnet, and even the user-generated pedigreequery. I could, with a little searching and willingness to learn, read on his past performances, and look up his ancestry, mostly for free.

This is the bloodline for Lucky To Cope.  Most notably to me, he has, via the mare Crafty Nan, a War Admiral grandson named Crafty Admiral on his sire’s side.  And on his dam’s side, in the fourth generation, there is a relatively obscure stallion, bred in Kentucky, stood in Florida, named Greek Game.

Compare that pedigree to this, my first horse: Bold McKinnon

So we’ll see how it goes the second time around.

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